Growth of a Game: Meet the International Quidditch Association

In less than a decade, real-life Quidditch—a sport inspired by the Harry Potter book series—has grown from an intramural sport at a small Massachusetts college to an international competition with hundreds of teams and its own 501(c)(3) organization.

In less than a decade, real-life quidditch—a sport inspired by the Harry Potter book series—has grown from an intramural sport at a small Vermont college to an international competition with hundreds of teams and its own 501(c)(3) organization.

Later this week, millions of eyes will be trained on Sao Paolo, Brazil, for the official start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, soccer’s quadrennial international tournament. Futból, often called the world’s sport, has been around for centuries and has been known to shut down entire cities and countries during this spectacle.

It may be some time before quidditch, the Harry Potter-inspired game of balls, brooms, and hoops, demands that kind of attention. But based on the sport’s incredible growth in its first eight years—from seven intramural teams at Middlebury College in 2005 to more than 170 college, international, and community-based teams and more than 4,000 players this year, according to the International Quidditch Association—the idea isn’t completely farfetched.

IQA is coming off a successful Quidditch World Cup VII in April that included 60 of its member clubs, and media coverage around the event continues to grow each year. Later this month, the group will host its third annual QuidCon in Washington, DC—an event where quidditch players, refs, coaches, and anyone interested in the sport can come together and learn everything from how to start a team and fundraise to how to properly cover the game in the media.

“I haven’t yet found a sport that has grown as fast as real-life quidditch has,” said Alex Benepe, IQA’s CEO and a cofounder of the sport.

Beyond the game’s draw among Potter-philes, Benepe credits quidditch’s early success to IQA’s ability to draw large crowds to matches and demos that the founders at Middlebury hosted.

“We made sure we would have good turnout by inviting campus performers, musicians, other entertaining, and making sure we had good food there,” he said. “Also, some of our early matches and even our matches today are commentated by improv comedians who added an element of humor.”

Benepe and the sport’s other founders at Middlebury took quidditch on the road in 2008, organizing a spring break tour of college campuses in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to help spread the word. That led to front-page features in USA Today and The Boston Globe and spots on MTV and ESPN.

“After that, a lot of students around the globe started to hear about us and really drove up interest,” said Benepe. “It’s evolved from a funny, kind of quirky game inspired by Harry Potter into a serious sport, and we’re getting more and more people who are now coming out who haven’t read the books or seen the movies and who are just looking to get involved.”

Since incorporating as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2010, IQA has sought to professionalize the sport, Benepe said.“Now a lot of what we’re doing is looking at what other sports do, particularly large, nonprofit, domestic sports like US Soccer, USA Lacrosse, USA Basketball, US Rugby, and how they do their membership plans and how they set up their leagues.”

The group has also made a strong commitment to developing staff and volunteer leadership skills.

“This year, we’ve been all about reading the right books, attending the right seminars and webinars, and really improving as leaders,” said Benepe. “It’s been paying off. Now, when we’re working on a project or solving a problem, we’re coming to the table with a lot more experience having learned how to handle all of the different facets of working at a nonprofit.”

(photo by Kat Ignatova/via theInternational Quidditch Association's Facebook page)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!