26

Despite all the efforts that chess professionals put to the game the majority of them cannot make a living out of chess. Only 4 or 5 super grandmasters across the world have been able to make a few million dollars from chess. This is mainly because there are no good brands/sponsors associating themselves with chess. At one point, one former president of FIDE had to sponsor world championships from his own "pocket".

Over the years chess has been associated with big industries in business, technology, health, research, etc but it has not been able to attract major sponsors or partners to competitive chess. For example one would have expected a big spin-off from Google's AlphaZero and partnership with FIDE but nothing big has come out so far. Hence the following question;

Why is chess failing to attract major sponsors like other sporting codes?

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    Sponsors want Audience & Audience want Entertainemt & Chess don't give entertainement to audience..... – USer345738380 Jul 26 at 6:05
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    @USer345738380, it's more about Chess needing a more "educated" audience. For exemple Carlsen can be really entertaining. Many WorldCup players are show man in their way. It just require more knowledge to understand any move. Sports like Golf also require some "educated" audience, for understanding scoring with handicap and championship. But golf has a more "rich" audience. Even if the tournament has only 200 spectators, big luxury ads will be there. – xdtTransform Jul 26 at 9:16
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    I'd liken it to Cricket, the traditional version is loved, but not as commercial as the IPL which used coloured shirts and made it a show, along with 20/20 cricket so you got to see a game in day. Something along those lines is probably needed to attract a bigger audience and thus sponsors. – indofraiser Jul 26 at 12:46
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    American football, baseball, and basketball have changed their rules to make them more audience appealing and marketable (attractive to sponsors). Would chess do that? – chux - Reinstate Monica Jul 26 at 18:41
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    One really interesting comparison would be to Go, in the countries where it is most popular. I hear that it is much more popularly celebrated than chess is where chess is popular, e.g. featured on mainstream TV and such. I'm sorry I'm too lazy to do the research, but if true this would have some bearing on some of the arguments presented here about the lack of virtue of chess as a spectator sport. – Somatic Custard Jul 30 at 15:06
31

Sponsorship is more like an investment. For example in video game competitions, companies like Sony and Redbull may invest money, of course, in the hopes that their audience will be more likely to purchase Sony or Redbull products since the players are using them. In your example, I don't see what Google AlphaZero has to gain from casual enthusiasts by sponsoring chess tournaments. Is the AI program something consumers can purchase? There's little gain there. And the other big reason as the other poster put it is that chess just isn't much fun to watch so the audience willing to sit through chess matches is very small, which ties in the first point about little gain from sponsorship.

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    There are various industries with varying interests, and it should be noted that not all industries care about the number of customers or followers. For example an industry like Research and Development (R&D) is not about the number of followers but it has a lot money around it. AlphaZero has a lot to do with chess and that on its own is a selling point. Not all research is about building the longest or the tallest bridge but finding small building blocks to solving other unforeseen life problems. – Phemelo Khetho Jul 24 at 20:26
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    @Phemolo Khetho Do you have an example of a company sponsoring an event for professional sports/games out of the goodness of their heart where they are not in the business of selling products that are relevent to the event? – Cell Jul 24 at 22:11
  • @PhemeloKhetho Business owners used to be sponsors of art, sports etc. for a long time. A part of it was certainly PR, but for the most part, it was simply that the owner found value in the venue. Corporations do not work this way. They need to have a business reason they can sell to their shareholders. There is no owner who could just say "I like chess, so I'm going to divert some of the profits of my company to sponsoring chess". – Luaan Jul 25 at 8:17
  • Chess unlike other sports, it has more players than spectators. Chess is more compatible with mobile gadgets than TV, and also mobile penetration is much higher than TV. That being said, there's a clear selling-point in which chess could position itself to attract sponsors who can also in return benefit through mobile advertising and being able to reach their audience anywhere via handheld devices. Chess being a longer game, means that it has longer viewership which could translate into sponsors getting extended mileage for their adverts. – Phemelo Khetho Jul 25 at 11:57
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    Not all sponsorships are about a specific product, even if in the end they are about generating profit. Sometimes the company just wants to put the company name out there, have its name associated with certain activities, make itself look good on the eyes of the consumers. Later on, consumers will (ideally) buy their products because they feel they know and like the company, not because of a specific product that was advertised. This could work for chess as well, the problem is the small audience. – Blueriver Jul 26 at 13:35
54

