In a letter posted to its website, new USA Roller Sports President Dan Brown offered a status report on the “State of Skate,” or the current situation at USARS. The letter focuses exclusively on major internal and external changes, changes that USARS hopes will stop the self-inflicted bleeding and get it back on track to be a viable governing body for all rollerskating sports.
This includes being a governing body roller derby, for which USARS Roller Derby now has more independence to meet its long-term goals.
Brown, who was only elected to the USARS presidency three months ago, has set two main goals for his term. The first was the roller-skating elephant in the room.
USARS had to immediately address the reality that high costs and declining membership meant it was losing money—and fast. Brown admitted that “the trends in membership were missed” and that the resulting lack revenue from that stream meant that USARS posted yet another annual loss in 2014. It wasn’t as big of a loss as it was in previous years, but that still means it will, according to Brown, “finish this year with debt.”
However, USARS has been working to stop that trend. Last year, it reduced expenses by $250,000 by cutting staff and limiting insurance expenditures. For 2015, it will save nearly that much on insurance alone, having negotiated lower premium costs. To help with short-term cash flow, the US Foundation for Amateur Roller Skating has granted USARS a $200,000 loan to “support competitive roller skating.”1 That’s a nearly $700,000 positive revenue swing in only one year.
Long ago, USARS had plenty of money lying around, but poor management squandered pretty much all of it. Brown promises that will not be the case in the future.
“In the past, a budget was not always created or followed,” he acknowledged. “But for the coming season, the finance committee has worked hard to have a realistic budget that will ensure revenue to manage USARS programs.” A newly-elected treasurer will try to keep the ledger balanced going forward.
A major part of the USARS revenue equation is how large its membership roll is. The more skaters that pay for the privilege of becoming a USARS member, the more money USARS has to run events and offer programs for them. But that only works with a large skater population. Once the skaters start leaving for competitors—ice skating or WFTDA roller derby, to name a few—those that are left are effectively made to fight over dwindling resources.
Hence why the other top priority for the new leadership is to get people interested to come (back) to USARS and the variety of rollersport disciplines it offers. To do this, USARS has redefined the roles of the sport committees for the five USARS disciplines—rink hockey, inline hockey, speed, figure, derby—to give them more autonomy from the USARS mothership in matters of governance and rules.
This motion essentially creates five “mini-USARS” bodies, each with independent responsibilities for their respective sporting discipline. The committees now have direct authority to develop budgets, organize tournaments and championships, appoint sub-committees for the selection of national teams2, and directly consider input from athletes, coaches, and clubs during sport committee meetings.
Previously, all of those items were handled by the greater USARS board of directors. That setup led to a sense of disconnect between members and management and many situations where ideas for individual disciplines got lost in the bureaucratic shuffle. Those that did make it through were often poorly implemented.
No longer. Now, each USARS sport can pretty much act on its own to run events or implement changes. Excepting for matters that may “adversely affect” the main budget, which will require an OK from above, the USARS board will “make no attempt to micro-manage the committees’ activities.”
The key to the USARS plan is to reconnect with its existing membership and get it upbeat about recruiting. The idea is that these improvements and others will allow USARS athletes and coaches to worry less about whether or not the important behind-the-scenes stuff is being taken care of, letting them keep the focus on skating and grassroots efforts.
This hands-off approach is good news for USARS Roller Derby, which now has more freedom to recover from lackluster attendance at previous national championships, and expand its program out to new areas.
“We are extremely excited about it,” said Fernando Regueiro, chairman of the USARS Roller Derby Sport Committee and at-large member of the USARS board of directors. “For the last few years we did not have a lot of authority or autonomy to make decisions about the USARS Roller Derby program. Every initiative that we proposed had to be approved by the Executive Committee or the Board, leading to delays and, in some cases, roadblocks based on the lack of understanding or familiarity of these groups as it relates to derby.
“Now, the ratification process happens after the Committee has executed the strategy,” he continued. “We no longer need Board approval, unless we require a change of budget allocation. The Board has agreed to give control and power to the people who know the most about each sport, which is the Committee members.”
Regueiro explained that during the last USARS board of directors meeting in November, as new leadership was being installed, everyone came together to develop a series of strategic plans, including an improved communication plan.
“The most important change for us is that now there is a lot of communication between Committees and between leadership,” Regueiro said. “In previous years, roller derby had a Board representative, but she was not really involved in any decision-making or communication with other leaders. It was very isolated.” That’s changed for the better, he said, as they have since “been constantly communicating and working together.”
After just a few months of more freedom to enact policies and more open communication between the roller derby committee and the USARS board, Regueiro likes where things are headed.
“I think these changes are going to have a big effect in the next few years, as we develop new strategies to grow and expand the program,” he said. “Our vision and plans have always been long-term. We are patient, but in this case I am very optimistic about some of the things we are seeing and how the organization is changing for the best.”
In addition to his duties at USARS, Regueiro is also affiliated with the Chicago Red Hots, a USARS club team that is making a splash in the midwest, attracting thousands of fans through just its fifth public game. The team was able to organize the first internationally sanctioned roller derby game and the first sanctioned game between men and women, seen below. Now that Regueiro can better act on that experience at USARS Roller Derby and on the full USARS board of directors, who knows where things can go?
A rosy outlook is easier for USARS Roller Derby, however, having only been created in 2011. For those that have had to put up with USARS bumbling for much longer, initial reaction to the changes on social media was cautiously optimistic—which for many involved with USARS over the years, is as positive a reaction as a policy statement has received in some time.
One speed skater noted, “it sounds like USARS might be turning a corner.” Other comments on Facebook range from “I like where this is going,” to “I certainly hope something comes from this,” although one cited the missteps of past management, concluding that “USARS and FIRS have failed the Roller Skating community.”
But President Brown insists that it’s been out with the old and in with the new. “USARS has new leadership with a new president, vice president and treasurer. We have new board members and new membership on sport committees. The executive committee is predominately new. All of these changes are meant to improve the sport and the ability to manage resources for the organization.”
Brown concludes by advising anyone with questions or comments to email him and the board directly, and reminding everyone that they are working “to help promote the growth of competitive roller skating.”
Only time will tell if the new USA Roller Sports will be able to live up to that goal.