A cross between wrestling, NASCAR and a burlesque show

Typically, once you’ve found a USP that works you stick with it. Even milking it for all it’s worth. There may be small refinements over time but you don’t mess with a winning formula.

Photo courtesy of MoreSatisfyingPhotos.com

Or do you?

In my off time I am an official with women’s roller derby.

The roller derby of today is unlike the derby of the 1970s. For one thing, it’s real. Back then it was largely staged and choreographed.

What does roller derby have to do with marketing and USPs?


In circa 2003, when roller derby was reborn and first started its resurgence in popularity, it had a certain kind of USP.

If I had to give it a catchy name, I’d call it “sexy anti-establishment”.

My introduction to the sport came when I wrote a magazine article about it. At the time, I called it a cross between wrestling, NASCAR and a burlesque show.

For its first five years or so, the sport of roller derby sold itself on the basis of attractive, young female athletes in outfits that were as skimpy as they were racy. Torn fishnets, short skirts, glitter, neon-colored hair and tattoos aplenty… it all fed into a certain kind of punk ethos that made the resurgence highly successful.

The sport gained in popularity, got lots of press and grew quickly.

In short, its USP was working.

Then some of the most influential voices within the sport decided to change it.

Gradually it is being made more family friendly and more professional. More like “real” sports such as basketball, football and even NASCAR.

Today you’ll still find a certain sense of humor infused throughout the sport. There are deliberately humorous league names like the Oly Rollers and Burning River Rollergirls. Within leagues, you may find funny team names like the Furious Truckstop Waitresses and Psycho Ex-Girlfriends. Individual skater names often rely on clever word play: Donna Matrix, Liz Dexic, or Ian Fluenza.

However it’s becoming more common for leagues and teams to adopt names which more obviously reflect where they are from. It’s now very rare for new skaters entering the sport to be allowed to adopt highly sexually suggestive names. In fact, it’s becoming more common for skaters to simply use their real names, just like athletes in other sports.

So what’s going on here? Why take a USP that was working and helping the sport grow and get loads of good press and suddenly change it?

Mainly it’s because a lot of very smart people realized it could never become a mainstream sport under the old USP. Roller derby would never be seen on television or be the kind of sporting event that parents brought their kids to like they might with baseball or soccer.

Only by toning it down, could the sport shatter its own glass ceiling. Now organizers are on the cusp of getting roller derby accepted as an Olympic sport.

Photo provided by U.S. Army. Photo credit: Tim Hipps.

Tiger Woods, when he was ranked #1 in the world in golf, realized that he’d reached a plateau in terms of his game. Although he was the best, someone would eventually dethrone him and he really had no way to get any better. So what did he do? He hired a coach to train him in a completely new style of play.

That knocked him out of the top slot for a while but eventually he made it back to #1 and with a much better level of skill. Tiger Woods changed his USP, even though his old one was still working for him at the time.

Is it a good idea for all organizations and businesses to change their USP? Absolutely not! But if you recognize that the one you’ve got is inherently limiting and you have a sensible idea for a better one that would not be as limiting, it can make perfect sense.


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