Give Them a Story: Take Note, Quidditch

by Jeff Sherman

Author’s Note: I will refer to USQ and MLQ throughout most of this as they are the ones I know best, yet any league around the world can use these ideas to help them.

Quidditch is at an interesting point in its life cycle. Having existed for ten years, we have seen the evolution of the game on-field and within the surrounding community. From Quidcon and fantasy tournaments to IRDP, #IQAForums, and the emergence of MLQ, the sport has grown internationally. Still, it faces a serious issue.

Regardless of where you are in the world, quidditch currently survives on the wallets and backbones of its players and volunteers. Every community member with at least one season under their belt has seen the waves of Indiegogos, PearUps, and GoFundMe campaigns that hit social media every quarter, with the IQA’s World Cup rounding out the standing summer season. People within the community exchange funding for jerseys or sweet snapbacks, but each team would be better off just directly absorbing money from its own players instead of trying to sell to the same community over and over again, which only serves to line the pockets of campaign sites.

So that leaves us with one key issue: how do USQ and MLQ bring in money from the outside/mainstream? I believe I have some answers to that question.

The first thing we must all accept is that quidditch leagues are first and foremost sports promoters. The charity work they do such as promoting inclusion and book drives is wonderful but does not draw revenue directly. If we want a league such as USQ to grow to the point where it is as self-sustaining as possible, there needs to be an understanding amongst all of those who subscribe to its wares that striving for profitability is absolutely necessary. A not-for-profit organization still wants to turn a profit, it just reinvests that profit into the organization at the end of the year instead of paying out to investors. Also, I would never suggest that it drop player fees. Player fees are what instigate such a vested interest in the league and are currently the largest reliable revenue source—especially in USQ’s case. What USQ and MLQ cannot do, however, is keep increasing these fees and assuming that the player base will keep paying it if they want to grow. In this sense, we need to see dollars from members spent in ways that help drive revenue. This means not spending precious funds on Harry and the Potters but instead investing it in television ads or proper promotional material.

Give them a reason to care:

Now that we have focused our frame of mind, we can discuss how quidditch can improve  bringing in money from the mainstream. When someone talks about their favorite team, more often than not they will refer to it using first person or possessive terminology. “We won!” and “The refs cost us the game!” and “The _____s are my team!” are passion borne of team investment. Even though the average Joe has never played on a college or professional sports team, likely doesn’t know any of the players personally or work for the team in any direct way, he is invested and feels an affiliation. Sports leagues’ intelligent marketing and negotiations with outside organizations have given the public a means of latching onto the story of “their” teams’ seasons. Sports teams have ingrained themselves into cultures around the world; people love to cheer on athletic feats. Both versions of football started small and then grew as people became invested in the communities around them. Quidditch needs to do the same.

The easiest thing leagues can use to onboard new fans is to highlight the stories of the major tournaments. When looking at Bat City, it was easy for me to make posters highlighting the major storylines going into the event. Would Lone Star, under Kedzie’s leadership, be able to take down a team Kedzie had originally co-founded in QCB? Was the Gambits versus Lone Star game at World Cup 8 a fluke or the status quo? Is the west coast really the best coast? These are familiar discussion points for fans but may leave outsiders puzzled or, even better, intrigued.

That said, these are lasting and prevalent stories within our sport’s culture that can easily draw people in and force them to pick a side whenever two teams or players face off. In other sports, we get to see press conferences and interviews, and we are presented with promotional packages that highlight these storylines.

Leagues that are interested in evolving or growing should take note of the fan’s place in the many concurrent and lasting storylines in sport; storylines are ubiquitous, and getting fans to know these storylines is vital. A simple and cheap solution is to start interviewing captains after major games or a win at a regional event. With more film now available than ever, having representatives present to ask questions post-game would give viewers personalities to connect with. This approach is part of what has helped the UFC gain such popularity over the past ten years. Dana White, for whatever you may think of him, is a great promoter and has turned what was originally seen as a fringe event into one of the most profitable sporting promotions in the world; UFC has since been sold for a record-breaking 4 billion dollars and had 10.7 million dollars in ticket sales at its latest event, UFC 200. This is because he assembled a team that knew how to bring out the over-the-top personalities in the athletes and present them in a way to get a reaction out of viewers. It doesn’t matter if you think Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey are great fighters or assholes—thanks to White’s work at the UFC—you’d pay to see either of them in a fight. Quidditch already has some of those types of characters—for example Tony Rodriguez and Harry Greenhouse—its organizers just need to tap into that resource and give people a chance to brand their teams into something audiences will react to. Once people are invested will attendance begin to rise.

How does the snitch work?

That question is one that I am tired of answering and one I think most people involved in the sport are tired of hearing. Regardless, it is one that we’ll have to deal with until the general public knows at least the basics of the game. A great way to help ease people into watching and analyzing the sport is to have better commentary during livestreams of major tournaments. USQ finally did this well at US Quidditch Cup 9 by putting together an efficient and dynamic commentary team. It was provided with team rosters so that it could name players during gameplay and talk about the hows and whys of the game.

Ethan Sturm also did a great job commentating on the Boston versus New York games this summer during the MLQ regular season. Having calm, experienced voices explain what is happening in the course of a game can really help a viewer make sense out of the chaos. Personally, if it wasn’t for friends and announcers helping me, I would never have gotten into watching soccer. The hardest part here is finding a team to become the go-to play-by-play and color commentators for quidditch. The NFL had Madden; the UFC has Joe Rogan; hell, the WWE has Michael Cole. These men are or were these organizations’ signature voices, calling to action and breaking things down for viewers. If quidditch follows suit, fans will know what and who to watch when catching games live or on tape.

Another bit of production value I would love to see the sport adopt is body microphones for head referees at larger tournaments, where livestreaming happens. Far too often spectators are left questioning what call was made, and head refs go hoarse far too easily shouting the same thing multiple times. When only certain members of volunteer staff are aware of the calls being made on-pitch, this can bring confusion to the livestream because announcers—although likely more qualified to infer the goings-on on-pitch—are left with just as much information as spectators.

More practically, body mics would eliminate any confusion that happens at the scorekeeper’s table. Having the booming voice of the head referee declaring what card is being shown, what the card is for, and to which player the card applies would all allow for easier record-keeping. Another point of confusion that often arises—whether a goal is still good or not—would be eradicated by having the head referee’s calls come through loud and clear over the body microphone. I have seen this moment of confusion change the outcomes of games in the past when ultimately it is the last thing that should happen.

Moving forward

There are further steps that can be taken in terms of gaining revenue, but for the sake of internet-sized attention spans, I’ll end it here. MLQ, to its credit, is starting to see fans coming to games to support their local team. USQ still has to negotiate the split between college and community teams after the success of QC9. Yet, both has the sword of Damocles hanging above it that is Warner Bros. holding the copyright on “quidditch” regarding apparel, toys, and games. This severely limits their options. (Note: the last time I looked into this fact was two years ago, but given the new movie coming out soon, I doubt they let it lapse).

I believe quidditch can continue to grow just as rapidly over the coming decade as it has since the sport’s inception. The community has a core group of players that is going to recruit enough people to sustain a player base, while retired players will transition into the fanbase. A focus on growing that fanbase is how cash will be brought into the organizations that run and foster the sport; people love to see drama unfold. At the end of the day, every decision needs to be tested against one question: will this choice put asses in seats?

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