A word of advice

Recently, Michael McFarland wrote a great article for DerbyLife called “Rebranding Roller Derby“. It’s started a lot of conversations within our derby community, but I think some have missed the point. McFarland is a branding consultant, which means he does this sort of thing for a living. The overall point of the article is that if we want the sport of roller derby to be taken more seriously, we need to start thinking about new logos.

McFarland fully admits that a new logo won’t magically fix all our problems. ESPN and the Olympics won’t suddenly be begging for us. New logos are simply a progression that most of us are moving towards anyway.

While I agree with the overall point of the article, I think some of the points he tries to make are a

Most people I meet still ask if we throw elbows and punch each other.
Most people I meet still ask if we throw elbows and punch each other.

little optimistic. At one point he insinuates that most people know of modern roller derby. Maybe that’s true where he lives, but that’s still an issue for many of us. By assuming this, he argues that we don’t need a derby girl in our logos. Granted in some of his example logos he does include skate wheels or a helmet, but I would say we still have to make our sport a little more obvious.

McFarland constantly compares roller derby teams to football and baseball teams. I think it’s an unfair comparison. Most Americans can recognize an Atlanta Braves logo as a baseball team or a Dallas Cowboys logo as football without even following those sports. They’re that well known.

For us, a more appropriate comparison would be to the Women’s National Basketball Association. Like the WNBA, we are both struggling for recognition. (Quick quiz: name three female basketball players. Now name three male basketball players. Which was easier?) The WNBA fights to emerge from the shadow of the NBA, while we fight to emerge from the shadow of old school roller derby.

If you look at the teams in the WNBA, many of them use a basketball somewhere in their logo. Why? How many of you have ever heard of the Tulsa Shock? Exactly. Without the presence of the basketball, you would have no idea what kind of sport they play. It’s the same for roller derby.

McFarland’s observation that we should start dropping the roller girl from our logos is valid because we need to start making each league’s logo more unique. But we still need to keep some derby presence in there. A few of his examples show a helmet or some wheels. Working a skate wheel into a logo can create a standout piece that also shows exactly what sport it represents.

It isn’t uncommon for sports teams to revamp their logos from time to time. Here in Houston, the Astros have a new logo and new uniforms. No one’s saying you have to like the sample logos McFarland created. It’s just an example of how we can start thinking differently about our image.

Roller derby has come a long way since it’s rebirth in the early 2000s. When I first started playing in 2006, we used a penalty wheel and had a penalty box mistress. Gone is much of the kitsch, but that doesn’t stop the sport from being fun AND working towards a professional image.


One thought on “A word of advice

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  1. I think he was right about most things (I do have a design background, though, so mild bias may apply). The thing is, derby is so DIY, that people who may not know the first thing about design/branding sometimes are the ones making league logos, and that’s okay, but many of them are just… well, not very good.

    And I’ve always hated the derby girl in logos. We keep drilling it into peoples’ heads that anyone can play derby, all shapes and sizes, everyone is welcome, etc… and then we’re gonna flash around this generic looking, tattooed pin up with humanly impossible hip/waist/bust measurements to represent our entire league or team? Boo, hiss.

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