It's frankly quite boring to watch chess, unless you understand what is going on - it's not like football, basketball or hockey, where there is dynamic, action, fast-paced play - for us, chess players, it might appear that chess is dynamic and fast-paced, but this is not so for the common viewer.

Let's be honest, would you really want to watch a chess game lasting three hours on your TV, waiting for the next move which the player takes 30 minutes to think through and calculate? Specifically for this reason you will never see chess featured on TV, and since it is not featured on TV, it does not get the luxurious contracts that other sports do.

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    I wonder if this could encourage time controls which are watchable. When I think about what a game might need to attract sponsors, I like to think of Starcraft 2 and announcers like Day9 who can keep the excitement up during the lulls.. .but those games are 30 minutes each, not 30 minutes per move. Maybe we just need to give up and try to get sponsors for chess boxing instead! – Cort Ammon Jul 24 at 19:14
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    I'd rather watch a round of chess than a football game of nearly 2h. Then again, I don't watch any sports and am likely not the target audience for this kind of stuff. As a more serious comment, I'd not put it down to being fast paced but easily understandable in every moment. With all major sports you know who is about to win and which move was a good one and which wasn't. With chess, you have no clue whether a certain move was a good one or who is more likely to win (at least at most stages) unless you're a chess expert. – Frank Hopkins Jul 24 at 22:32
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    The King’s Game was a BBC show, ran an hour, and consisted of a game between two GM’s. The time control was G/25, as I recall, and it was spliced together with interviews of the players plus some voiceover commentary of the players talking about what they were thinking about at this point in the game. Some shows were positively fascinating. – Arlen Jul 25 at 3:35
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    Some 20 years ago there used to be broadcasts of chess games on German TV (late at night). It was actually quite fascinating (even if you were, like me, only a beginner) because between moves they had some grandmasters discuss options for the next move. – Roland Jul 25 at 6:17
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    Broadcasts of chess tournaments have been broadcast here in Norway have been quite popular. A lot of this was because they employed entertaining and knowledgeable commenters, who helped the layman understand what was going on, displaying the pros and cons of various moves, etc. Ofc it also helped that "we" had an international sport in which we had a top class contender. – eirikdaude Jul 25 at 11:59
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Biggest reason? Indecisive games. Hard to make money for sponsors when 60%+ of the time there’s no winner. In a sporting event, no one likes ties.

Possible avenues are faster time controls, where at least spectators don’t waste half a day watching no one win.

Back in the 19th century Steinitz had match rules that required players to reset the pieces and play again if a draw happened. Maybe create something similar today. Continuous games until one is decisive, perhaps with declining time limits.

I know, draws are a part of chess. But spectators don’t care what’s a part of chess. For the most part, they don’t even care about quality of play. They want to celebrate a winner.

Maybe turn to a tennis model, with 3-5 sets of rapid games, each set won by the first player to win x number of games.

Chess, as we play it today, is not a sponsor’s game. The only game with as many indecisive games as chess is poker, and it kind of controls for that by having a table full of players, so if 3-4 have nothing, the hand is still competitive, so eventually someone wins.

