AEG Live CEO Chuck Morris on the 2011 WFTDA Roller Derby Championships
Chuck Morris has been a roller derby fan since he was ten years old, and in 2010, he made news by bringing the Denver Roller Dolls to the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield and then attracting the 2011 Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) Championships to that venue for this weekend's three-day Continental Divide & Conquer tournament, November 11-13. We caught up with Morris, the president and CEO of AEG Live Nation-Rocky Mountain Region, for a preview of this weekend's action and his perspective on what he says is the world's fastest-growing sport.
A lot of people here in Denver were surprised to see AEG Live Nation throwing so much weight behind roller derby, and specifically behind bringing the Denver Roller Dolls to the 1st Bank Center last season and promoting the league heavily. I understand it's been something of a personal project for you.
I fell in love with the sport as a kid, going to see roller derby at the Brooklyn Armory when I was about ten years old. Back then it was more of a show and less of a sport -- it was closer to professional wrestling -- but now it's really a competitive sport. I loved it as a kid too, but now it appeals to real sports enthusiasts. It's fun, it's fast, and it's a rough, bang-up sport. I kept my eye on it when it started coming back and we started seeing this roller derby resurgence here in Denver and across the country, and when we took over the building in Broomfield I wanted to bring one of the leagues into it. We had the right building and I felt it would be an unbelievable place to see roller derby, so we made a deal with the Denver Roller Dolls and that was that. We just wrapped our second season with them, and we supported the girls in their pitch to bring the WFTDA Championships here. This will be the first time ever that the roller derby championship tournament will be in Colorado. Last year it was in Chicago and the year before that it was in Philadelphia. I actually went two years ago in Philly when I was still working to bring the Denver Roller Dolls here, and the tournament was just spectacular.
It must be tough to have had the Denver Roller Dolls' Mile High Club miss the cut this year for the championships they're hosting.
The Rocky Mountain Rollergirls' 5280 Fight Club, 2010 WFTDA champions, will defend the Hydra Trophy this weekend.
Last year both of the Denver leagues were in the finals, but I guess you can't have one state dominate it every year. I'm thrilled to have one of our local leagues in it this year, and it's even better that the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls' 5280 Fight Club are the defending champions. My mission is to help build roller derby as a sport, not just to help the Denver Roller Dolls, and I see bringing the championships here as one of the building blocks. It will be even better if one of our local leagues wins it again.
The growth of flat-track women's roller derby has been pretty phenomenal, with new leagues popping up all over Colorado and across the country in the last few years. What have you seen, from your perspective, in the Denver Roller Dolls' first two seasons at 1st Bank Center?
It's been quietly but steadily growing, and at our last game of the season this year we broke 3,000 tickets, which is phenomenal. It's still a very new sport, but it is growing beautifully, here and around the country. Five years ago most of the teams were playing in warehouses or roller skating rinks where hardly anybody could watch, and now, in places like Seattle, they're averaging like 6,000 people per bout, so it's really been building into a substantial sport with a big spectator draw. I imagine within two or three years we'll be selling out every one of our home games at the 1st Bank Center, and I think the championships being here this weekend, with the top 12 teams in America, is really going to help spread the word in this area about roller derby and how much fun it is to watch.
We now have leagues in Fort Collins, Castle Rock, Pueblo and all over the state, in addition to the two Denver leagues, and seven of the skaters who will be representing Team USA next month in Toronto at the Roller Derby World Cup are from Colorado. Why do you think it's caught on so quickly here?
That's a really good question. Off the top of my head the first thing I'd think of is just that this is and has always been such a great sports town. We've got the Broncos, the Nuggets, the Rockies, the Avalanche. Our soccer team, the Rapids, won the Major League Soccer championship last year, and we also have great lacrosse teams. We have a very active population who love sports, so it doesn't surprise me that we're also one of the leaders in the country on the resurgence of roller derby.
I know the Denver Roller Dolls now have four teams in the league, plus the traveling Mile High Club and Bruising Altitude teams and now the junior league team, the Glitterdome Gladiators. What do you think it will take to really build the sport up and keep it growing?
The most important thing, from my perspective, is to get people to come and see it: When they see it, they love it. If you come out and see a roller derby bout, you're going to want to come see it again, so we're using our resources as promoters to promote the bouts and get people through the door. And of course the girls work their tails off promoting it, too, doing all sorts of public appearances and charity work. At its heart it's really a Ma and Pa type operation and I mean that in the best sense. These women have grown their sport steadily on their own, and we are now working very hard in terms of marketing and promotions to help support that growth. We bought the Denver Roller Dolls a new court that cost over $25,000, and we're bringing AEG Live resources -- with our online presence, our advertising presence, and one of the hottest arenas in America -- to help keep it growing.
You mentioned you've been out to the WFTDA Championships before. What can people expect from the championships and the caliber of competition they'll be seeing?
I'm a huge sports nut, obviously, and when you look at the NFL playoffs or the NBA playoffs, the Stanley Cup playoffs, those athletes always elevate their game and play harder when a championship title is on the line. It's just a higher intensity, and the excitement level moves to overdrive. Here we'll have the 12 best roller derby teams in America vying to win the championships, and they're going to be fighting for it.
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