A letter from Ilya Merenzon, chief executive of Agon Ltd., the company that owns the commercials rights to organize the World Championship.

Just before the Candidates Tournament in Moscow in March, we announced that we would take legal action against chess websites that infringed our broadcast rights to the event.

It is fair to say that the furor that followed divided the global chess community. 

We were asked, “Does Agon have the right to prohibit anyone from broadcasting the moves as they were made?”

We believe that we do and that we have a strong legal position. We also have the full support of the World Chess Federation and many others within the game.

Our position was (and still is) that it costs a tremendous amount of money to organize chess events and those who invest in the sport are entitled to recoup that investment.

Furthermore, we firmly believe that unless broadcast rights are protected, it is impossible to attract corporate partners into the sport. In my mind, if we are to build a commercially sustainable future for chess, then the first step has to be to protect our media rights for the benefit of the commercial partners and ultimately the hundreds of millions of chess fans around the world.

The more commercial partners we attract to chess, the more money we have to spend on broadcast production, events, tournaments and grassroots development. It is a very simple equation.

Despite our warnings at the time of the Candidates, a few websites decided to broadcast the live games without our permission. 

In response, we sued those sites and we continue to pursue those legal actions.

During the Candidates tournament, as the PR whirlwind we had created raged around our ears, we were mindful of the concerns and so we also began the process of creating a new financial model for the broadcast of chess for the benefit of all its stakeholders.

Today’s announcement is the culmination of that process.

First, and most importantly, the live moves of the World Chess Championship match will be made available for free to responsible chess websites and other media organizations that take our official broadcast widget. For the uninitiated, a widget in this context is simply a webpage that can be added to any website that joins our affiliate program.

That means that any chess fan can follow the games live for free on a multitude of different websites around the world, including those that they currently use.

Second, we are offering chess and media websites and national chess federations the chance to become affiliate partners for our premium pay-per-view virtual reality broadcast of the match. Every time a member of a partner website upgrades to our premium product via the official free broadcast widget, that website will receive up to a 10 percent commission.

We are also giving chess federations a unique code that chess fans can use when purchasing a pay-per-view subscription for the match – making the federations affiliate commercial partners as well.

So this new model for the broadcast of chess will:

§  Plough money back into the grassroots of chess through the national federations.

§  Provide an opportunity for chess websites – which nurture the global community of chess fans – to profit from the World Championship.

§  Increase the revenue coming into the game for the benefit of players.

§  Most importantly, give chess fans the chance to watch the games for free or to pay just $15 for a season pass to experience the championship as if they were watching over the shoulders of the two players.

What we are doing has never been attempted before in the chess world. It is a revolutionary approach and I am sure we will probably make some mistakes in its implementation before we are finished.

I am really interested to hear your comments and thoughts on our new model and approach. You can reach me at merenzon@agonlimited.com. I look forward to hearing from you.