When NFTs came to roller derby, roller derby fought

When you think of roller derby, you probably think of tough people on roller skates walking around a track and hitting each other. You’re probably not thinking about blockchain. But crypto has entered the arena whether the roller derby is ready or not.

Three roller derby skaters – Lady Trample (real name: Samara Pepperell), Miss Tea Maven (Jennifer Dean) and Sharon Tacos (Cailin Klein) – tried to start an NFT project this month. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are digital assets that are stored on the blockchain. One of the best-known uses of NFTs is to prove ownership of digital art, such as those cartoon monkeys you might have seen around, or Reese Witherspoon current Twitter avatar (and last business plan). But you don’t “own” the art; instead, you have a token that represents it. You can also earn a lot of money by selling these tokens.

Like crypto itself, NFTs are polarizing. Some see these digital assets as the great new frontier of art collecting, digital ownership, and community. Many other people believe it to be an environment-destroying scam, where a small group becomes very wealthy from what are really just lines of code with no real value or use. These criticisms played out on a smaller scale when the NFT derby project was announced.

In some ways, roller derby and NFTs are similar. For many, they do not just represent a sport or an investment opportunity, respectively. They are also communities that foreigners do not understand. They have both been accused of being a cult or a fad.

But these theoretical parallels don’t mean that the roller derby and NFT communities go hand in hand in real life. Trample, Maven and Tacos thought they would and created ‘Bout Time NFTTT. (Roller derby games are called fights and each of the skaters has a T in their derby name.)

If you follow roller derby, you know who are at least one, if not all three, of the founders of ‘Bout Time’: they are elite athletes who have played for the best roller derby teams in the world. Tacos came up with the idea in January. She says she got into crypto during the pandemic and had the skills and knowledge to produce her own NFT collection. Inspired by other NFT projects that donated to various causes, Tacos thought they could do the same for roller derby by donating a portion of the proceeds to struggling leagues. She contacted two skaters whose skills the project would need: Trample is an artist who could draw the images, and Maven works in marketing and could promote the project.

It’s not uncommon for skateboarders to start their own derby-related businesses, from making gear and apparel to owning the stores that sell them. But these are all tangible goods and services that have meaning to people. NFTs would break new ground in derby consumerism.

Roller derby could use the help. The sport has been largely shut down during the pandemic. Two years later, he is far from recovering and probably never will be. Many leagues have lost their sites, sources of income and members. A cash injection could do wonders for them. The three also saw it as a way to generate more outside interest in the derby, or as a starting point for other uses of NFTs and blockchain that could also popularize the sport.

You can see where they would get that idea from. Numerous other sports leagues and athletes are getting into NFTs, so why not this one and why not them? And the DIY derby philosophy resembles the decentralized community that the most successful NFT projects – and the NFT space itself – include. Maven said she also sees it as a chance for more women to get involved in a largely male-dominated industry. Trample drew the basic image of a roller derby skater and the hundreds of interchangeable elements, from skates to tattoos, that would be layered. They generated thousands of images, each with its own NFT.

“It was just to try to be a broad representation of the sport and a cool way to create something that’s collectible,” Trample said.

They announced the project on March 9 with an Instagram Live, accompanied by a website who provided all the details, social media accounts and a Discord channel.

Here’s how it was all supposed to work: On March 31, ‘Bout Time would drop 10,000 NFTs that people could buy for $25 off. a cryptocurrency called Polygon. Depending on how many NFTs they sold, they donated up to 50% of their profits to roller derby leagues, with NFT holders deciding as a group which leagues. An additional 5% would go to nature nonprofits to offset the environmental cost to hit the NFTs. The rest of the money would be split between the three, minus any other costs they incurred and taxes they owed. If they sold the 10,000 NFTs, they would each bring in a good chunk of change, but no one was getting rich here. Not on initial sales, anyway – NFTs are, of course, notorious for skyrocketing in value.

One has to wonder if there was enough crossover between the roller derby community and the NFT community to sell 10, let alone 10,000. But ‘Bout Time didn’t think there would be a need. People who love NFTs buy into collections that don’t represent what they love or do all the time, from cartoon cats for pixelated punks. Why not derby skaters too?

“I think the artwork is super cool,” Tacos said. “I like most of the things Trample designs, and I’m sure other people think it’s great too.”

Ideally, they said, most of the money wouldn’t come from the derby community at all. But it would fit.

That’s not how most of the derby community – or at least the more vocal segments of it – saw things. In hundreds of derby-related social media comments, the three have been accused of many of the same things that the NFT world in general is criticized for. People didn’t understand what NFTs were or what they would buy. They said NFTs were scams and pyramid schemes. They saw celebrities taking advantage of their notoriety make money with their fans. They were promoting a project that harmed the environment. If you don’t know much about NFTs and can’t figure them out, it’s easy to see their downsides. It’s much harder to see how good or useful they are.

Unlike most NFT projects, however, this criticism came almost entirely from their own community, a community that has supported them in the past and that they believe the project could help. The three anticipated some of this and thought they were ready for it. But they hadn’t anticipated how vitriolic, numerous and uniformly negative the comments would be. They had supporters, but most of them were afraid to express their support publicly for fear of being attacked too. ‘Bout Time also feared that any leagues they contributed to would face similar animosity. Social media combined with the derby community can lead to some pretty nasty pileups.

“They just want to fight, and I’m not a fighter,” Trample said. “It’s not my nature — on the track, yes. Off track, no.

In the end, the three skaters decided that it was not worth pissing off the roller derby community to create what this new one could become. They decided to pull the plug.

“If this community doesn’t want us to do this project, then we’re not going to do it for them,” Trample said. “The whole reason was to raise money for the derby community, and they came out so strongly against us.”

So ‘Bout Time NFTTT is over before it started. But all three say they believe NFTs — or at least, the blockchain technology they’re based on — are here to stay. Tacos is already involved in a different NFT project, which may find a more receptive audience. Or maybe not: Some reports say the NFT bubble is about to burst, with average selling prices falling over the past few months. On the other hand, people have been saying that the bottom will fall from the crypto market for years, and it keeps going.

As of now, it looks like roller derby isn’t ready for NFTs. Or maybe he will find a different and unique way to derby. As one person in a derby gossip Facebook group that was hotly discussing the matter noted, “Blockchain” would make a good derby name.

This story was first published in the Recode newsletter. register here so as not to miss the next one!

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