Five Signs That Your League is Operating Beyond Its Means

And some suggestions for getting back on track! Just like with your personal finances, a roller derby league can easily find itself in trouble with money if it is operating beyond its means. Though the warning signs differ slightly from what you might experience with credit cards at their limit or unpaid loans backing up, there are a few telltale signs of financial danger within your league that are universal to numerous situations.

Here are five things to look for when determining if your league is making too many impulsive business decisions:

1. You and/or your board are unaware of the league’s real expenses.

If league funds always seems to be low, or gone, and your board cannot account for exactly what that money has been spent on then this is a huge warning sign of not only financial difficulties but also poor communication.

2. Your league skimps on the operational and event essentials.

If you get to the point that your league has to be sparing with stuff like pencils, pens, markers, dry-erase boards, clipboards, track tape, rope, water, dressing room food and printing bout paperwork, this is a telltale sign that funds are not being appropriated properly or responsibly. Perhaps it is time to look at what your league is spending on and why everybody has to turn in their pencils because you only have 20 of them left.

Make sure you have all of the supplies you need before worrying about expensive luxury items. Photo courtesy of Rob Vida.

Make sure you have all of the supplies (like tape or bandanas for ref wrist guards, paper, etc.) you need before worrying about expensive luxury items. Photo courtesy of Rob Vida Photography.

3. Your league could not operate for 3-months, let alone a full season, without multiple fundraisers.

If your league cannot operate for a few months without the need to host steak nights, bake/craft sales, garage sales, car/dog washes, ticket raffles, lap skating pledges, creating a gofundme page, etc. every year multiple times then this is another sign that league finances likely need to be discussed. Is sponsorship money put toward the proper expenses and is your league operating within the budget it has? Find out sooner than later!

4. Your league is not saving any money aside for next season.

If operational costs for your league at the end of 2013 were so much that you had practically nothing set aside for 2014, this is another sign that the organization is running above its means. It’s still early enough in the year now to create a real budget and business plan! What’s the use of hosting a whole bunch of events and traveling to compete if the league is going to go bust yet again at the end of the season? Things won’t be able to run for long at that rate.

5. Your friends and family almost seem to avoid you before bout weekends.

Are you always texting or messaging your friends or family about bouts, fundraisers and public appearances? Does the sentence, “hey, what are you doing this Saturday? You should come watch derby!” sound all too familiar? Maybe they’re busy, or maybe they’re feeling pressured by you constantly asking them to volunteer, pay for tickets to your league’s steak night fundraisers or to come watch your games and support your team. To some people this can feel no different from you always asking them if you can borrow money and after a while, they’ll understandably stop answering their phone.

The Importance of Understanding Your City’s Demographic

There’s a big difference between promoting your event and begging people you know to attend it. If you cannot fill your seats and that is negatively affecting the league’s revenue then perhaps it is time to look more realistically at the public interest and fan base for roller derby that your city really has. Not all cities are roller derby cities, just as not all cities are soccer cities or baseball cities. Population size, population age, geographical location, culture and religion are a few of the many things that define your community and what its interests are.

If you are living in a town with a small population, a fair distance off the highway, with many elderly folk or retirees, then derby may not be their entertainment of choice for a Saturday night. Likewise, if you are in a city that has a large populous of young families with children, perhaps a lack of daycare services or babysitters are a huge determining factor in why and when people choose to go out. When they do have a night to themselves, they may even just want to go for a relaxing dinner and movie night or stay in on the couch, order a pizza and watch a marathon of Doctor Who. Knowing your demographic is incredibly important in this sense as it will not only give you a strong indication of the best possible dates to host events but will also guide you in HOW to effectively promote the sport to your community.

Take the time to research your city! Look at what events and celebrations have been most successful, think about WHY they were well received and analyze how they have been marketed to locals. With this information in mind, considering a more affordable venue, traveling less as a team or not hosting as many home games in a season could mean the difference between playing some and not playing at all.

Your ticket paying audience is the life-blood of your league. Talk with them, survey them and strive to understand who they are, what they like and what they dislike about your events. Photo courtesy of Rob Vida Photography.

Your ticket paying audience is the life-blood of your league. Talk with them, survey them and strive to understand who they are, what they like and what they dislike about your events. Photo courtesy of Rob Vida Photography.

Spend Wisely!

If your league bank account doesn’t have the money to 100% cover operation costs for all home bouts and rental fees for practice this season, then perhaps now is not the time to purchase new team jerseys or order more key chains and drink cozies. Spend league funds on what the organization NEEDS to operate right now, not on what it wants or thinks could possibly help later on. Look at what merchandise has sold, think about how long it took to go out of supply/get low, sell what you have left and THEN consider what you will need to order to turn an actual profit this season. Spending another $2000 – $3000 on t-shirts, water bottles, hats, booty shorts and bottle openers isn’t going to make the difference if you still have a couple of boxes of the stuff in your team captain’s garage and it took a season and a half to get the low anyway.

Creating a priority list for the year’s expenses would also likely serve your league well. Something like: practice space rental fees > game day venue costs > bout day supplies (tape, food, water, officiating stuff, paperwork printed, sound equipment, laptop, projector, etc.) > advertising and event poster prints > merchandise > new team jerseys > hiring an expensive DJ > leather team jackets > team bus with 3D logo on it > giant inflatable derby girl with a built-in sound recording that advertises our next game alongside the highway > diamond encrusted disco ball and fog machine for after-parties… you get the idea.


Don’t Let Other Leagues Define Yours

Though your league might feel pressured to become the professional, Olympic level competitors that much of the greater Roller Derby community is striving for, don’t jeopardize yourselves for the sake of progress that you can’t afford right now. Just like any other sport clubs in any other city, some are going to be more successful and better received than they are in neighboring towns. That’s just the way of things and there is nothing wrong with it! Spending money and living like Gotham Girls Roller Derby when you are a small, amateur, grassroots league operating in a town with a population hovering on, or less than, 30,000 people, is going to lead to more problems and conflict than any of you need. It is better to embrace and enjoy the success and support you actually have than to force an identity that will alienate your members and/or drain your league’s bank account.

Be patient and have fun playing the sport. The acceptance and progress of Roller Derby in your city will not be defined by all the bells and whistles your league throws out there; it will be defined by the gradual loyalty your league earns through hard work, persistence, patience and offering reasonably priced sporting entertainment. Do what you can, with what you have and put on one a good time at a realistic level! A $6000 sound system, $2500 DJ, light shows and hosting bouts at the fanciest, most expensive venue in town are not going to fill your stands for an entire season. In fact, the opposite will happen in that these decisions will likely just highlight your league’s limitations. Think outside the box! For example, reach out to local garage bands, dance troupes, school choirs, or poets for half-time entertainment. Show support for the local art scene by offering them exposure at your events! Chances are that parents will come out to your local Junior Derby game if their kids’ school band is going to perform a few songs at intermission.

Be the league that YOUR CITY wants to follow and support!

Do you have your own opinions on how leagues operate and interact with the community? Leave a comment below or join in on some discussion with Derby Frontier on Facebook!

Headshot1Written by Kevin “Kevlar” Dennison

I still buy comic books when I really shouldn’t…