18 December 2013

2013 FIDE Executive Board : Whither the World Championship?

In past years, my annual look at documents published by FIDE about the World Championship -- last year's post was 2012 FIDE General Assembly : Whither the World Championship? -- has given me a good choice of material for this blog. This year, the documents from the 84th FIDE Congress Executive Board (EB), Tallinn, Estonia, in October, were less interesting, especially in comparison with, for example, the material on Ethics and Cheating.

I ended the '2012 Whither' post with a comparison of FIDE's two most recent attempts to commercialize its activities: Chess News Corporation (CNC) in 2009, and Agon in 2012.

I expect that any future 'Whither' posts will have little to say about CNC and much to say about Agon. Their London Grand Prix was a definite success and the Tashkent event starts today. The London Candidate matches in March will mark a clean break between the pre-Agon and Agon eras of chess history.

Let's look at the CNC and Agon in the 2013 EB. The first mention of either was during Ilyumzhinov's review of the past year.

1. Report of the President. President K. Ilyumzhinov presented his annual report. [...] As for our cooperation with Agon, both events in London took place with their active participation and its President A. Paulson, managed to succeed in several aspects, i.e. Chess Casting held during the London Candidates. He cooperated with Pentagram company, a leader in chess design, on a new design of chess pieces, you can find these on sale at the Harrods in London.

Mr. Paulson also had negotiations with Microsoft, Google etc. We are working towards bringing corporate sponsorship into chess and we think that during the match in Chennai, several important agreements will be signed. Large companies need much more time to prepare such detailed contracts.

That's not much, given that Agon was to be responsible for World Championship events over the next dozen years. No 'important agreements' were announced in Chennai, and for the next big event, Agon's presence is minimal.

5.20.3. FIDE Candidates’ Matches 2014. The dates should be 12-30 March 2014. [...] Mr. N. Freeman briefed the Board and said that there has been declaration of interests from Khanty-Mansiysk and Bulgaria, because the right to award the events belongs to Agon. [Long discussion of the circumstances around the two bids.] Mr. G. Makropoulos said this moment, with the situation we have in Agon, we could make a decision, negotiating on behalf of them at this moment.

What does Makropoulos mean by the 'the situation we have in Agon'? That had been discussed earlier along with the single reference to the CNC.

4. Administrative matters. [...]

4.4. CNC. Mr. G. Makropoulos presented his report.

4.5. Agon. Mr. G. Makropoulos informed the Executive Board about its activities

That's the entire content of the minutes on those two subjects. In contrast to the lengthy discussions on other important matters, usually further documented in an annex or two, the minutes offer two brief sentences. We can only assume that both projects are going the way of all previous FIDE commercial endeavors. Remember FIDE Commerce at the start of the year 2000? Neither does anyone else.

The person most closely associated with Agon was recently interviewed by Chessdom.com: Interview with Andrew Paulson, President of English Chess Federation

Q: What have you been doing in India to support the [Carlsen - Anand] Match?

A: I spent three months in India meeting with over 100 of India’s top companies, trying to evince interest in sponsoring the Anand-Carlsen World Championship Match. I thought that this would be really easy: Anand, the Tiger from Madras; Chaturanga, invented in India; Carlsen, the ‘hottie’; supposedly 58% of Indian adults play chess regularly; and I’m a pretty good salesman. I was wrong: it wasn’t easy. It was impossible. Zero. But now I know all the reasons these Indian companies had for NOT sponsoring that event, and I will build on this and the friendships I made in India to design the right package of Indian events to get these same companies to say yes. Which they will.

Although there have been half-hearted attempts over the years by FIDE and national federations to find commercial sponsorship for chess, the greatest success has always been with passionate, wealthy patrons. I believe my efforts have been the most wide-ranging and persistent attempt to find sustainable, professional commercial partnerships. Many gears have to mesh in any sponsorship package in order for it to pass muster with a rational Marketing Director of any admirable company we would want to work with. We’re getting there.

The name 'Agon' isn't mentioned during the interview. Other reports on Paulson published since the end of the Chennai match paint a similar picture. I could give links, but why bother -- 'zero' means exactly that.

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