Selling Roller Derby – Case Study and Tips
At the beginning of this year I began taking a lead position on marketing activities with the Resurrection Roller Girls league based in Rohnert Park, our local roller derby team. I’ve also been doing some general business consulting. They asked me what could be done to improve the league, so I started making suggestions. After some pretty massive changes the league is now seeing better finances, improved recruitment and retention and higher turnout to events. Things are going well. To that end, I wanted to do a case study write up describing more or less what we did to turn things around. A lot of leagues, as well as other organizations, regularly face similar problems, so I’ll try to generalize tips. Hopefully this can help you determine how to market your roller derby league.
Before even starting on a marketing plan, I needed to make sure the league was ready to handle new people coming in. The answer, after substantial research, was ‘no’. The policies and bylaws needed to be redone. Leagues are generally created by people who love to skate. Which is awesome. Unfortunately, those people aren’t always business minded, and don’t usually have experience with team building. So the foundations they start with aren’t necessarily the strongest. The sport is growing immensely quickly right now, and reaching new audiences. Leagues around the world are learning that they may need to step back and rethink some things. So my very first piece of advice here is to make sure your league is designed to thrive.
I’m not going to go into details on my methods, since this post is already long, but it comes down to research and logic. Think through scenarios. Think through exactly what your priorities are. For example, we had a problem with overly strict requirements for bout participation. This led to some rather upset skaters not getting to participate. Those rules are fixed now. People should want to participate, not be forced into it, and certainly it’s a bad idea to hold bouts over people’s heads as some sort of special reward that only the chosen get. Skater pay dues, they’re customers and customers have expectations. Make it a league the want to participate in, since they are the league. If necessary, remove bias by getting an outside consultant, like what I did here. There were other issues and inconsistencies, as there are in all such policies, but I don’t feel the need to go into them.
With some assistance and heavy research (resulting in a 20 page document with 12 cited sources, from blogs to academic journals) I rewrote all policies and bylaws, and presented the same at two policy meetings. After some explanation most changes were voted in, setting us up for the next steps. I won’t list all the changes here, since each league is unique and yours might not benefit from hearing about this. One key philosophy I do want to mention is writing stuff down. I’ve literally done this with every business I’ve ever worked with before. Write down your policies and procedures; assume that you are unable to communicate them to whoever takes over, and you don’t want to make their job harder. Not having to explain things is a huge advantage.
As with any business, you can’t communicate your message unless you know it yourself. That means knowing who you are and what face you want to put to the world. Resurrection uses the phoenix as its mascot, which lends itself to some options. I chose to focus on the fire and heavy metal style elements, aiming for an over the top intensity. While scrolling through photos and thinking about this, I came up with the recruitment flyer for the first boot camp of the season, pictured here. It’s taken mostly from a poster for the movie 300, which I think exemplifies the style. With the exception that, from what I can tell, Zack Snyder didn’t mean it ironically.
This general style of intensity has informed all other decisions on marketing materials. Graphics matter, and we’ve integrated them into the marketing much more heavily than has been done before. That means high quality posters, handout materials, a graphics focused website, and properly customized Facebook header images. It’s worth putting in the time. Exactly how much time depends on what you came up with in your competitive analysis (I hope you did one!), and who you have available to do it.
In addition to my work, we were able to partner with Accent Printing and Design in Santa Rosa. Now we get high quality prints, graphic design and an addition to a rather professional marketing staff.
So what if you didn’t get lucky, and have the exact person you had hoped for show up to a meeting? Find them. Find a local print shop that could be open to doing in kind donation. If you can get enough sponsorship, hire people to do it correctly. Do you want people to take you seriously, and see you as a professional level league? Then you have to act the part, and give them materials that represent it. Reach out to your extended network- skaters’ families and friends, local students looking for portfolio material, businesses that might want to call this a donation. You’re doing a sponsorship drive anyway, might as well get the stuff you need.
Roller derby has a really cool DIY atmosphere, but you need to also be able to reach out to your extended network. Realistically, the best person for the job might not be on your team. But there are always companies that want to sponsor without cash, students who want portfolio development and people ready to learn. Figure out what they want, and find a way to offer it. Which is a general way to handle all sponsorship.
One bit of graphics I’m excited about are the player profiles. This is something I wanted to do from the beginning, but I needed the write designer to help pull it off. If you take a look at the RRG Facebook page, you’ll see a ‘featured skater’ series that we’re now doing a week before home bouts. This included created posters of individual players, complete with logos and customized fonts. Each logo and typeface is meant to represent that player’s theme, based on their name. We then printed these posters, and have been hanging them around the rink. I could do a different post about making your home game location feel like yours, but it would be too much to include here in detail.
These sections are getting shorter as I get more tired. Presence is an important concept. This comes in two forms for us. The first is making sure events are posted literally everywhere. Research every possible location that a fan could maybe see your event, figure out which ones you can post to for free, and make a list. Do it every single time. The other form is physical presence. Farmer’s markets, local events of other types, school events, fundraiser bake sales… it doesn’t matter, just put on a jersey and make yourself an integral part of the local community.
We’ve managed to get this far without paying any money. For best results, however, you should spend some. In our case Facebook is the primary way to reach an audience. Besides my history with advertising there, which makes me qualified to use it, Facebook allows roller derby leagues to target advertisements within very narrow segments. You just need to know how to pick the right audience for your area. WFTDA publishes market data, and you can use your local demographics to figure out what angle you want to take. I like to create multiple extremely targeted campaigns for subsections of the larger audience. This has been successful, and not very expensive since I’m budget conscious on every step. Other paid advertising options may be possible if you have the cash, but exactly what you do depends on your specific situation.
Ongoing Projects, Other Thoughts
In addition to these we’ve done extensive web work, networking, organizational work and other things to get things moving. Recruitment is up, attendance is up, engagement is up, and properly performed marketing works. So what should you take away from this post, if you’re a roller derby team member looking to up your selling game? The best thing to notice is how long this is. I didn’t provide details, and I didn’t cover everything. That should tell you something important. Marketing and publicity isn’t something you can take care of in a weekend. It requires dedication, time and a good team. No matter the size of your league. And in order to not get burnt out immediately, you need to create a strong plan to make that happen.
As I finish typing this, I’m sitting in a Las Vegas hotel room trying to rest before Rollercon starts tomorrow. There are a few management and marketing classes I’m hoping to attend, because there’s never a point in marketing and production where you stop learning. So research, recruit, improve and sell the game. Understand your market, your advantages and what you’re selling, and your seats will be full in no time.