Sunday, March 6, 2011


Last night some friends and I saw modern roller derby for the very first time. It was the L.A. Derby Dolls against a San Diego team of the same name.

This was a very strange experience; it was surprisingly commercial, and tedious and repetitious. My friends and I were more excited ahead of time than we were during the match. We were almost more interested in the business model.

We had been wanting to go for a couple years. Somehow, word of mouth gets around. It seems to be a growing phenomenon.

The most amazing thing: This must be a money making machine for the organizers. We estimated 2,500 people in attendance, at $18 a ticket for standing room, if you can believe that. Plus another $20 for an upgrade to VIP status where you get to sit in bleachers. About 500 people did that. And I think you can pay extra for a cushion.

They don't tell you ahead of time that you have bought standing room. When you get there, you find a long line for will-call tickets. Since they don't send out any tickets, everyone is will-call. Then you find out you can upgrade for $20 and get to sit down. You can also avoid the long line. Hmm. My friend thought that was part of the business plan. 

My friend figured the organizers took in $60,000 that night, from the gate alone, plus concessions. He figured they spent about $30,000 renovating the warehouse where 20 contests are scheduled this year.

He estimates that expenses are low, and the sexy young women, who skate their lovely butts off and get bruises bashing each other around, are volunteers, according to the announcer. Hmm. All that from free talent.

That's $1.2-million a year, from the gate, plus beer, T-shirts and pizza, minus the cost of insurance, maintenance, security guards and other employees. Hmm. Nice business. Free talent.

The concessions were popular: beer, T-shirts, pizza, etc. I had a pint Tecate with lime for $6. It tasted great. The event was very well organized, with security guards and staff who seemed highly professional. The crowd was almost all white, young, hip, tattoos, piercings -- typical Silver Lake.

The derby itself consists of a series of "JAMS." Each one is a mad scramble, with women on roller skates racing and charging and banging into each other and falling down and jockeying for position. But each jam only lasts 60 seconds or less. Often less. And each one is basically the same as the next. 

The three of us found it too repetitious to be very entertaining. But we are not real sports fans, not the kind who enjoy spending the afternoon at a football game or evening at a basketball game. Those things take way too long for me.

Roller derby is part girly show and part sports, but to me it's not really successful as either one. Not sexy enough and not a truly engaging sport.

Last night, San Diego won handily, with better skaters and apparently a more experienced team. Those young ladies were fast and aggressive and talented. The crowd screamed and hooted and hollered and seemed to have a good time. But when the announcer asked how many people were there for the first time, more than half raised their hands.

I would not go back, and neither would my friends. That seems to be part of the business plan, too.

Frankly, the spectacle itself is not that much fun. Not enough variety. It's all in little short bursts, and it needs events of different length, complexity and meaning. Like a circus, it needs a sense of ebb and flow, rising and falling action, and the whole thing needs to build to a climax, which it doesn't. It just ends, after the last jam.

For now, the young women skaters (the free talent) seem to love it, and so does the mostly first-time audience, apparently.

And somebody is making a lot of do-re-mi. I bet they love it, too.

-- Roger
© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

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