A great example of the power of social media and grassroots marketing is the success story of the modern sport: Roller Derby. While this sport has roots dating back to the 1930’s it was thought to be dead in the 90’s. It wasn’t till the early 2000’s that the sport became what we have come to know it as today. As of this year there are over 1400 roller derby leagues world wide and that number is growing rapidly!
This is a sport that has no large corporate sponsor or wealthy owner. It’s not typically televised and there are no million dollar endorsements for it’s players. So how has this sport exploded on the scene so much so that it’s now being considered as an Olympic sport??
The answer: A deeply passionate group of people armed with social media. But, as @LevarBurton would say “you don’t have to take my word for it”. I asked MellFire (@mellokittie), a member of the Central New York Roller Derby League’s marketing committee to tell us more about it…
ME: Can you tell us what league and teams you play for?
MELLFIRE: League is: Central New York Roller Derby I play for: Wonder Brawlers (Travel B Team) and the Rome Wreckers (Home Team)
ME: Now we know “Mellfire” is your “derby name”, can you explain how derby names are chosen?
MELLFIRE: In my case, my teammates helped me pick my name. I wanted something with Hell or Fire in the title, like spitfire or HellFire, etc… Generally a player picks a name that they enjoy, they guard it like a secret, they check it against a master roster on http://twoevils.org/rollergirls/ to make sure it hasn’t been taken and that it isn’t too close to someone else’s name- if it passes you submit it and it is yours.
ME: Can you explain the various things you (all of you) promote ?
MELLFIRE: Bouts, recruitment, fundraisers, meet and greets and sometimes more personal events that the players and the league members participate in. Also we throw shout outs to sponsors and organizations in the community that we work with.
ME: Please explain the ways you market these things?
MELLFIRE: The league has a marketing committee, I am part of this committee. I help with the social media stuff. I enjoy updating the twitter account, I update Facebook along with a couple other gals. We rely heavily on the internet and social media to promote, recruit and sell tickets to events.
ME: How do you use social media?
MELLFIRE: My goal this season for the league’s twitter account @cnyrd is to be more interactive with the account, have contests, improve communication with fans and other leagues. Currently we just post events and follow other leagues, businesses and players. Our Facebook account seems to be the first point of contact for a lot of people, potential sponsors, community organizations, fans, etc. We recently started a contest for our 2,000th like/fan. The winner gets season tickets to the 2013 Home Season bouts. So far that is working well.
ME: What have been the results your social media efforts?
MELLFIRE: We have grown our league a lot since 2007, we used to advertise league events on fliers, via myspace and through word of mouth. Back then we had 20 skaters, maybe? We now have over 70 skaters if you include referees and other league members that volunteer their time to help out during the season, we have well over 100 active members.
Social Media still has its limitations, in an area like the Mohawk Valley/Central New York, Facebook is king and we need to gear a lot of our promotions to Facebook and good old fashioned advertising and word of mouth. In larger cities Twitter, groupon type deals do wondrous things for derby leagues. We haven’t gotten to that point yet [locally].
ME: Do you feel this sport / your team would have this level of growth with out social media?
MELLFIRE: In our area and with our limited resources Social Media is great, we can promote the league to those with smart phones, laptops, internet access, etc from the comfort of our own homes/coffee shops or rink side with very little effort.
For roller derby in general, Social Media has done amazing things. Many of us currently playing (prior to Whip it, of course) would have no idea that it even existed. Search the hash tag #rollerderby on twitter or search Facebook for roller derby- you will find hundreds of leagues, equipment related to derby, skaters, referees, clothing companies marketing directly to the derby community, etc. Derby isn’t as big as we (in the derby community) think it should be yet, but it is getting there. I believe that Social Media, coupled with mainstream media, will get derby to its next step.
ME: What has Social Media provided to you on a personal level?
MELLFIRE: Personally I adore social media, I have been active on twitter for a few years now. I have met a lot of amazing people in my “somewhat local area” I have attended tweet ups and other networking events. I have made connections for my derby life and my personal/professional life. I used twitter last summer before attending RollerCon in Las Vegas to find people to meet up with and compete with while I was there. This year those same people are using Facebook groups to set up bouts for this year’s RollerCon. Without social media I wouldn’t know most of the derby people that I consider friends and chat with on a nearly daily basis. Our friendships have gone from twitter to Facebook to Instagram to texting to hanging out at roller derby events to actual friendships.