Andrew Paulson..TV CHESS
CHESS-LOVING entrepreneur Andrew Paulson has bought the commercial rights to the World Chess Championships, in a bid to transform the 1,600 year-old sport into a global entertainment form.
Paulson struck the exclusive deal with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), to host the championships and provide long-term commercial structure for the game, with a prize fund of 5.4 million euros.
His new venture, called World Chess, plans to return the sport to the UK’s television screens for the first time since Nigel Short played Garry Kasparov for the top prize in 1993. Condensed highlights will be shown on living room television sets, supported by interactive broadcast on the internet, iPads and smartphones.
The move represents a huge sponsorship opportunity for brands, as the sport is so far a clean slate in terms of advertising. When IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997, IBM said it received $500m of free publicity.
World Chess estimates the potential global audience for the sport at more than one billion, with over 600 million chess players worldwide.
Its broadcast strategy will exploit the interactive potential of the internet and mobile technology, allowing fans to post live match commentary, monitor players’ heartbeats, track their eye movements over the board, and predict the next move.
World Chess will also develop a range of apps that will allow fans to follow the games on all the major social media platforms. London-based design agency Pentagram, which has been hired to provide the branding for World Chess, has designed the purpose-built arena and cockpit for the matches.
Paulson, a serial media and technology entrepreneur, founded Aisha Publishing House and the $300m online media business SUP. His vision for World Chess was born following a chance meeting with Ilyumzhinov, the former leader of the oil-rich Buddhist region of Kalmykia, who was re-elected as president of FIDE in 2010.
FIDE will supply the players and regulate the tournament, initially receiving 20 per cent of the prize money, with an additional profit-share agreement planned over the longer term.
World Chess has ample finance to fund the first cycle of the world chess championship, but it is expected that additional support will be secured from sponsors. The company is understood to be in talks with a number of businesses in the technology, media, financial and professional services sectors.
Mr Paulson said: “We are looking for six global sponsors in non-competing sectors. Research undertaken by YouGov has shown that chess is more associated with intelligence, sophistication and strategy than any other major global sport”
The first fixture will be played in London in March 2013 followed by events in other major European cities. The tournament will be hosted by North African and Middle Eastern cities in 2014, followed by India in 2015 and the Americas in 2016.
Each World Chess Championship cycle will take two years, working up to the Championship Match via the Candidates Tournament, six Grand Prix and one World Cup game, where the reigning World Champion will take on the leading contender.