The business model in chess is broken, for the players

Kathu Chess picWhen a singer releases a song they copyright it, they are able to earn an income from it. In theory if you want to own a song, you have to pay for that, one way or another. When a top chess player plays a game, he cannot directly earn anything from it. The game is free for anyone to play through and relive the magic. It is no coincidence that some of the top players in the history of chess died in poverty. A few names that come to mind are Mikhail Tal and Alexander Alekhine. These were brilliant players who went on to inspire future world champions.
 
Chess websites take  free chess games and package them into premium products which are paid for by chess players. This is a service appreciated by the chess fans who are prepared to pay a once-off amount or a subscription. Why don’t the chess websites provide these products free of charge? No they cannot do that. You see they cannot provide these products and services for free because they have spent money to create them. It has cost them something and they need to recover those costs and make a profit. If they provide these products for free they will operate at a loss and will probably have to close shop for good, sooner or later.  However, the money still from this still does not find its way to the chess players who created that initial product. I think there is something wrong with the business model chess for the players. They just create a product that is enjoyed for free to infinity.
 
What about the chess professional? He probably spends several hours preparing for tournaments. On average some players spend at least 5 hours or so studying chess.  How does he recover his costs? Some of them have coaches and seconds who must all be paid. Surely that money should not just come from prize money. No, it must come from sales in one way or another of their product, not the moves, but the game!
 
Paul Morphy quit chess because people made fun of it and just could not get to take him seriously. He had beaten just about everyone and could lay claim to being the best player in the world yet people of the day thought chess was too trivial a pursuit for one to make a living from. They were wrong. Today we have millionaires like our World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. However, Carlsen should not be one of the few who can make a decent income from chess.
 
So the question ladies and gentlemen, is how can chess players benefit from their creation. I think there has to be a way. When a soccer game is played, not just anyone can broadcast the game. There has to be a broadcast licence in place. There is big money involved in the broadcast business, billions. Because there is so much money the soccer clubs are able to get a share of this money and then distribute it to their players.
 
Soccer players are rich not just because soccer is a popular game but because they found a fantastic way to monetise their business. Popularity is not enough to make money. You have to find a way to convert it into money into sales.
 
When you want to watch a good game of football at the stadium, you don’t just walk into the stadium. No, you buy tickets! You have to buy a ticket and you are willing to buy that ticket because you get good value for your money when you go to the game. Chess fans get good value from watching chess games. How much do they pay for this value. How much are they prepared to pay?
We are able to enjoy the genius of the great Jose Raul Capablanca because he was able to play chess without ever having to worry about money. The Cuban government paid Capablanca a salary if you want for most of his life as a roving ambassador. Thus Capablanca was able to focus on what he did best, play chess.
The money from the sale of chess related products is not finding its way to the original creators, the actual players.  Any chance that one day chess players might benefit directly from these sales? Time will tell. The business model in chess is broken. Chess professionals need a better deal.
 

Bruce Mubayiwa

I am the founder and editor of Africa Chess Net. I have been playing chess for over 25 years and love writing about the game. Our goal is simple, to get more people playing chess in Africa! The game of chess is not only absorbing but a great deal of fun.

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