It took some time but the mainstream media has started to notice and report on the war between Agon and the rest of the chess world. A recent article on Bloomberg has raised interest in the company’s move to monopolize the 2016 Candidates Tournament broadcast and that of any subsequent tournaments connected to the World Chess Championship cycle. As many of us already know, the move has deepened the wedge between the World Chess Federation and countless fans across the globe. As explained in the article,
The company hired by the World Chess Federation to organize and broadcast the ongoing tournament in Russia announced earlier this month that other websites would not be allowed to offer live coverage, as many had done in the past.
This paragraph represents how the situation most likely appears to outsiders because it is how Agon/FIDE has worked to project its position in relation to live tournament broadcasts. Agon appears to be a legitimate company hired by FIDE to manage the championship tournament cycle because that is how the elaborate pyramid system involving FIDE and Agon is established and portrayed. It goes without saying that the boards of entire corporations have been put in prison in the United States for engaging in the same activities that have been undertaken by the leadership of the World Chess Federation and its phantom company. Let us take a moment to break down the history of Agon, its influence and relationship with the World Chess Federation.
Agon was founded in 2012 by Andrew Paulson, an American businessman for the sole purpose of managing and promoting chess tournaments and specifically, the World Chess Championship cycle. Because of missteps in management and controversy over the company’s ownership, Agon never organized a single chess event or sponsorship under Paulson and shortly after he became president of the English Chess Federation, Paulson sold the company to its current owner, Ilya Merenzon. Although it operates primarily out of the Russian Federation, Agon is registered as a private company based out of New Jersey.
As early as 2014, accusations arose that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of the World Chess Federation, was to be provided 51% in shares of Agon, which would have made him a majority shareholder and a de facto controller of the company and its assets. Conflict of interest is a term ill-suited to describe that kind of situation. Because of Ilyumzhinov’s reputation for deception and monopolistic control of the World Chess Federation, it is hard difficult to determine exactly where fiction ends and reality begins in the story of his relationship to Agon.
When Agon announced its intentions to limit the broadcast rights of chess websites around the world shortly before the start of the 2016 Candidates Tournament, the reaction was swift and furious. Campfire Chess joined in support of Chessdom, Chess24 and Chessbomb as they defied the company’s demands and continued broadcasting the live moves in protest throughout the tournament. I continue to stand by this position because everything that I am says that dissent in this case is the right thing to do. According to the official website, Agon has filed legal action in Moscow against Chess24, ChessGames.com, The Internet Chess Club, and Chess24 because of their defiance, but it will be curious to how the whole scenario plays out because Agon has no standing to pursue action against these sites, as has been demonstrated in case law and in settlements as recent as 2015 with Major League Baseball.
Naivety and Corporate Expectations
I am certainly not blind to the needs of companies to turn a profit from their products. Campfire Chess is a nonprofit organization funded entirely by me, but my long term dream is to monetize some kind of product. However, the rules of business are much more complicated than ordering other companies to cease their operations so that another company can turn a profit.
This is what Agon and FIDE leadership do not understand. If they want to build sponsorship and monetize chess tournaments, then they need to offer a product that is in higher demand than others. Chessbase, Chess24, Chessbomb and countless other sites in the online chess ecosystem offer live commentary, video lessons, and a sense of community that draws people in to their services. This is what Agon should be doing if it wants to compete. I am entirely open to watching tournaments on an exclusive tournament site if that site offers coverage and supplemental material that makes the experience worth it.
Until they figure that out, dissent will continue because chess is for the people.