Roughly a year ago, former tech exec Andrew Paulson acquired the global licensing and marketing rights to FIDE aka the World Chess Federation, and has rather bold plans to turn the game into a mass market sensation via a number of nu-media initiatives. The New York Times’ Matt Richtel patiently considers Paulson’s life story, but still likens his spiel to “a guy selling beachfront property in Nebraska.”
“Do you realize there are more people in America who play chess than tennis and golf combined?” Mr. Paulson said minutes into our first conversation, in an enthusiastic burst that made it seem irrelevant whether chess is, in fact, more popular. “Who would’ve thought people would be watching golf on TV, and, yet, they are. And all of India is watching cricket on TV. The only thing more boring than cricket is golf!”
Mr. Paulson, who lives in London, has a good idea of what India is watching because he parked himself there for several months in advance of the chess world championship, which was decided on Friday in Chennai. The victor was Magnus Carlsen, a handsome and personable 22-year-old from Norway who made a Cosmopolitan magazine list of the sexiest men of 2013. To Mr. Paulson, Mr. Carlsen is “a sea change in the history of chess, who gives us the opportunity to reveal the individual of chess players rather than their introverted inscrutability.”
The thing is, although people are listening to Mr. Paulson — and it’s hard not to — they aren’t yet doing much buying. In fact, he turned to India in part because his initial efforts in Europe to gain corporate sponsorship didn’t take. He faces many obstacles, like a governing chess body widely considered to be strange (putting it kindly), some top chess players who think that his efforts to popularize the sport are lowbrow, and the fact that he is promoting slow-motion entertainment in a world of short attention spans.