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    I don't think a reasonable number of draws is necessarily a big problem - for instance most European professional football leagues have a roughly 25% draw rate (footballbetting.org.uk/articles/…), and while that is not 60% it does make 1-1 the most common result in the EPL. And some of the most exciting games I have ever watched, both Football and Chess, have been draws. – Ian Bush Jul 25 at 8:29
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    The audience of knowledgeable chess fans who enjoy or even accept draws is too small for large corporations. The wider audience they need wants wins, and honestly, they don't much care about blunders; they'd rather see a win by blunder than a perfectly-played draw. I agree, if the draw percentage could be reduced to 20-25% they might be willing to tolerate it. But Carlsen-Caruana was 100% draws, until the tiebreaks. In the Candidates, no player was under 50% draws, Ding Liren was over 90%. Advertisers like the image of chess; they don't much care for the actual game. – Arlen Jul 25 at 16:28
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    The idea that draws are intrinsically unattractive seems really to be an American phenomenon. Americans are used to a set-up where draws are impossible, so they assume that this is universal but, as @IanBush explains, most of the rest of the world is happy with draws. – David Richerby Jul 26 at 15:03
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    Draws/Ties are possible in many US professional sports (baseball being the longest-standing exception to that rule, but ties are even possible there under extreme circumstances). The percentage of indecisive games in chess, however, dwarfs that of any sport. But @abigail has a good point -- in sports like soccer, even if you can't dribble or pass you can usually tell when a player has done something good. You have no idea if a move is good unless you understand chess; there's no scoreboard you can check to see who's moving ahead or falling behind. No suspense. – Arlen Jul 26 at 15:47
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    @Arlen Exactly. The problem is understanding what's going on, not draws. – David Richerby Jul 26 at 17:42
7

Despite all the efforts that chess professionals put to the game the majority of them cannot make a living out of chess. Only 4 or 5 super grandmasters across the world have been able to make a few million dollars from chess. This is mainly because there are no good brands/sponsors associating themselves with chess.

How many javelin, discus, or hammer throwers have made millions of dollars from athletics? There's a tonne of sponsorship that goes into athletics, and the best athletes get massive worldwide television coverage at least every four years (with the Olympics), but I suspect that only a handful of sprinters end up as millionaires.

How about tennis? A few people at the top earn tens of millions from prize money and individual sponsorship deals, but the world number 50 barely makes a living.

The sports where a thousand competitors rake in the money are few and far between, and they're team sports where the leagues can provoke bidding wars between TV networks and then distribute the lucrative results among the teams.

3

Simply put, the primary purpose of sponsorship of competitions (or events in general) is advertising. The amount of money an organization would be willing to spend to sponsor an event is directly tied to the audience of that event and the likelihood of increased sales to that audience resulting from the advertisement.

Sports like American football, baseball, soccer, ice hockey, basketball, etc. draw large audiences (often many millions) to which sponsors can advertise their brand and products. Chess games, on the other hand, tend to draw quite small audiences. If chess can find some way to make the games interesting enough that millions of people will watch them on a regular basis, then they, too, will be able to attract large sponsorship contracts.

Of course, the same logic generally applies to all forms of advertising, not just event sponsorship. Advertisement during TV shows, on radio stations, in newspapers, in magazines, on billboards, on signs, on web banner ads, etc. is all based to trying to expose your brand/product to the the largest number of likely potential buyers for the lowest price per conversion. A small audience to an advertisement means few potential conversions and, therefore, little willingness to invest in that advertisement.

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    Advertising to small audiences is OK despite, the few conversions, when the value of each sale is high. For example, highly technical magazines or events with relatively small audiences may have ads for very expensive equipment. That said, I don't think chess is like that. :-) – itub Jul 26 at 10:55
  • @itub True. Advertising to a very specific, but relatively small audience that is disproportionately likely to buy something expensive can justify relatively large ad spend on a relatively small, targeted audience. But, like you said, there aren't very many high-value things that the average person watching a chess match is disproportionately likely to be convinced (and able) to purchase. – reirab Jul 26 at 13:53
3

It's a fair question. I think that most of the companies who would have the cash to be anchor sponsor to, say, an international tournament would need to benefit by this association. This benefit is not going to be financial - it's going to be reputational, like big accounting or law firms sponsoring piano competitions. In the context of events likely to benefit a company's reputation there are many choices. And the more popular, more pleasurable or more socially beneficial events are likely to win out over chess in the company boardroom debate on where to spend the 'sentiment money'.

