Monday, June 28, 2010

Setting Up For Your First Bout

Derby Helper has some statistical tracking that tells us what sort of web searches people make that point them to us. There's a small but consistent stream of traffic from people who are searching for guidance on how to setup a track for a league's first home bout. We would have posted something informative for those wayward souls a long time ago but to be honest, all those Fire Elementals in the Taming the Flames quest aren't going to cast magic ice blast on themselves. And besides, nobody ever actually comes out and asks us, right?

From: Sarah H.

I'm on the fresh meat team in my league and have been assigned to help set up for our leagues first official bout. It will be held at our local YMCA where we practice.

Other members of the league have been given other various duties such as concessions, advertising, skater management, etc. My task involves creating/marking the track, scoring table, penalty box and team seating. I'm sure there are other tasks that will come up along the way that we haven't thought about yet since this is our first bout.

What have I left out? Do you have any suggestions for making the process run smoothly? Any advice for a derby bout would be really helpful.

Well crap.

Ok Sarah, I'm going to rest my level 10 sorceror in the corner of a rest shrine and take the time to address this issue for you because as it turns out, I used to have a very active part in the bout setup for my local league and can give you some pointers on audience ergonomics, working around some of the common space limitations and most importantly, pimping your track for maximum bling-osity. (Bling-alarity? Bling-gasm? Pick your favorite.)

Audience Ergonomics
Organizing the flow of your audience one they're inside the building is critical to making sure they're willing to come back next time. If you were to do something silly like, say, lay out the benches so that they block off access to half the bathrooms in the building (like we did in my league for almost two years) then you would tend to have really long bathroom lines, a lot less willingness to buy drinks at the concession stand and a lot more arrests for indecent exposure in the back corner of the parking lot by the tree line. Make sure that the position of the track inside your gym, arena, barn, whatever has not only the mandatory 10 feet of outside ref track available but also a walking path to get from one side to the other. If you have a tight fit on the ends, which is common, taping off a 2 foot wide no-standing lane will keep people from having to push and fumble their way through a mob of rabid suicide seat occupants every time nature calls.

Check with the fire marshal to get the maximum legal occupancy of the facility so you don't unwittingly do something dangerous like accidentally allowing in 400 more people than the law allows.  (Did that ever happen on my watch?  Ma-a-a-a-ybe...)  Merchandise tables and concessions should optimally placed so that if there's a line, it doesn't impede the flow of people moving from one area to another.  Limiting your access points to just one entrance helps immensely for most facilities, as this frees all the other points up for easier passage of traffic across them.  Don't get yourself a ticket from the fire department by cluttering those access points up though because (in America at least) you generally can't block any access point for use as an exit even temporarily if you're anywhere near the maximum occupancy of the building.  Again, check with the fire marshal to see what local ordinances may apply.

Space limitations
If you're so cramped by the room dimensions that there isn't enough room for everything you need to put on the outside, you might have to give grudging consideration to setting up the benches "Windy City style", as seen best at about the 2:20 point in this video of when the Windy City Rollers played at Cicero Stadium:

Yes, that's two full team benches wedged in with all the referees and NSOs in the infield of the track. Not the easiest way to do it by any stretch but it's an option if floor space is ridiculously limited.

Also, if like most leagues you plan to use a laptop and projector to display the scoreboard, be very wary of putting it on the outside of "turn 2 and turn 4" as they call it in NASCAR, meaning the second half of each of the curves. Due to the increased likelihood of contact and the laws of physics, skaters are most likely to exit the track at high speed in the mid to later part of the curve and therefore more likely to plow into caches of expensive electronics in this area. (Yup, this happened. The announcer had to give the score verbally after every jam for the rest of the bout.) If these danger zones can't be avoided, set the table or stand as far back as possible and maybe even consider having someone large sit in front of the table with a blocking pad to play "goalie".

Sure, on setup evening you COULD just tape down a couple of ropes and a few lines and call it a night. Or, you could turn your track from drab to fab with the help of some rope lights:

This crappy screen capture I made from a video does not do justice to how cool this looks.  It ain't cheap to do but if you purchase rope lights along with rubber ramps to protect them, your track will look like a combination of magic and sex to the spectators walking in the door.  And best of all, you can even buy them in your team colors.


There you go Sarah, a few helpful tips from your friends at Derby Helper who are totally not mad that while writing this post, their sorceror was discovered by a wandering zombie and had his skull used as a buffet.

Hey readers! Help out all the newbie bout coordinators out there by adding your tips down below in the comment section!


  1. Laughed my ass off while getting an education, thanks!

    Sarah Problem?

  2. Please please please tell me there aren't still leagues using rope lights! I spent four days in the hospital with a compound fracture of my left ankle thanks to that ridiculously-thick floor hazard. My league never put them down again. Just as easy to see day-glo duct tape over 1/4 inch rope or plastic tubing.

  3. Bad News BaronessJune 28, 2010 at 11:21 PM

    1) Make a list of everything that needs to be done during the bout - selling tickets, watching the doors, seating, keeping fans off the track, whatever you need for your particular venue. Figure out who is doing what before bout day. In our league, anyone who isn't skating is expected to work the bout in some capacity. If you need extra help, put out a call to your fans offering free admission if they work the bout (hopefully in some job where they can see the game while working). Try and keep the regular bout jobs separate from the NSO jobs, since most bout jobs don't require special skills while NSOing does.

    2) Addendum to the fire marshal and safety point: make a floor plan (to scale) with the location of the track, tables, benches, etc. and get it approved by the fire marshal before the bout. This avoids any unpleasant surprises and allows you to assure any concerned fans that the venue is not too crowded.

    3) Decide on any ticketing and refund policies before the bout and enforce them consistently. Trust me, there will be enough weird situations that you didn't think of to deal with on the day of.

    4) Speaking of the day of, designate someone to be in charge of what's going on during the bout. The skaters are busy - you need someone to deal with the drunk chick who just fell down the stairs, the lady who can't understand why her coupon from three seasons ago isn't good anymore, the merch table being out of anything smaller than a $20...

    5) Find out as much info as possible before bout day and have it written down and available. What's the contact number for the EMTs or the concession manager? Does your venue allow animals? Tailgating? Nudity? How will you handle an overly belligerent fan? The more you have available as a reference, the more you can sit back and watch the game.

  4. Well, we did it! Setup and take down was a snap and we our first bout was sold out, a great success. Thank you Derby Helper!

    Sarah Problem?