Thursday, September 3, 2015

Interview with MLQ Creator Ethan Sturm

On August 22nd, Major League Quidditch wrapped up its first season with MLQ Championship Weekend in Toledo, Ohio. I talked with MLQ creator Ethan Sturm about the past, present and future of MLQ. Enjoy!

What was the greatest success of the inaugural Major League Quidditch season? As the founder and the visionary, what made you proudest?

The greatest success, was, by far, the comprehensiveness of the coverage. The fact that we have video and stats of every game for the entire season, and live stream of most of the season and all of the championships, is a place that quidditch has never been before, and it's really exciting to be there. We no longer have to base assessments on anecdotal account of teams or players, it's finally all out in the open.
Photo by Hannah Huddle
During the 2014-15 season, MLQ was brainstormed, planned and brought to life. What was the most important behind-the-scenes decision that contributed to the success of MLQ?

My personal most important decision was bringing on Amanda Dallas. Her logistical acumen is basically unmatched in quidditch, and she turned what almost definitely would have just been an idea into a smooth-running [reality]. The most important thing we did as a league was bring on Savage as a sponsor. Being able to provide all of our teams with high-quality apparel for a low price went a long way in proving the legitimacy of our league.

As a highly respected referee, how would you evaluate the officiating throughout MLQ's inaugural season?  

Refereeing turned out to be the single biggest challenge of our inaugural season. Needing to put referee crews of purely non-playing referees, week in and week out, was an incredibly tall task, and simply highlighted the severe officiating shortage our sport was having long before Major League Quidditch started. All of that said, we had a group of referees that were extremely committed and consistent in their performance, and we would not have been able to pull the season off without them. Still, we are going to need to redouble our efforts going into next season if we hope to continue to deliver a high-quality product.
Photo by Hannah Huddle
MLQ's Gameplay Department introduced timeouts and eliminated the snitch from overtime this season. Will MLQ's rule changes carry over to next season? What rule changes would you like to be considered for next season and beyond?

Based on feedback from our player base, timeouts were incredibly popular. And I can’t help but to agree: allowing teams to take a breather, step back from the game, and reassess strategy is a great thing to have in the often chaotic world of quidditch. Overtime without a snitch, on the other hand, was more of a mixed bag. On one hand, it reduced the singular effect a seeker could have on the game. On the other, the overtime period often devolved into one team getting out to a 10-point lead and then just killing the clock. If either would be changed come next season, I think it’d be the overtime one. As for more changes, I think we’ll have a better idea once we assess how playing under Rulebook 9 goes for USQ.

In 2016, MLQ will expand with new divisions centered in Texas and California. How will MLQ determine which cities to award franchises to?

It will be similar to the formula we used to choose our first eight cities: a combination of size of the quidditch playing population in the area, our trust of potential leadership in the area, and travel times that won’t be over the top for other teams in the division.

Quidditch talent is not evenly divided between cities. Will MLQ ever take steps to impose parity across divisions and/or the entire league?

If we ever got to a point of being truly semi-pro, where there was no cost to players and even some amount of a stipend involved, we could consider having teams truly draft their team. But for now, there’s no getting around teams being location based.

New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and the Bay Area each support multiple professional sports franchises in the same league. Would MLQ considering awarding any city two franchises? 

There would definitely be consideration for a two-team city, potentially as early as a 2017 expansion. But two-team cities will not be considered in the 2016 expansion.
Photo by Hannah Huddle 
MLQ presents the sport of quidditch in an aesthetically-pleasing way. How would you evaluate the spectator experience at MLQ regular season and playoff events? 

Spectator numbers were definitely hit or miss throughout the season, often connected to location and how well a match was advertised. The Boston vs. New York series had by far the best spectator turnout of the regular season, and I know a few people that attended have even come to pick-up quidditch since. The finals also had sizable attendance numbers, and all over Toledo  people were aware of the sport. That said, quidditch, even MLQ, has a long way to go to be truly presentable. Better live streams, more serious media coverage, and game video with announcers and graphics would go a long way in getting us there.

MLQ's original eight franchises will all return next season. Can MLQ teams attract more spectators and build fanbases? How?

It’s all about getting the word out there. Boston drew a big crowd simply by posting on the Boston events calendar, which then got picked up by Boston Magazine. The finals got attention thanks to radio and TV station coverage. We need to keep pushing our way into the media in order to build up fan bases.

The quidditch community has been unhappy with several USQ decisions this summer. Does MLQ depend on USQ in any way? If so, will MLQ try to lobby or work with USQ in the future?

If college quidditch dies, MLQ can only survive for so many years following. We won’t be imposing ourselves on USQ, but we will be counting on them to hold up their end of the deal.

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