It should be obvious, even to a casual observer, that there are few things I love in life more than Kansas City Roller Derby, and it all started with the Kansas City Roller Warriors. My love affair with the flat track began in March 2010, and not only does it not subside during the so-called off-season, if anything, it only grows stronger as the miserable winter months give way to the early spring days that herald the return of derby season.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that can’t be improved, though, and anyone on eight wheels will tell you the same thing. They’re always looking for ways to improve the fans’ derby experience, and with that in mind, here are three things that, if implemented relatively soon, would make them a very nearly perfect roller derby league. You can rebuff these and/or add your own in the comments section.
3. Make the merchandise available online.
Check out KCRW‘s merch page, and it tells you quite plainly, “Sorry, our merchandise is temporarily unavailable for purchase online.”
Which is the most interesting definition of the word “temporarily” that I’ve come across in quite some time, because that’s the same thing it said in November 2009 when I first discovered Kansas City roller derby.
I’ve offered this priceless feedback to KCRW before in online surveys and in person at the merch table, but even without me, there’s no way they don’t already know this is a problem. I’m sure it’s come up multiple times in committee, and who knows, they’ve probably tried rectifying it more than once as well. I’m not a web designer myself, but I know setting up this kind of e-commerce is relatively simple.
Not quite that simple.
If I had to guess, I would say the problem is not setting up the shopping cart on the web site. Much more likely, the problem is finding someone (or a team of someones) to monitor, fill, and ship the incoming orders year-round.
All I can tell you is… I would hate to think about how much money I would have spent by now on t-shirts (that I have to replace because I keep shrinking them), buttons (that I have to replace because they keep popping off my bag), and drink koozies (that I have to replace because I keep throwing them away with the can)… if only I could. The way it is now, I just have to hope I have the extra money laying around when the games roll around, and that kind of timing isn’t easy when you’ve got womens to keep happy. Yes, womens.
2. Do something with the sound system.
Before you get your hackles up, I realize there is next to nothing KCRW can do to change the sound system Municipal Auditorium comes equipped with. And I’ve seen derby in a number of other cities where the venues they used were sometimes nothing more than skating rinks, so I hesitate to light a torch and burn Municipal at the stake.
The problem is that the sound system in the arena we use is absolutely horrible. If you’re not sitting on one particular side (where there are no seats except in the balcony), you’re not going to understand a word the announcers say. It’s almost as though only half of the speakers are even on, and therefore only broadcasting in one direction; the (lousy) acoustics in the place then further distort sound that’s already bouncing off every available flat surface in the arena.
Imagine a bullet fired inside a room made of bulletproof walls… where the “bullet” represents “sound,” and the “walls” represent “your sanity.”
This means the announcers’ activity on the mic is incomprehensible from three of four walls in the place. It actually just amounts to a very loud, very constant background noise that sounds less like a sporting event and more like a humpback whale migration as heard through the drive-through speaker box at Del Taco… as heard through a cochlear implant.
And here to demonstrate…
The only way to deal with this annoyance would be to either find a different venue — which again, I would have serious reservations about — or, much more appealingly, simply limit the announcing to end-of-jam scoring/stat updates, instead of the usual (constant) play-by-play.
Or, if they could, get someone to turn on all the speakers.
1. Spread out the talent a little more evenly.
That almost sounds dirty.
But truthfully, as much as I will never, ever miss a KCRW game unless I’m offshore somewhere, it’s getting more and more difficult to deny that the house games are awfully predictable. Here’s how it goes:
The Dorothys will always win;
The Vixens will beat everyone but the Dorothys;
The Susans will only beat the Knockouts;
The Knockouts will always lose.
There’s only been one exception to this in the two years I’ve been a season ticket holder, and I wasn’t even there to see it; it was at the 2010 Rink of Fire, when the Knockouts squeaked out a last-second victory against my Susans. And even though I’m hardly an insider, I can’t help but think that the reason the games are so easy to predict is because most of the promising new recruits keep getting drafted to the same one or two teams.