If you were looking for a sponsor for a chess tournament you'd probably have to find some organization priding itself on its ingenuity - or at least trying to get a name for ingenuity. It's no secret that governments in USSR, China, USA, UK, France and so on have actively promoted chess playing to cultivate strategic thinking among young people so recruits to its national defense establishments have some advance training. In the modern world maybe some of the major IT corporations might see a reputational benefit in this. But sadly those IT companies with a very real connection to chess, e.g. AI or critical software design, are usually rather small and simply not flush enough to blow millions on a single no-gain event. What's more, if an AI company grew to be a major, it would be faced with the same commercial imperatives as Coca-Cola: so its no-gain largesse would have to be spread around rather than concentrated on a single small sector.

But chess tournaments of course are not just held in superpower countries. They are often also held in countries where chess is a popular pastime among the ordinary populace, e.g. Argentina, Serbia, Holland, Poland, etc. These countries have numerous chess cafés and interesting local diversions for visitors and media people. Moreover whenever a tournament takes place it gives stimulus to patronage of these cafés by locals as well as visitors. All this makes the expense of hosting big chess tournaments a viable commercial proposition for the local economy. I think that the latter model of sponsorship is the better way forward for national chess federations: try and get small commitments from a large range of organizations - public and private - and try to exploit the tourism angle.

2

The professional chess is doing pretty well when compared to the past but nowhere close to what it could under different circumstances.

There are all reasons to have chess at the highest or just grandmaster level sponsored generously. There are the computer industry and the wealthy people who would sponsor chess just to feel good. Also, chess players know that the frequent occurrence of draws is not any serious problem -- chess fans are different from soccer fans. Also, chess games are excited to watch on TV or on the Internet, from classical time all the way down to bullets.

However, the last two former FIDE presidents were criminalists. FIDE was corrupt and unethical... such things are repulsive to sponsors.

If chess were totally decentralized, if there were no more FIDE, etc. (here I could provide simple general meta-principles of organizing professional chess life -- the amateur life is doing better it seems), then professional chess would bloom the big way.

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    Yes, FIDE event was a bit weird. Press pass was expensive. VIP room was behind glass with maximum 3 peoples. Most of the press desk where left empty. – xdtTransform Jul 26 at 9:34
-1

Apart from the lack of action, it is also because chess is no longer a celebration of human excellence and triumph over computers as much as before, before the time of Deep Blue when humans still had a chance, and computer manufacturers can use chess to promote their products. When people look at two humans playing, they know very well that they are not looking at strongest game possible, or some kind of latest advancement. So what else is there to be celebrated or sponsored? In fact, humans have stagnated at chess as a sporting endeavor for a long time, although they have learned how to train computers to do certain activities (including playing chess) more effectively.

Apart from machine learning applications, AlphaZero had the most impact on Go as humans could still hold their own before its arrival, while chess has lost this battle long ago along with checkers. This question implies that many chess enthusiasts are still oblivious to the outside world and do not have a firm grasp of the reality that surrounds chess.

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    I'm not convinced by this argument; people who watch humans competing at running don't care that cars can go faster, or watching people competing at lifting weights, they don't care that cranes are stronger. – itub Jul 26 at 10:46
  • Chess existed long before computers, and people didn't suddenly stop caring about chess just because Kasparov lost to Deep Blue. – David Richerby Jul 26 at 15:07
  • Both the answer and the first comment have merit. However, the answer isn't really the answer to the sponsorship question; it's the answer to a deeper question about the true value of chess in the modern world. It's a game with a finite gamespace that can be conquered by modern computation. The thing about cranes is -- they may be stronger than weightlifters, but they are not nearly as intelligent. – DJG Jul 26 at 17:58
  • Olympic records are still being broken. For chess it is only elo inflation and unsubstantiated egos – prusswan Jul 27 at 10:27
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    @David it matters because chess is no longer useful for promoting new hardware, it can be done with AI applications and video games. Realize there is no tech sponsor after IBM? – prusswan Jul 27 at 10:29

protected by Phonon Jul 27 at 16:04

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