Quite a few companies that recently started to sponsor chess are either in sport betting or in crypto currencies. The entry of one of the biggest forty brands in the world is a welcome change, not least because it has been many years since a global enterprise has sponsored chess on a global scale. The last time was a special case connected with a research project that culminated in a media event, when Garry Kasparov was beaten by Deep Blue in 1997, after which IBM quickly dropped chess. Before that, Intel had sponsored top events run by the Professional Chess Association for two good years.
Big brands have not altogether stayed away from chess since. J.P. Morgan sponsors Judit Polgár’s Global Chess Festival. Coca Cola sponsored tournaments in Poland and Latvia. But these and many other valuable engagements are limited. Mastercard has named Carlsen its global brand ambassador and announced a partnership with the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. The credit card company will include chess in the curriculum of its Girls4Tech programme. It offers a Priceless online event with Carlsen exclusively for cardholders, and promotes the Play Magnus app as a Mastercard challenge. The amount of the deal isn’t disclosed but its significance is the global scale.
No agencies were involved in this breakthrough partnership according to Sebastian Kuhnert, Chief Business Development Officer at the Play Magnus Group. „The tour is producing great results, impressive quality and reach. Bigger and more influential partner are now approaching us“, said Kuhnert and added that the tour’s state of the art studio in Oslo was also a factor. The deal is just in time for the world championship match that starts in two months in Dubai at the Expo, which also partners with Mastercard.
A key reason for global companies not to sponsor chess globally was the abysmal state of FIDE. Soon after being elected FIDE President in 1995, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov offered the FIDE world championship to Saddam Hussein. The Kalmyk also courted two other dictators, Muammar al-Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad, while most of the world treated them as pariahs. While ruining the image of FIDE, Ilyumzhinov poured in millions of his own money to stay in power.
Since Arkady Dvorkovich took over in 2018, FIDE has been relying on Russian money to finance most of its big events. Phosagro and Kaspersky were already on board, Gazprom and Nornickel signed up this year. Dvorkovich has declared it as his goal to raise half of FIDE funding from outside Russia by 2022.
While only 10% of FIDE’s budget in 2017/18 came from sponsors, Dvorkovich and his team brought this up to 85%, far exceeding his goal to raise 50% from sponsors.** Landing the world championship at the Expo in Dubai is his biggest success and also a necessity. During the WADA ban no world championship must be organised until 16 December 2022 in Russia. A last hurdle was taken when Carlsen signed the contract on Wednesday.
The biggest single contributor is still neither an oligarch nor a marketing driven global company but a true maecenas: Rex Sinquefield keeps the top American players, the Grand Chess Tour, the world’s top chess museum World Chess Hall of Fame, and local chess activities in Saint Louis and elsewhere in the US going. Chess needs philantropy, but it also needs the marketing prowess of corporate sponsorship.