Funding DNN in 2010: Open Letter

Funding DNN in 2010: Open Letter New original art from our friends at Flat Track Revolution, now available on a new line of DNN donor premiums.

Back at the start of the derby year, March 27 didn’t really stand out on the calendar. It wasn’t a major event or tournament weekend; while there were a couple of interesting bouts scheduled, there weren’t any top-10 showdowns; it wasn’t clear that live coverage would be available from any more than one or two bouts. Just another Saturday.

Little did we imagine that Just Another Saturday would turn out to include no fewer than 12 live bouts, 6 of which were first-time coverage from new locations. Or that I’d be on the phone or at the computer pretty much nonstop for two days leading up to it, helping orient enthusiastic coverage newbies to the available tools. Or that it’d be a 15-hour day of remote support, troubleshooting, and basic DNN operations like score updates. Or that we’d take another look at the calendar and realize that, in addition to an unprecedented slate of major events, we’d be facing of a whole lot of similarly dense non-event weekends.

Shepherding the live coverage load for Just Another Saturday turned out to be nearly as much work as I previously described for Wild West Showdown, a massive two-track weekend event.

While covering the WFTDA tournaments last year, and particularly during WFTDA Nationals, many of you made a point of expressing your admiration for out coverage efforts. This was very gratifying of course, but what really stood out was the number of people (Wicked Skatewear being the standout example) who expressed their determination that we need to be able to do this full-time. We joked with each other about how someday, in the indeterminate future, maybe derby would reach the point where covering it would consume every last waking moment, and that somehow we’d have to find a way to make it our vocation in addition to our avocation.

By the end of the day on March 27, it became clear: ready or not, we were there.

The future is now

As frequent visitors to this site already know, modern roller derby is on an absolute tear right now. The sport’s steep growth had shown some signs of tapering last year, but the release of Whip It (and particularly January’s DVD and BD offering) stoked the fire, dramatically increasing bout attendance, new skater interest, and new league formation.

We’ve been pedaling just as fast as we can to keep up, so far with reasonably good success. In 2008, we began providing live event coverage, tackling three major events (WFTDA East & West Regionals and Nationals), plus a smattering of individual bouts. In 2009, we expanded to seven events: Four Corner Feud, East Coast Derby Extravaganza, all four WFTDA Regionals, and Nationals; plus dozens of individual bouts. We also pioneered the dedicated sportscaster call for the video stream, providing a much more informative viewer experience (at the cost of doubling our event staffing requirements).

Our Fall 2009 coverage was helped along by an external event we couldn’t possibly plan for. My last day job fell victim to the stinky economy in the middle of last summer, freeing me to join Justice Feelgood Marshall at every one of WFTDA’s Big Five tournaments.

This year, we’re once again more than doubling our ambitions, with full DNN live coverage committed for fifteen major events:

We’re on track to give all these events, plus several dozen individual bouts, the “Full DNN Treatment”: streamed video with score and clock overlay, dedicated sportscaster call, and moderated text boutcasting. Which is really exciting, except for this key challenge: keeping up with this volume of activity demands full and undivided attention from both Justice Feelgood Marshall and from me, pretty much every waking moment.

But wait, there’s more! And a dilemma.

As if that’s not enough, we’re simultaneously driving several other initiatives:

Spreading the skill set. As I alluded at the top of the article, we’re investing more time in helping others develop live coverage capability, whether they present it under the DNN brand or their own. We consider this a core element of our mission to expand modern roller derby’s exposure.

Building improved data tools. After two years in development, yesterday we rolled out Version 2.0 of the Derbymatic bout data management database. In addition to tracking teams and scores, Derbymatic 2 can handle bout data down to the per-skater, per-penalty, per-scoring-pass level. We have a lot of tool-building to do before you’ll be able to access season or career stats for a specific skater… but that’s the goal, and the Version 2 release is a giant step in that direction. Hat tip to database architect Bone Crawford, UI developer Three-Day Bender, and “Curator of Bouts” Grand Poobah for their tireless work on Derbymatic.

Evangelizing bout management tools. We’ve been thrilled to see various leagues’ projected scoreboard programs expand their feature set, and we’ve long hoped for a fully computerized bout management system that would make centralized score, penalty, and clock information available on a variety of distributed displays. Rinxter is the first across that finish line, and we’re looking forward to seeing it reach broad use as soon as officiating crews can become familiar and comfortable with it. It is good for derby for about a thousand reasons.

Name registry. Paige Burner and her team have moved absolute mountains for years, maintaining a derby names registry that is fast approaching twenty thousand unique names — and doing this all with a simple spreadsheet and a similarity-checking script. More than a couple times, someone has suggested that better data management tools be created to ease these volunteers’ workload.

As it turns out, it is a decidedly nontrivial information management problem… but it’s one that needs tackling, and we’ve taken the first steps toward doing so. Based on initial consultations with Paige, Derbymatic 2′s schema includes hooks designed to semi-automate many steps in the name registration process. We’re a long way from a live system, but the road forward is visible and is on DNN’s to-do list.

Sounds like you’re busy.