Pictured: the Dreadnought Dorothys.
Understand, that’s not an insult. To anyone. But I have never seen the Dorothys lose a game; six straight years of house championships has to tell you something, and it can’t simply be that they train harder than everyone else. I just don’t buy that. Honestly, there’s plenty I don’t know here — the recruitment/drafting process(es), who gets priority, and so forth. I just know what I see on the track, and on the track, it’s a rare day that I can’t tell you in advance who’s going to win. That means there’s an imbalance somewhere.
But more importantly, it also means that the overall derby experience is less fun than it could be. I’m not sure I have the cardiac wherewithal to handle twelve nailbiting, down-to-the-last-jam bouts every single summer, but I could handle a few — and right now, we’re getting almost none. I will say that the Knockouts are showing a level of improvement that will very soon overtake the Black Eye Susans, if they’re not careful, in the above win/loss breakdown, so that’s at least something.
By that same token, though, the gaps between the other teams seem to be getting bigger all the time. The Dreadnought Dorothys are only getting better, particularly with the return of Hall Balls to full-time status this past season, as well as some very promising new faces (Flying Monkey, anyone?).
So tell me — how long would you be a season ticket holder if you knew the outcomes of all the games in advance?
The answer: FOREVER. No, I’m not kidding. Did you think I was kidding?
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You can donate online here, or register to walk with Dead Girl Derby at this fantastic event. We’ll see you there!
One of the most common questions I get about roller derby from a fan’s perspective is: how do you decide who your “favorite” teams are? I understand cheering for the home team, but aren’t the house teams pretty much all home teams?
Well, yeah… but there’s more to it than that. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for my part, I just let the teams come to me. That’s literally all there is to it — I show up, watch some derby action, and my mind picks my favorites for me. Imagine what that was like at the Show-Me Der-B-Q when two of my favorite teams, Houston and Omaha, faced off on the last day. Minutes into it, I knew my heart was behind Omaha.
I remember perusing the KCRW site about three months before the 2010 season began. I’d never been to a bout before, I didn’t know any of the skaters, and at that point in time, I had no idea where my loyalties might lie. Based on the web site, the team photos, and unfathomably, the uniforms (which can have a remarkable effect on a fan’s psyche), I assumed intuitively that the Victory Vixens would be my favorites. Everything about them screamed, “We’re your team.”
And something about “standing at attention,” but anyway.
March 27, 2010 showed up, and I found that I loved the Vixens, all right… but before the first game was even over, my whole heart belonged to the Black Eye Susans. From an early stage, four little words altered the landscape of my derbytude and laid the foundation for my love of the greatest sport in the world, and those four words are BLACK EYE OR DIE.
With Dead Girl Derby, I thought it would work in much the same way, and for a while it did.
Until it didn’t.
I immediately latched on to the Royal Pains. For one thing, my alma mater’s colors are purple and white, so we’re off to a good start. Throw in strong leaders, skaters, and personalities like Dir-T Diana, Azz Catch-em, Dixie Danger, and top-scoring Poison Evie, and you’ve got America’s all-American midwestern team of all-Americans, America. (I don’t even know what that means.)
Meanwhile, as surely as my favorites reveal themselves over the course of the season, so do the villains — and this league’s villain team was, without question, the Fearleaders. I’ve no idea why; it’s not like any of them were rude, cocky, or showed poor sportsmanship. In fact, they hadn’t done anything. They didn’t even have anything in common with KCRW‘s dyed-in-the-wool villains, the Dreadnought Dorothys; at least the Dorothys’ villainy was justified by their iron-clad un-defeat-ability. By contrast, it seemed that the only team the Fearleaders could beat for the first half of the season was themselves.
