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SBD Global/November 6, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Entrepreneur Andrew Paulson Determined To Turn Chess Into Global Spectator Sport

Can chess be "transformed into a money-spinning global spectator sport?" It is a question that will be much on U.S. media entrepreneur Andrew Paulson’s mind as "he settles down to watch the opening ceremony of the game’s latest world championship match in Chennai," India, according to James Crabtree of the FINANCIAL TIMES. Paulson "last year paid Fide, the world chess federation, $500,000 for exclusive global rights to commercialise the sport over the next decade." Paulson "plans to infuse chess with the same mix of lucrative sponsorship deals and general razzmatazz that helped the Indian Premier League to revolutionise international cricket." If "outwardly tedious sports" such as snooker or golf can become "mass-market spectacles," he reasons, why not a pastime that Fide says is enjoyed by roughly 600 million each month? The "difficulties he faces are clear from the contest in Chennai, which many aficionados say ought to have the makings of a classic." On one side of the board is Viswanathan Anand, "home-town hero and five-time world champion." On the other is Magnus Carlsen, "a telegenic Norwegian prodigy, whose floppy blonde hair and handsome features make him something of a sex symbol." Yet the match "remains a hard sell for spectators." Despite his efforts, commercial progress "has so far been slow." The match in Chennai "boasts just one sponsor, the host state of Tamil Nadu," which handed over Rs290M ($4.7M) to cover costs and prizes. The games "will be broadcast live, but only on India’s stodgy government-backed television channel." Still, Paulson "refuses to be downcast." He said, "Chess tournaments have traditionally been organized by ex-chess players, who are reductionist, and have lost touch with the cinema, the drama of this game. But in time a revolution is possible. If you can persuade millions to watch golf, chess is going to be an easy sell" (FT, 11/5).
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