It was a big night that’s for sure. But it was also a tipping point. Over the last couple of years the Auckland and Wellington leagues have been developing roller derby in New Zealand and their work has paid off. At the end of last year Auckland’s Pirate City travelled to Wellington to play Richter City in New Zealand’s first inter-league bout in front of over 1,700 fans. On Saturday there were over 3,500 fans.
Let’s put that number in perspective. Wellington has a population of roughly 400,000. The average 2010 attendance at ANZ netball championship games in New Zealand was roughly 3,146 (in Australia it’s 3,114). The maximum seating capacity of TSB arena is 4,430 when the seating is fully extended (which the roller derby can’t have because the track is too big).
And then there was the media coverage. My last post railed against the awful reporting of derby as simply girls with funny names in costumes. None of that happened after Saturday. Even One News’ report was focussed more on sport than spectacle. The cameraman even busted out his skates for a few rolling shots (though they didn’t use Rebecca who was actually the reporter there in the night).
The DomPost and the Sunday Star Times were there too. It’s funny, and this isn’t a criticism, but the DomPost’s photos remind me of Jed and Mike’s shots from the first bout. Practice does make perfect, just take a look:
And now, where to? Thankfully the game was close. This season the teams were reshuffled to make up for the loss of some veterans from last season. The parity meant Saturday night’s bout was a game of see-sawing leads, big jams of massive points and fantastic pack play.
The step up in skill form last year was clear. The blockers had a better plan and the teams had more awareness of the situation (speed up if your jammer is off the track, stop the jam before the opposition can score points). It all came together.
Even the final jam was tense. Down by 20 points Smash Malice takes the lead jammer position through Braxton Kicks. Braxton was close to not skating, her sister was giving birth that day and she came straight from the hospital. The lead jammer controls when the jam is called off and with only 30secs on the clock she had time to rack up a huge score (when the game clock runs out the jam goes the full two minutes or until it’s called off).
Suddenly the good work of Brutal Pagent’s blockers fell apart and Braxton was slices through the defence at will. But then confusion, Braxton couldn’t tell if her bench was yelling at her to call it off. In a confusing end to the game Braxton called off the jam (or at least it looked like she made the gesture) and then we waited for the scores. Malice 103, Pageant 125.
The crowd couldn't have asked for a more exciting bout. The skaters were also smart enough to realise they had an opportunity. When the scores were close early on, Skändal Läss and Tuff Bikkies lined up as opposition jammers, but from the commentary box we couldn't see them. Because they had decided on a life-saver drill to start. Both skaters lying on the ground, so the refs joined them. The crowd went mental. But you better believe that as soon as they were up it was straight back to the competition.
And it's that entertainment value that will hopefully keep the big crowds coming back and the big sponsors bringing in the money.