Updates, Interviews, Good Stuff

The Importance of Fan Engagement

The energy and excitement of roller derby is obvious and infectious. The rules, strategies, and tactics? Not so much. Purple Reign, recognizable in their purple “Ask Me About Roller Derby” t-shirts, helps power Rose City Rollers by welcoming fans to our bouts and helping them along their path to diehard fandom. This week, we talk with Jennifer “Disco Funcussion” Carr, the head of Purple Reign and a skater with the Wreckers, to talk about the team’s approach to engaging fans.

What brought you to roller derby and what roles to do you play in the league?
I started my derby journey with the Los Alamos Derby Dames in 2013. I saw a group of women in roller skates and sparkly shorts recruiting for new skaters and thought, “That looks like my kind of scene.” Little did I know that one spark would change my whole future.

Currently, I am the lead for Purple Reign, serve on the “Whose Jam Is It Anyway?” event committee, and am newly elected to the RCR Director at Large position.

Jennifer “Disco Funcussion” Carr sharing a laugh before a recent bout at The Hangar. Photography Credit: Regularman Photography

How do you describe Purple Reign? How do you see them functioning at bouts? How has the team evolved since you’ve been a member of the league?
Purple Reign is RCR’s ambassador + spirit squad. Our mission is “to create life-long derby fans” through fan engagement. We operate mostly at bouts and public events by teaching the basics of roller derby to new fans, answering questions about game play, modeling good sportspersonship (no booing the skaters or refs!), and handing out RCR swag to fans so that they will remember their great time with us and hopefully visit us again.

When I first started with the league, Purple Reign were cheerleaders with a uniform and rehearsed cheers. The feedback we got from the crowd was that derby is exciting enough — we didn’t need cheerleaders. I joined the year that Purple Reign moved into more of an RCR Host role, a slimmed-down version of a derby ambassador. When I took over as lead a year or so later, I brought the pompoms back because who isn’t happy shaking sparkly pompoms? and because the pompoms make us recognizable and approachable as event staff.  The Hangar is our home, and we are there to make sure guests in our home feel as much of the derby love as we feel when we are in that space.

How do you recruit and train volunteers to be part of Purple Reign?
Most Purple Reigners are current or former skaters who have some basic knowledge of roller derby rules and like talking to other people about the sport. You don’t have to skate, however, to be part of Purple Reign: super fans also can be part of the team.

We train new volunteers on the job by shadowing a more experienced Reigner at a bout until they are comfortable to fly on their own. The most critical time for us at an event is from the time that doors open until the first whistle blows. That’s when we have the best opportunity to connect with the fans one-on-one and set them up for the action they‘re about to see.

There is a common misconception that Purple Reign volunteers must be extroverts.  Not true! Some of our very best volunteers are introverts who climb into the stands and teach derby to new people from where they are sitting. Others—myself included—like to talk to larger groups of fans in the same area from in front of the crowd. If you enjoy talking derby to others, you will probably love Purple Reigning!

If you were talking to another league that was thinking about developing a fan engagement team, what would you say the top challenges they’re likely to face are?
I’m probably biased, but I find fan engagement one of the least challenging roles in the league. Everyone who walks through our doors wants to be there, is curious about our sport, and wants to have a good time. Our role is to enhance their enthusiasm with a welcoming attitude and a personal connection. That said, RCR is a year-round derby league. Between our home team season, juniors’ season, travel team season, and recreational team schedule, there are many months where we have 6-8 public bouts. This takes a toll on an active volunteer team, and burnout is a real concern. My advice to other leagues starting their own fan engagement team is to be clear on what the role is and what it is not. We are front-facing and visible, and it is easy for our volunteers to get pulled into those special tasks that are needed on bout days, but that turn our attention away from the fans. Just because we look like we are having fun (and we are!) doesn’t mean we’re not also working our pompoms off to enhance the fan experience. Defining the role’s boundaries helps keep the volunteers positive and engaged, and coming back time and again.

Given your history with Purple Reign and current term as a member of Rose City Rollers’ Board of Directors, where might fan engagement fit into a roller derby league’s strategic plans?
RCR’s 3-year strategic plan boils down to Growth — growth within our league and internal leadership opportunities, growth in our partnerships with the greater Portland community, and growth in our influence in the world roller derby community. Growing our fan base is a critical component of our strategic vision. The support of our fans allows us to expand our program offerings, to increase our exposure to new sponsors, to increase our sport’s recognition in the city, and gives our skaters confidence in playing the sport they’ve spent countless hours on the track mastering. Every person that comes to an event is another opportunity to expand roller derby’s reach into the lives of the casual fan to the most ardent season pass holder, and Purple Reign is a key component of that fan experience.  Rose City Rollers would be but a fraction of ourselves if not for the continued support of our fans.

Interested in learning more about Purple Reign or other ways to volunteer with Rose City Rollers? Check out our Volunteer Page for more info!