QUAD Roller Skate Shop aka Team Portugal Roller Derby’s official sponsor and roller skate shop, is a firm believer that Roller Derby should be run by the skaters for the skaters. Read all about it in the following article(s).
The Next Wave of Self-Determination in Roller Derby (Part 1)
‘For the skater, by the skater’ is a known philosophy and value of the global roller derby community. Present in the mission statement of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), this concept has come to be a defining principle of how and why our sport is organized. Through global developments and the increased popularity of roller derby, ‘for the skater, by the skater’ – or FSBS – is now a political statement, marketing tool and tagline, whose application now more than ever reflects who and how we control our game.
SKATER-RUN OR DERBY-RUN?
What does it mean to be skater-run, skater-organized or FSBS? It used to mean active skaters creating the events and structures they needed and wanted to organize and play roller derby. As time has gone by and our community has evolved, the term ‘skater’ has started to become a catch-all for those who are ‘derby’. Retired skaters, officials, volunteers and coaches are all connotatively included in the concept of, for and by us. Skaters have also become trainers, retailers, manufacturers, promoters and business managers.
Wearing different hats and having multiple roles means the labels we use to define ourselves are becoming more subtle and layered.
Are we ultimately still talking about skaters, or are we talking about something larger? I believe the power of roller derby lies in the right of athletes to determine their sport. I believe that skaters are the central figures of the sport, and I believe we cannot evolve without the participation of our entire community. I believe that the group of women who currently pursue business opportunities in roller derby are helping to further its development. I believe we are now talking about ‘derby’ when we say ‘skaters’. We are a global and dynamic culture, with more commonalities than differences. As our sport continues to take hold across the world, smashing through various political, geographic and cultural barriers, we find it a unifying force. Our ability to extend our philosophy to encompass those outside the traditional label of ‘skater’ is key.
Doing this means we not only get to include more people, but we get to take advantage of greater resources. FSBS doesn’t mean skaters have to lay track, sell merchandise, or organize their own events. Tasks, both small and large, can and are being taken over by associations, governing bodies and private entrepreneurs. But how do we ensure these entities are still representing our interests?
SKATING FEDERATIONS – INTRODUCING NGBs
Over the last three years, Europe’s leagues have been focusing their efforts on organizing themselves at the national level. There are currently five fully-functioning, national governing bodies (NGB) of roller derby with over 10 others in various stages of formation. At EROC 2015, these bodies are going to propose a structure for the European Roller Derby Association that facilitates broader, more innovative derby governance and keeps skaters’ concerns central.
Each of these governing bodies has founded itself on the principles of being self-determined and athlete-owned. The member leagues that comprise each NGB are also held to specific standards of skater representation. The principle that roller derby on a national level stays FSBS means the roller derby NGBs have carefully negotiated their relationships to pre-existing associations or skate federations.
In all countries, there are skating federations that are official, meaning they are part of the International Olympic Committee structure and therefore recognized by governments. Growing membership numbers and the prestige of national roller derby teams makes our sport very attractive to these skating federations, many of whom are witnessing dwindling membership in traditional areas (artistic, speed skating). The regulation and oversight of the sports governed by these associations is not athlete-determined. An individual athlete in traditional roller sports putting her body on the line has no say in rules development, safety concerns, uniform requirements, etcetera. She may not help determine the future foci of the organization, nor may she help determine the future standards of her sport.
The new roller derby NGBs in Europe have maintained the FSBS principle by either choosing to align with complete autonomy or by setting up outside the established NGB-establishment. There is no typical arrangement, as each nation has a different situation. Some of the skate federations are incredibly helpful and supportive of NGBs, some are hostile, some are indifferent. Each NGB makes the decision based on its membership needs, the benefits the pre-existing federation has to offer, and whether the relationship seems to be one that will foster development for the sport nationally.
The dedication of European roller derby NGBs to stand by the concept of skater determination ripples out significantly. It sends a message to organizations outside of ‘derby’ that we stand by our principles, even if they aren’t the status quo. It empowers other new or small NGBs to stay true to their values when tested. Most importantly, autonomous membership maintains philosophical standards at the league level, ensuring member leagues are run democratically, safeguarding a responsible and involved culture to the sport.
The Next Wave of Self-Determination in Roller Derby (Part 2)
TURNING EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT INTO FINANCIAL INVESTMENT
Most leagues are established by a group of women who are inspired by the game and want to play roller derby. Sometimes they are transfers from other leagues, some have a skating background, but the vast majority starts with an idea and a whole lot of motivation. As each level of structure gets developed and improves, the understanding of what do-it-yourself means is thoroughly ingrained. Leagues thrive from skater involvement, and skaters take pride in their contributions and accomplishments.
The emotional investment is a natural by-product of the passion and time spent in roller derby. The concept of using emotional investment to sell products – as we see in derby businesses – is nothing new. Companies around the world have begun using the intellectual principles of FSBS with emotionally-charged catch phrases to take advantage of an emerging market.
Modern roller derby came along at a time when roller skating was becoming increasingly less popular. Outside of the USA and France, inline skates are the standard and almost no one was roller skating competitively. Inside of 10 years, roller derby has expanded across the globe and with it created an industry of products dedicated to it. Product development and manufacturing takes years and an incredible amount of investment. The buying power of roller derby players is significant enough to bring this industry into being and maintain its growth every year.
Every time a skater purchases a product from a specific company — whether manufacturer or retailer — she is investing in the future of that business. While there is a lot of buying power in roller derby, there are also huge market swings. The industry is new and that makes it unstable. Skaters have real power each time they make a purchase to determine which businesses last and are sustained.
Companies will use images of skaters, represent themselves as skaters, or simply put roller derby in their name as a marketing tool. The appropriation of skater identity and self determination is an effective method for non-derby companies to enter the market and secure themselves a portion of the profits.
These pre-existing, non-derby companies or retailers come from other sports disciplines. Since they are not skaters, their knowledge and understanding of our sport and its nuances are lacking. Many will create or stock product they think will sell, based on a shallow or stereotypical idea of the sport. Skaters then buy gear that doesn’t suit their needs because manufacturers and (more importantly) retailers don’t really know if what they are selling actually functions in the sport.
While FSBS can be used as a tool for promoting sales, it can also be re-appropriated by the derby community through thoughtful buying. When we support derby owned businesses, we support our own development. We allow the members of our community to serve us, knowing their investment is deeper than financial. Good service is required and product availability is key. I don’t recommend that we suspend economic supply and demand for the purposes of a feel good, hippy circle. However, awareness of what your purchase perpetuates reclaims skater determination in a lasting way.
Requiring companies to invest in roller derby beyond just a tagline helps maintain our authenticity. Studies and explorations into modern messaging reveal the gross simplification and watering down of complex concepts, making ideas something to be consumed while the substance falls away. As the next generation of roller derby gets on track, their experience will look very different to the skaters who started just 5 years ago. Training standards are established, the internet is full of resources, and skate shops are abundant. Whether a junior or adult skater, price can often be their first consideration. Creating an understanding about the values beyond that initial choice will determine what and how businesses serve us in the future.
‘For Derby, By Derby’ means different things to each of us. Part of self determination is knowing how much responsibility you feel to the concept or beyond your own participation. The personal choices we make in all areas of our lives have lasting effects and help to shape the world. Roller derby is new and changing fast. We started with a fresh slate and created what we wanted: a sport that turned us into athletes and suited our needs. Now we get to do the same with the new structures around us. We can support the entities that truly support us back by understanding the relationship and value of reciprocity.
Team Portugal Roller Derby’s official sponsor and roller skate shop!