With India's Tech Mahindra and global chess governing body FIDE announcing Global Chess League (GCL), the chances of top Indian chess players signing up brand endorsement deals have brightened, said players and talent managers.
Marketers also agree with the talent managers that top chess players are ideal brand ambassadors for insurers, mutual funds, financial technology companies and products that are targeted at children.
"GCL may be a catalyst for Indian chess players and corporates to sign up brand endorsement deals," chess talent managers like Priyadarshan Banjan, Archil Katiyar and Manu Gurtu told IANS.
As a matter of fact, even the talent management in chess is a new phenomenon in India.
"A chess player can be equated with a mutual fund investment manager. A chess player needs a lot of concentration, skill and dedication. So do mutual fund investment managers. The playing style of a chess player should also match the fund's philosophy," Jayant Pai, Head-Marketing, PPFAS Mutual Fund told IANS.
According to him, for an equity mutual fund, a chess player will be a good fit.
"In fact, the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI) could use a chess player in promoting the mutual fund culture," Pai added.
Some mutual funds have shown a chess board with a couple of pieces in their advertisements.
"Generally, investments are linked to strategies and computers to their computing power, both of which chess players signify," Susan Polgar, winner of four women's world championship and five Olympic gold medals in chess, had told IANS earlier.
In India, the sportsmen-brand ambassador segment is nearly monopolized by cricketers.
"Cricket is the lowest common denominator in the country. So, brands used by everybody will look for cricketers. There are niche brands and niche sports like golf, chess and other Olympic sporting events. These games are played by a small percentage of the total population in each country but are globally known. So, niche product companies will look at such sportsmen," Harish Bijoor, brand expert and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, told IANS.
He also said there are mass brands that look at non-cricketers for want of funds and brands that are flush with money who go for different sportsmen.
Even though there are several Indian chess players who figure in the top 20's in the world in different categories, barring Anand, the recall value of others is less outside of chess.
In the open category former World Champion V. Anand is now world no.16, P. Harikrishna (rank 20), Vidit Santosh Gujrathi (rank 22).
In the women's category K.Humpy (rank 3 in women), D. Harika (no.9) and in the juniors Nihal Sarin (rank 5 in juniors), R. Praggnanandhaa (rank 8) and R. Vaishali, ranked 8th in the world girls segment.
"Anand has opened the doors for Indian chess players and it is for them to cash on that. For a non-televised sport, Anand's achievement in brand endorsement is an amazing feat,a Banjan remarked.
Anand has not only endorsed domestic brands but also global ones like AMD.
Several decades ago, Anand endorsed 'Memory Plus', a capsule that is supposed to improve a person's memory. Later he endorsed NIIT, Union Bank of India and mass brands like Horlicks, Parle Milk Shakti, Vodafone, Complan, Crocin and others.
So, what are the do's for a chess player to attract brand owners?
"Apart from being at the top in the field there are other important aspects-persona and presence in social media- for a chess player to attract brand owners," Bijoor said.
Additional aspects like: glamour quotient, involvement in social causes, married to another celebrity in the same field or in a different field, Bijoor listed out.
According to him, the `couple quotient' has a distinct advantage and the combination appeal outperforms their individual appeal.
But it will be a long grind for a chess player to position himself to attract brand endorsement deals.
"Chess is a global game. World chess champions are global properties. But it is a niche segment in many countries. So, like their pieces on the board, player positioning is important," Bijoor added.
The advantage of niche games like chess and golf is that age does not matter, but skill and continuing to be at the top of the table matters.
Several chess Grand Masters have told IANS that their primary focus was on the fight to survive with meagre funds and didn't have other thoughts or means about their market positioning.
So much so, many chess players earlier didn't have their twitter account verified and now it has been done.
The last 12-14 months of Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, chess has gained lot of online following and gaming companies have started offering chess.
"Several top Indian chess players like Gujrati, B. Adhiban have started streaming chess programmes on YouTube. The chess players are also into creation of dedicated content for a specific advertiser," Katiyar told IANS.
"For a brand owner to get attracted to a sports personality, attracting eyeballs is important. In the case of chess, the strategy now is to build content and attract followers as chess is played and streamed online," Manu Gurtu, Director, Co-Founder MagDiSoft Solution and who is also the talent manager for Grand Master Srinath Narayanan.
Globally or locally, brand monetization is happening within the chess segment-streaming, conduct of chess courses- and to some extent outside the sector through brand endorsement deals, remarked Banjan.
Nevertheless, some brand owners are slowly warming up towards chess players like the Bengaluru-based dairy products Akshayakalpa Farms & Foods Private Ltd that has signed up with Sarin.
The GCL and other chess leagues that are being planned may change course, hopes chess players.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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