To Broadcast, Or Not To Broadcast?
We've been fielding a ton of questions about the lack of streaming video from this weekend's Wild West Showdown. As we've said elsewhere, we're as surprised as anyone else to discover that the event isn't being streamed.
We had a really great experience broadcasting the first WWS in 2010 (as documented in our Behind the Scenes article), with great support from both the host league and the venue. Kitsap Sun Pavilion is a terrific venue for our purposes, with excellent internet connectivity, more than adequate power, risers and tables and chairs wherever we want them, elevated positions to provide great camera angles -- the whole package.
In 2011, the event worked directly with a vendor to handle video production and broadcast separately. We had every reason to believe that they'd done the same for this year; we didn't go out of our way to investigate, because we try to focus our limited resources on event broadcasts that need our help, and we didn't think WWS was in that category any longer.
We would've happily hustled to put a broadcast together for WWS, if we'd been aware that it wasn't already happening.
What broadcasts are -- and are not -- useful for today
We want to take this opportunity to talk a little more about the purpose, goals, and needs of derby broadcast efforts.
There's a prevailing belief in some corners of the derbyverse that broadcasts should, primarily, serve to expose derby to the general public; that a derby broadcast, if dressed up in all the cues and production elements that people are accustomed to in mainstream pro sports, will cause a mass audience to suddenly sit up and take notice.
That's an attractive vision, for the same reasons Field of Dreams is an enjoyable movie. It's easy to love the idea that if we just wrap it up right, everyone will suddenly understand and share our passion. But it's a fantasy. If production values were all that mattered, Ultimate Tazer Ball would indeed surely be The Future Of Sport. It's cargo cult thinking: if we ensconce ourselves in all the trappings, the desired outcome will simply manifest itself.
That's not how sports actually grow. Pick any sport with a massive general public following: from baseball to basketball to all flavors of football, spectator sports accumulate audience over many decades, at a rate roughly consistent with the rate of participation in the sport.
Even mixed martial arts, often cited as a modern exception and an example to follow, grew over many decades; with millions participating in various martial arts to a greater or lesser degree, UFC draws from a substantial participant base as the foundation of its viable broadcast audience.
Secondarily, there are some who view video media as an immediate revenue option for derby leagues and organizations. While it's possible to make a little money around the margins, it creates incentives to lock out independent media to preserve the sales territory, while setting quality expectations that are too expensive for most current events to achieve.
One day, reaching (and monetizing) a mass general public audience will become the best, highest use of video broadcasting. Today is not that day.
Building a fanbase
It's often observed that our bout and event audiences seem to consist only of derby skaters and friends and family. This is usually couched as a sign of failure: "we'll never make it as a Real Mainstream Sport unless we figure out how to appeal to people who aren't in our immediate social sphere. We're just giving each other money and patting each other on the back. We have to Think Bigger!"
But there's a glass-half-full converse to that argument. Compared to other sports at this stage of growth, modern roller derby draws phenomenal audiences. Our friends and family want to watch us play. Derby draws four-figure audiences of paying spectators in dozens of cities (possibly hundreds; let's do a census, shall we?).
Just look at the other sports we compete with for venues, sports like roller hockey with many more participants than derby... but nobody watching. If only our friends and family are watching, but they're actually watching -- well, we've got something here.
So, why do we broadcast?
We know what kind of sacrifices skaters have to make in order to travel to events like this. We think it's critically important that the fruits of those sacrifices -- the competition at these events -- can be shared by the support structures those skaters leave behind at home: leaguemates, family, friends, fans.
At DNN, we think this is the road to growth. Derby gains participants every day. By making it possible for the people in each skater's personal support structure to watch them whenever and wherever they compete, we help to grow and strengthen the web of support, interest and fandom.
Furthermore, we know that a thriving ecosystem of derby broadcasts binds the community together. Skaters learn by watching each other, whether across town or on the opposite sides of the planet. With broadcasts, and the conversations that develop around them, skaters get to know each other; teams get to know each other; rivalries develop; strategies evolve; and we all get a little more deeply attached to this thing we're all building together.
To that end, we think every event should be broadcast, and we are here to help every host league make that happen. It's what we do. It doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to be fancy, it doesn't have to be network-ready to still be meaningful to everyone back home who cares about anyone who's on skates.
If you are hosting or participating in an event and you'd like DNN's support in organizing a broadcast, please get in touch!