Published on November 11th, 2012 | by DerbyLife0
Derby Down Under: The Story Behind Roller Derby Xtreme
By Betty Bamalam
“For me, RDX is a way for the Ri-ettes to not only play one of the best teams in the world and learn from all that Gotham brings to the table, but it’s also a way to share a goal with my team and work towards it… I’m looking forward to seeing fast and engaging derby with highly skilled skaters who understand roller derby at its finest.” – Lace N’ Arsenic, Los Angeles Derby Dolls
“Gotham Girls All Stars aspire to be the masters of the universe in roller derby. As the team captain I am always seeking new ways to challenge ourselves. Whether it’s a newly discovered neighborhood run, a new training circuit, or a banked track derby bout, we view every opportunity as a new learning experience and challenge.” – Bonnie Thunders, Gotham Girls Roller Derby
I got an email from a woman in Australia two years ago, asking about Roller Derby and television. I answered and put it out of my mind. I’d been in the US for a little while and Australia seemed so far away. She emailed back. What started as a trickle turned into a flood.
Margee Brown works for Fremantle Media. They’re big, really big. Like ‘X-Factor’ and ‘Insert-Name-Of-Country-Here’s Got Talent’ kind of big. What Margee wanted to do was derby, but more like derby with some giant favours called in. In over two years of emailing and phone calls the original idea has morphed and changed a great deal, and now it’s all boiled down into a concept that’s about to put Roller Derby skaters front and centre in the biggest venues in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney this November.
‘Roller Derby Xtreme’ (or ‘RDX’) is a banked track tour. It’s Gotham versus LA Derby Dolls plus some guest Australian skaters, and it’s happening on a custom built banked track. Fremantle Media sought advice from Bitchy Kitten (Kitt Traxx) and combined that with the know-how of a crew that builds touring rock show staging. To add to the production there will be 5 cameras feeding into giant screens showing multiple angles and replays, plus fancy graphics giving skater stats and game scores.
I think the moment it hit me was when I was listening on the phone to a conference call with some tech people Fremantle had called in for some brain storming on what they could bring to the table.
‘What if we put GPS trackers into their uniforms that synched up with the scoreboard to show who was on the track for each jam?’
‘Could we give the penalty tracker a touchpad instead of a clipboard, that automatically updated the penalty box?’
I thought to myself OH GOLLY. It made me realise that this was a very different beast.
Fremantle approached Gotham and LA with an offer. Contracts were hammered out and with Demolicious, Brandi Irons, Sniperella, Bonnie Thunders and co. on board, things started to really heat up. There were teething problems, not just with contracts, but with bringing groups of people in three different timezones to consensus. Most of this period was a sleepless blur. As well as the contracts and groundwork, I had recently given birth and my sanity was rapidly unravelling.
Agreements were finally signed and we were officially underway. The RDX concept was creating a stir in Fremantle Media units internationally. The vibe was that if it kicked off successfully in Australia, the tour concept could be developed in the UK and Asia as well. For the record – I am comfortable with the idea of skaters and refs being paid to skate in an event put on by a massive multinational media conglomerate. No, it’s not gritty D.I.Y. derby run by volunteers and fuelled with blood, sweat and tears. Grassroots derby is amazing. I love it, and I have gladly given a great deal to the sport. RDX is not that kind of derby, and never will be. If this is not something you can ideologically get on board with, that’s fine with me.
With more people in the inner circle, not just skaters, refs and Fremantle Media, but also commercial partners, PR, venue operators, and technicians, there were more obstacles to overcome, more friction and a lot more explaining to do. The real collision came when RDX publicly launched in Australia. I felt a lot as though my role at this point was acting as a translator. The launch got mixed reactions and generated as much excitement as there was backlash. Fremantle weren’t ready for the tide of questions and the level of detail that the derby public expected would be made available to them, and some of the details being sought weren’t the kind of thing a private business enterprise had ever had to splash out on Facebook. The RDX crew worked overtime to engage the local community, offer fundraising and cross promotion opportunities and do what they could to integrate into Australian roller derby.
About two weeks into the publicity push what started out as a 6 bout tour was cut in half, and three cities were wiped off the schedule. That was a huge blow to the team. There were crisis talks and a lot of questions. Throughout my time with RDX I have always felt that my opinion mattered and was valued, but I think it was now that RDX really opened their minds and ears. Margee Brown was learning to speak derby and I was learning how to better talk to RDX, and how to navigate the huge, multi-dimensional machine. It has been a uniquely challenging experience.
Overall my experience working for a commercial entity that is promoting roller derby has been very positive. Fremantle have come a long way in two years, but more importantly they’re aware that they have a way to go, and more to learn. What’s impressed me most was their ability to admit when they could do better and to enact change, as well as their very genuine desire to create a showcase for skaters to play roller derby in a fantastic setting. They have been committed to a respectful and professional presentation of the game, and sought to use their expertise and abilities to improve the fan experience in ways that local leagues simply cannot do. RDX is roller derby but it will not be like what’s currently on offer in Australia, and nor should it be.
Does derby need RDX? Maybe, maybe not, depending on your vantage point. Is your league experiencing a slump in ticket sales? Are your friends and family tapped out? I’m not here to delve deeply into what the sport needs or doesn’t need – and I don’t think that is a question that I can legitimately answer seeing how derby has fractured into so many factions with differing agendas. There will be positives and negatives to this experience, and it is up to local leagues how they will make use of the opportunities and positives presented. If it goes well, exciting things will happen that I truly believe will have an uplifting effect on the sport. Like it or not, this event will create change. Not just in the public perception of the sport, the technology that is used in conjunction with showcasing and officiating the game, but also in the idea of what derby is, and what it can be.
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