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Social Media Has Given This Roller Derby Team a Sporting Chance

Some people look at their city and think it needs more affordable housing or better public transportation. Make Your Idea Happen contest first-prize winner Ryan Knott decided his city, Lansing, MI, needed a roller derby team. After finding players and fans on Facebook, he has remained involved, fostering and growing the Lansing Derby Vixens as head coach and director of communications. But, in true team style, while the Vixens would never exist without Ryan’s efforts, he’s quick to deflect credit. “I simply created a spot where like-minded women could congregate and organize,” he says. “My wife was involved in the early meetings and organization, and I was lucky enough to be invited to be involved.”

We caught up with Ryan to learn more about why the Vixens is more than just a sports team, and how social media allows him to communicate that roller derby is no longer the cliché it used to be.

How did you get involved with a roller derby team?

Back in 2007, I had heard about resurgence in roller derby around the country and began looking into it — more out of curiosity than anything else. I saw that Detroit, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Flint all had teams, but Lansing, Michigan’s capital city, did not. I kept waiting to see if one would pop up here, but it just never materialized. So, one night in early 2010, I was sitting in a coffee shop with my wife, and I decided to put up a Facebook page called “Lansing Roller Derby…the time has come.” Within days, the page had more than 600 fans, and within weeks it was over 2,000. The women themselves then started to use the page to organize, and the rest really is history.

Of course, the Lansing Derby Vixens are better than the competition. But what makes them different?

What makes us different is our focus on being a successful business and a successful sports team. Roller derby is a very grassroots effort. All leagues are run by volunteers and, for the most part, no one is making any money. It’s truly a labor of love. But from the beginning, the Vixens were focused on creating a structure that prepares us for future success. We did things the right way early on to ensure that when things did start to take off, we’d be stable, strong and ready for whatever comes our way. I’ve seen a lot of other teams fail because they didn’t take the time to plan for the future.

What are your biggest business challenges, and how do you handle them?

Awareness and perception have always been two of our biggest challenges. Early on, there was just a lot of disbelief in the community that roller derby even still existed. Then there was a lot of incredulity that Lansing actually had a team. And then there has been the inevitable comparisons to the roller derby of the past, which had more in common with big-time wrestling than an actual sport.

We’ve handled it in a number of ways. Most notably, we’ve been out in the community a lot. We do a lot of community service and volunteering, and we donate a portion of the proceeds from our ticket sales to local charities. All told, we’ve donated more than $25,000 to Lansing charities.

Once the public began to see that we were mostly just regular folks, not the pop-culture cliché of tattoos and fishnets, and that we’re truly community minded, they have really embraced us. Our first home game in February 2012 sold out with more than 1,200 fans in attendance. Since then, we’ve maintained a fantastic average attendance, selling out at least our first game of the year ever since.

How do you communicate all the great things the Vixens do?

I’m a big believer in social media. It’s been a huge help to us. Facebook is a hub where people can learn about the team, meet the individual skaters and see the good work we’re trying to do in the community. We have more than 6,200 fans on Facebook, second only to Detroit in Michigan, and nearly 2,000 followers on Twitter.

We’ve also been really lucky to have great word-of-mouth. People see us in the community or come to our games and then do a great job of telling their friends and families how much fun they had and how great the team is.

What’s your secret for making more happen?

Don’t be afraid to do what needs to be done. In an organization like the Vixens, there’s no such thing as “That’s not my job.” Everyone has to pitch in and be prepared to make it happen.

Do you have any mentors?

We’ve been incredibly blessed to have been embraced by some of the top derby teams and skaters in Michigan. The Detroit Derby Girls and Grand Raggidy Roller Girls out of Grand Rapids have been particularly generous with us, especially early on. They set a great example of what derby teams can be, and we’ve worked hard to learn from that.

What role does Staples play in helping your business succeed?

Staples has been a great resource for me to get the supplies I need to help run this business, both as an administrator and as a coach. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped by my neighborhood Staples, which is just around the corner from my house, on my way to practice to pick up something or other. From technology items and pens and paper to copy and print services, I know I can count on Staples.

If you could go back in time to the day you decided to start a roller derby team, what would you tell yourself?

Get ready for the ride of your life! I had no idea that putting up a simple Facebook page would literally change my life. The Lansing Derby Vixens are my passion. It’s what gets me up in the morning and motivates me to constantly be improving. My skaters work so hard for me and for our community. I owe it to them to give them my very best. This is my second full-time job, and I can’t imagine my life without it.

Staples Products to Help Make This Idea Happen:

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