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Rolling With the Punches

Memphis Roller Derby stays at the Fairgrounds but may soon need a new place to call home.

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Fans have grown to love the hard-hitting, short-skirted skating ladies of the Memphis Roller Derby, and hundreds of people have gathered at the Mid-South Fairgrounds over the past few months to watch them in action.

But with the fairgrounds' recent management change, the derby girls are unsure about their future at the venue.

Last week, members of the roller derby signed a new contract with Philadelphia-based management firm SMG to rent the fairgrounds' Youth Building for bouts.

The contract, which only covers the remainder of the fall season, includes a $500-rent hike for each of the final two bouts in November.

"They raised the rent on the new contract, but they also told us it was going to go up again for the 2009 season," says Christine McManus, the league's head of business and finance who also skates under the name Cat Claus. "It's going to be nearly double what the city was charging us, and we've had to remove some practice days because we can't afford the practice rates."

For the upcoming 2009 home season, negotiations have included another $500 increase for bout weekends, bringing the total weekend rent to $2,500. The price for practices is also expected to increase from $100 to $250 per night.

Pierre Landaiche, SMG's regional manager, says SMG made a commitment to reduce financial losses at the city-owned fairgrounds.

"The quality and demand of the Youth and Pipkin buildings have allowed us to increase rental rates to the level they should be," Landaiche says. "We're doing our best to develop a rate structure that's competitive yet attractive."

Prior to contracting with SMG, the roller derby kept all the proceeds from admissions, as well as merchandise and beer sales. The newest contract originally included a clause that would allow SMG to receive only 20 percent of merchandise sales. That clause was struck from the current contract but might be included in the 2009 contract.

There also will be changes in the distribution of beer revenue, the derby's main source of income.

"They're going to want a percentage of what we make off of the beer, if they don't want to take it over completely," McManus says. "Up until now, we've been able to fund our operations from the bout revenues."

Landaiche says it's rare that this type of facility doesn't realize any revenue on beer sales.

"We want to be consistent with the market, and I can't think of any other venue in town that waives their right to beer concessions," Landaiche says. "This is an issue that we'll talk through with the roller derby because we want them to succeed financially. If they don't survive, then they won't have any other events, and that will hurt us all."

In the meantime, the league is practicing in Collierville and keeping an eye out for new locations.

"We are exploring every avenue that we can for practice and bout venues," McManus says. "But SMG is expressing a willingness to talk with us, and we are hopeful that they'll negotiate in good faith with us for the 2009 season."

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