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Lansing Derby Vixens: An Interview with Their Head Coach On Starting a Community-Based Business | Business Hub |®

Social Media Helps This Roller Derby Spread Its Passion

by Taylor Sisk, Staples® Contributing Writer

Chat with Lansing Derby Vixens head coach and director of communications, Ryan Knott, about his team and its accomplishments, and the conversation is sprinkled liberally with the word “passion.” Knott has considerable passion for his team and his community, and he believes that’s a primary reason his organization was selected first-prize winner in Staples’ Make Your Idea Happen contest in May 2014. He plans to open a venue that will be the Vixens’ own, and is saving the winnings from the contest to “really trick out” the place.

We asked Ryan what lies ahead for the team, and here’s what he told us.

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 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 maintain that momentum and 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 6,700 fans on Facebook, second only to Detroit in Michigan, and more than 2,300 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.

You said that you plan to “really trick out” your new venue. What will that entail?

Staples has a lot of technology solutions that can enhance our training and fan experience. High-speed networking can help us better leverage some of our proprietary software to give us faster and better feedback during scrimmages and games. Plus, we use a lot of video to supplement our training, and Staples can help us improve that experience for our skaters by allowing us to install permanent cameras and video review equipment.

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.

And your advice to anyone who wants to start a community-minded organization?

No matter what anybody tells you, you have to believe in it. No matter how many times somebody tells you it’s not going to work or it’s crazy or what made you even think of that — anything that somebody can tell you as to why you shouldn’t do it — if you’re absolutely passionate about it, just stick with it, just go. You have to follow what makes you happy.

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