But that was how I liked it, and the Fearleaders maintained their villain status in my mind for the better part of the season. I delighted in their consecutive losses, and much like the Kansas Jayhawks, I felt the irresistible urge to cheer for anyone who was playing against them. This included the Lovely Lethals, who pulled out a last-second win in game three that marked the very last time I ever Thought Pink. I was not necessarily a Lethals fan, but I couldn’t have been happier to see the Fearleaders go home winless yet again, particularly after such a nailbiting ending. Those are the worst.
So what the hell happened? Didn’t I say in a previous post that I wound up on their side? What the hell happened?
Well… they beat my favorite team. Wait, what?
I went into game five knowing there was no way the winless Fearleaders were going to beat my Azz-catching team of All-Americans. Regardless of the fight they’d put up against the powerful Lethals, an entire season (thus far) of coming up short would have to take its toll. And beyond that, I was pretty confident about the Pains’ ability to take them down, since they’d done it already.
But that’s not how it went. To their credit, the Fearleaders brought it to the track and left it on the track — and by the time it was over, they’d scored their first win of the season against Their Highnesses, the Purple Passion, the one team in Dead Girl Derby I’d give my left skate for, the Royal Pains. I was incredulous. Throw in the Deadly Sirens‘ first-ever loss at the hands of the Lethals that same night, and I went home less than enthused with roller derby for the first time ever. That’s because I’m a bad sport, you see.
Pictured: the opposite of me.
One of the good things about being “just” a fan is that strictly speaking, you’re not under any real obligation to show good sportsmanship. It’s a bit hypocritical, since sportsmanship is something I value so highly in a derby league, but since I’m a paying customer, I’ll cheer for (and against) anyone I want. And I wasn’t about to lose any sleep over the Fearleaders‘ win, but I was certainly in no mood to congratulate them on accomplishing what I’d considered impossible only three hours earlier.
The next morning, though, it was all I could think about. Twelve hours prior, I’d watched two dedicated, hard-hitting teams slugging it out on the track, but only one was really fighting for its dignity in the face of an entire season of losses; you can’t really overstate that part. Once they’d pulled out the win, all four teams were out on the track, hugging and butt-slapping (ok, I made that up) and congratulating the Fearleaders on their very first-ever hard-earned win. The level of camaraderie and straight-up friendship on display that night showed me, the Most Important Fan Ever, exactly what this league was made of: integrity, grit, guts, and massive… massive ladyballs. It takes a great deal of character to congratulate the underdog who just beat you 30 seconds earlier; the Dead Girls are certainly made of finer stuff than I.
As proud as I was of the Royal Pains for their extraordinary show of character, I was finally realizing that the Fearleaders, with their endless tenacity, dedication, and competitive spirit, were setting up shop in my heart whether I liked it or not. If the entire league could stand up in front of everyone and congratulate them on getting over that hump, then there’s no reason that shouldn’t be good enough for me. The Fearleaders didn’t lose another goddamn game all year, and I’ve been right behind them, cheering them on every inch of the way ever since — even at the Zombie Apocalypse, when they faced off (once again) against the Royal Pains, this time for third place. It was the first time Their Highnesses didn’t have me in their corner.
If you had told me six months ago that I’d be cheering for the Fearleaders against the Royal Pains before the season was over, I’d have said you were smokin’ banana peels. All things being equal, though, you may never see me at another Dead Girl Derby game wearing anything but the black and grey.
I remember once laughing out loud at the name “Dead Girl Derby” when my friend Jerry commented, “That doesn’t sound like much fun to watch.”
And admittedly, I was a bit cautious approaching the league in the beginning, almost skeptical, in a way. I discovered Dead Girl Derby the same way I found the Kansas City Roller Warriors — online. That’s really where the similarities end, but the fact remains, this side of two years ago, my surfing habits managed to lead me to one of my favorite things in the world, and indeed, the greatest sport ever invented. Do read on.
In the case of KCRW, I forget the exact sequence of events, but I do remember getting wind of Kansas City roller derby and Googling it; the rest is history. That was at the tail end of 2009, and the next season wouldn’t even begin until the following March, but I got online and bought season tickets immediately, without attending a single game. Some people think that’s nuts, like buying a movie you’ve never seen, but I already knew what I was getting.