Seriously. And there’s the dilemma. All of the live coverage plans we outlined, and all of the initiatives described above, are important to the continued growth of modern roller derby. We feel like we’ve assembled the pieces necessary to drive them all forward: we have the skill sets, we have the willing volunteers, we have the community contacts and the trust, and we have the track record. What we don’t have is the time. More precisely, the time we’ve been making for DNN has grown to the exclusion of other activities, such as external employment.

So, we’ve reached a fork in the road. As we see it, we have three basic options to close the gap between what we’re able to generate in sponsor revenue and what it costs to deliver DNN’s various initiatives to you.

Option 1: Reduce the scale of DNN’s ambitions to 2008 levels, so Justice and I can go back to regular employment (and therefore continue to eat). I think we can all agree that this option has no merit whatsoever. Let’s move on.

Option 2: Bring on an investor. While there’s certainly appeal to the idea of spending less time scrimping and scrounging to keep the bits flowing, the negatives are substantial. We’re still pretty small, so we’d have to really give up the store to garner enough of an investment to matter. Also, DNN is the combined product of literally hundreds of volunteers, who might understandably lose enthusiasm volunteering for an operation that’s no longer fully derby-DIY. And, incidentally, there are no obvious prospective investors, so even if we liked this idea, it’s not clear we could implement it.

Option 3: Increase viewer contributions. As you’ve surely gathered from this obvious narrative structure, this is our preferred course of action.

We have been positively stunned by your willingness to directly give money to help with our coverage costs. From the first time we put up a Paypal button during 2008 tournaments, thinking maybe we’d get a little beer money but immediately seeing several hundred dollars come in, to the $5000 target for 2009 Regionals that we hit in eleven days, to the 2009 Nationals emergency internet fund that you covered in three days, to the $2500 Wild West Showdown drive that you reached in four days flat — you’ve come through every time we’ve asked.

This time, we’re asking you for a lot more.

Please accept our application

Until our sponsorship sales revenue grows enough to fully support us (which we’d estimate is at least a year or two out), we’re inviting you, the DNN viewers, to put Justice and I on the payroll.

What about Gnosis?

Attentive readers have noticed that someone is missing from this discussion: DNN’s other partner and site architect, Gnosis. Believe you me, we would like to put him on the payroll, too. Apart from two or three events a year, we only get dribs and drabs of Gnosis time, and it is truly the magic that makes DNN possible… the guy can code.

The sad reality right now is that we just can’t afford him. Alone among us, Gnosis continues to maintain a “real job,” for which he is handsomely compensated. He’s definitely ready, willing, and eager to make DNN his job, but his financial commitments are substantially greater than Justice and mine combined. Today, it’s just too tall an order.

Down the road, though, we cannot wait for the day when we can have his mad web skillz all to ourselves. Our feature wishlist goes on for a country mile, and he’s got the chops to implement all of it, given the time. Stay tuned on that front!

When we say “payroll,” we’re not talking about nautical themed pashmina afghan money. Justice and I both have modest needs. While we’ve sunk extensive time and personal finance into our various contributions to the growth of derby, we know this doesn’t make us unique: many skaters, officials, volunteers and even fans are as deeply invested as we are. We’re particularly sensitive to the fact that the skaters who themselves make up the sport we cover are not deriving an income from skating. We are also keenly aware of our dependence upon the continued enthusiasm of our volunteer army.

These sensitivities actually highlight the greatest strength of the public broadcasting style, viewer supported funding model we’re moving forward with: we are accountable to you. If we don’t maintain your confidence that we’re making responsible decisions that serve your needs, you’ll stop contributing, and volunteers will stop volunteering. We wouldn’t want it any other way.

So, having considered our track record and this site’s accumulated contents as our resume — do we get the job?

Rewards intangible and tangible

Today, we launch the first fundraiser of the “Keep Hurt and Justice off the streets” era. We’ve set an aggressive goal of $25,000, which will get us through the summer.

One thing we’ve learned is that you’re willing to contribute even more generously if we offer you a desirable physical reward in addition to the intangible payoff of continuing our work. The limited edition classic-logo “I (heart) DNN” shirts and jackets Wicked Skatewear produced for us got snapped up quickly, and it sure is fun to see them around when we’re out at events.

Where’s my stuff?

Despite several email contact attempts, a small handful of donors to previous fund drives who are entitled to classic-logo “I (heart) DNN” premiums have never responded with size and shipping information. Most likely, this is because your PayPal account may be tied to an email address you don’t actively use.

If you never received a premium you should’ve earned from a previous contribution, please let us know so we can take care of you!

Fortunately for all of us, the roller derby ecosystem has no shortage of vendors who a) make awesome, unique products that you really want to have, and b) are big fans of DNN and want to help. Today, we proudly introduce the “Every Revolution Needs A Live Stream” line, designed by Flat Track Revolution (who you may already know from their iconic “Goodie Che” products). The design is stunning, and we’re making it available on a variety of items: stickers in a variety of sizes, tshirts, jackets, and tote bags.

We’ll be adding other items to this fund drive in the coming weeks. Check back soon for “Down Under” items, which you really just have to see for yourself. We’re also exploring sourcing for a “boutcast preparedness kit” that’ll help you keep up with the drinking game rules no matter where you’re watching. We’re in talks with a couple of other notable derby artists for future items, too. We’re excited and proud that we’re able to offer such attractive items!

If you’ve made it this far, it seems clear what your next step should be: