Money down the Drain

BREAKINGVIEWS-Chess: a 1,500-year-old startup that doesn’t scale
by Reuters
Friday, 2 December 2016 16:22 GMT
By Kate Duguid

NEW YORK, Dec 2 (Reuters Breakingviews) – Chess is the 1,500-year-old venture that even some of the world’s brightest minds have failed to scale. A fresh attempt to popularize the game using this year’s championship between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin is destined to be checkmated.

Carlsen, the Norwegian, defended his title on his 26th birthday on Wednesday with a final queen move in front of venture capitalist Peter Thiel and other onlookers. Fans could watch from a $3,000 VIP seat, a live-stream or in virtual reality. These new options were available exclusively through Agon, the tournament’s organizer that is behind the latest commercialization efforts by FIDE, the central governing body for a game thought to have originated in India around the sixth century. The rights holder boasted of 7 million visitors to its site this week, but its chief executive said only between 25,000 and 35,000 of them paid for access.

Agon’s endeavors were impeded by a November U.S. court ruling that limited exclusivity. Other sites can show piece movements in real time. That reduces further the appeal of live footage. Chess is hardly an action sport. There’s no obvious way to attract new watchers, as the strategy and pace make professional games hard for novices to follow.

Countries like Norway broadcast the championship on major networks, but it found no TV home in the United States.

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