What Announcers Bring to Derby
by Rippi Longstocking
Over the past several months, I have attended and/or volunteered as an NSO at bouts in my area. I am first an announcer, but, if the league doesn’t want an announcer, I will volunteer or at least watch. (I love derby.) Most often, I hear from bout production managers that they don’t need an announcer because there won’t be spectators (i.e., ticket holders). But, during each of those games, I was pulled from my volunteer position or from the audience to announce. Every. Single. Time. First, I would say to the “no announcer needed” folks, if you have people in the venue, then you have “spectators”–no matter if you’re selling tickets or not. Second, I would say announcing offers more to derby than just entertaining audiences; it offers something integral to the running of the game.
Regular and consistent flow of information
If you’re a person walking (or skating) into a derby venue, and you would also like to know when the bout begins or if there is food, you will look to the person with the microphone. All information about the venue, the bout, the penalties, the score, the time, and many other things gets funneled through the announcer. The skater injured in the previous bout has been cleared by the medical team to play in the next game? After some discussion from the officials (SOs & NSOs), 2 points will be added to the home team’s score? The bout is running long, so the intermission will be cut 5 minutes? The BBQ place is closing in 15 minutes and will be offering a $5 special of 1lb of pork? All of these things get filtered through the announcer. Clear, consistent information is how you keep your people happy and your venue running smoothly.
Redundancy of information
In derby, there is a literal army of people who have to scorekeep, penalty track, referee, track repair, and perform a variety of jobs. That army of people is spread across the venue, and venues are typically large and cavernous. When your officials are spread out across a wide space, the announcer provides a check-in: Yes, we are on jam #11. Once more, the announcer is a redundancy that is loud. That sounds obvious, but it’s not. Here’s an example. I might check the center white board, and I announce that the jammer has three cut track penalties. Meanwhile, the penalty box wrangler has in her records that the jammer has two cut tracks and one forearm. Because I just said over a loudspeaker that the jammer has four cut tracks, we are all now aware that there is a mistake somewhere–a mistake that might have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t been announced. It’s much easier to fix something immediately than to try and remember what happened at the end of a bout. The SOs and NSOs can confer quickly to correct any mistakes and get the game going again. As long as human beings are the ones keeping up with statistics, redundancy is a necessary part of the sport, and the announcer is an important part of redundancy.
Calm during the storm
In my short tenure as an announcer, I have had to announce during quite a few major injuries. When a skater is down on the floor, the practice is for officials and other skaters to take a knee, and the officials will typically surround the injured skater. This practice is respectful to the skater and is sweet. The spectators, however, are left in a vacuum. There are always looky-loos in an audience, but most people just want to know if the skater is okay. Announcers can help. Announcers’ voices reassure the audience that everything is under control; the EMTs are making the skater comfortable; updates to the schedule are forthcoming. At a juniors bout recently, I was able to assure the audience that the parents were onsite; I was also able to find grandpa in the audience and send him to the correct hospital to meet the family. Announcers also ask for updates on the injured skater and will update the audience. Keeping your audience informed during an emergency prevents at least some measure of anxiety.
While announcing may seem to be a way for extroverted folks to act silly and entertain the crowd, it is more than just entertainment (though it can and often will be). Announcers have to know a lot about the game of derby to announce it. The AFTDA certification test includes referee hand signals, WFTDA rule sets, and AFTDA Code of Conduct. Announcers have to have a wide view of the action and have to be able to interpret that action quickly and correctly. Announcers can explain to audiences what is happening on the track and why. Audiences become invested in the action when they understand it, so educating audiences is a way to build fan bases and support for derby at large. If, however, you have an audience made up of entirely derby veterans, an announcer can still educate. What was the official review about? Why did that jammer not get her or his four points? Announcers are usually privy to the information shared among officials, and they can clarify any information–especially when there’s a recent change in the rule set, and the rules are being applied in a new way.
It must be said that announcers bring in money. Sponsorship packages often include the mention of a sponsor a certain number of times during a bout. That is, sponsors will give your team money to have an announcer mention a business. Collecting income this way is smart because it doesn’t cost you or your league anything to have an announcer mention a business. Also, you can offer “shout outs” at a bout, which will bring in some extra funds. Once more, vendors and merch booths benefit from having announcers mention them, which makes you have good relationships as well as benefit from the extra sales at your own merch booth. I have had several organizations give me swag to wear during a bout, so I can talk it up to sell more stuff. I will usually take a stroll around the merch booths and food areas before a bout to collect menus, price lists, and other tidbits that I can announce. Believe it or not, people *want* to buy stickers, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and other fun stuff! They *want* to know if there is food or beer! In fact, when I’m announcing, I don’t even think of it as trying to “sell.” I just let folks know where they can get stuff if they want it. Announcing benefits your league, your relationships with vendors, and your relationships with the venues in which you play–all which gives you good exposure and, by extension, the opportunity to earn more revenue at the current bout or one in the future.
A note about broadcasting:
My thoughts about derby announcing have centered around in-house announcing, but there is a second type of announcing that deserves a mention. In a world in which anyone can pick up her or his phone and Facebook Live stream an event, broadcast announcing is becoming increasingly important. Derby fans no longer yearn for broadcast; they expect it. The problem with a feed, however, is that it is very limiting. It’s like watching the game through the cardboard thingy inside a paper towel roll; you can’t see what’s happening in the venue; you can’t see the scoreboard; you often can’t see the penalty box or even one of the turns; the video skips or lags right when something important happens. It can be maddening. Announcers are absolutely necessary for broadcast. No question. I recently watched a stream in which the host league decided not to announce the openers; they only lined up announcers for the “big” games. What happened? They immediately (2 minutes into the first bout) pulled someone to announce, if nothing else, the scores. The fans watching from all over the U.S. were understandably under-satisfied and under-whelmed with a random volunteer who had no idea how to call a game. I hope that this league learned that streaming and announcers for broadcast are non-negotiable.
I am fairly amazed at the number of folks who think that announcing is an unnecessary appendage to the “real” action of derby. Derby is run by an all-volunteer army of people, of which announcers are a part. Announcers are a complement (with an “e” not an “i”) to the game itself. They train, study, and attend clinics just like other members of the derby community and should be treated as valuable members of a team. I know; I’m an announcer, so I’m biased. But I’m also an announcer that has been repeatedly asked to announce on the fly for teams that did not plan ahead for an announcer to attend. Yes, it does take some planning and thought to line up an announcer for your next bout, but it can save a lot of aggravation for your league and your fans.