I voraciously ate up my first season, even tripping up to Omaha to see an away game (the second game I ever attended, in fact); I only missed one game all year, and that was because I was on a cruise ship to Alaska. Shortly after the season ended, I stumbled across someone on Facebook (maybe even KCRW) who had “liked” an organization called Dead Girl Derby, which was based in Riverside and was apparently some kind of an upstart league I wasn’t familiar with. A quick tootle around their rather sparse web site didn’t tell me a whole lot except that they weren’t affiliated with KCRW, that they operated out of an organization called the Old School Derby Association (OSDA), and that they had taken special care to wait until KCRW‘s 2011 schedule had been posted before announcing their own. That told me something right there.
Once I’d made sure there were no conflicting dates (turns out the Dead Girls played on Sunday nights), I decided to give it a go. And as excited as I was at the prospect of getting twice the derby in the same season, I ruled out the possibility of season tickets sight unseen. In all fairness, KCRW seemed relatively established, playing all their games at Municipal Auditorium downtown (and Hale Arena in past seasons). By contrast, the Dead Girls held their bouts at a skating rink up north somewhere, about 30 miles from where I lived. At the time, Dead Girl Derby didn’t even have photos of their bouts on the web site, so all things considered, I was understandably skeptical about committing to an entire season without at least seeing what I was getting first.
The first game of the season was nuts. The crowd numbered nearly 600 fans (packed inside a skating rink, don’t forget) and garnered a news report on the local NBC affiliate — not bad for a league beginning only their second season.
That was news to me too: the Dead Girls’ debut season was already behind them and I hadn’t heard peep one about it. All I did know, as I was standing in a line that stretched to the back of the building, was that I needed to arrive about thirty minutes earlier for future bouts, because there’s nothing I hate worse than standing in line while all the good seats inside are being snapped up.
VIP seating is extra.
We’ll get to that in a minute. First, my only complaint.
In my opinion — and I know not everyone will share this sentiment — the rink at which the Dead Girls held their games was an absolute dump. It’s probably no worse than any other skating rink I’ve been to, but in those cases, I was actually skating, not trying to find a comfortable (or even clean) place to sit for three hours or so. I won’t name the venue or link to their web site, but suffice it to say that I eat before the games, not during, and I bring my own hand sanitizer.
Also, and this is the most unfortunate part, there really is no good place to sit. The crash zone is on the hard, filthy skating rink floor; there are actual seats on both ends of the track, but that limits visibility, and your only other options are the benches outside that little concrete wall that surrounds the rink itself. The set-up is just altogether bad, but then again, it is a skating rink. My fondest wish for Dead Girl Derby‘s third season is that they find a better venue. They certainly deserve it.
[ Insert rumor here. ] Yes, I’ve heard things.
Having said all that, let me be clear: I will never, as long as I can avoid it, miss another Dead Girl Derby game. I will have season tickets from now on, period.
I was immediately impressed with their skating ability. I had no idea what to expect, and yes, there have been the inevitable comparisons between them and KCRW, but that really isn’t the point. The games themselves are very competitive (even more so than the KCRW house games, actually), and in fact, they only got more competitive as the season went on. The sportsmanship the skaters display is incredible, and their willingness to accommodate fans by posing for pictures and being altogether awesome in person impressed me as well.
And wait till I tell you the story of how I began the season hating the Fearleaders… and then ended the season cheering them on against my favorite team. Believe me, no one was more surprised than I was.
Last I heard, Dead Girl Derby‘s 2012 season will begin sometime in February. We haven’t confirmed that and the schedule isn’t posted, so forget you heard it from me, because we try not to traffic in rumors. And here’s hoping for a new venue for the Dead Girls in 2012 that is much more suitable for derby, much cleaner, much larger, and much closer to civilization than Riverside.
All that's fit to digest from the world of Kansas City roller derby!