Carlsen Signs Sponsorship Deal With Unibet
An official promo picture of Carlsen, now sponsored by Unibet. Photo: Unibet.

Carlsen Signs Sponsorship Deal With Unibet

| 111 | Chess Event Coverage

Magnus Carlsen has signed a two-year sponsorship deal with the Malta-based gambling giant Kindred Group, the owner of sports betting site Unibet. Carlsen will be a global ambassador for Unibet in 2020 and 2021. This was announced at a press conference in Stockholm today.

The video of the press conference, hosted by Arne Horvei. Video: Carlsen's YouTube channel.

"I think it's a good partnership because we share a lot of common values and interests such as an analytical approach to games," said Carlsen. "I think it's going to be very exciting moving forward, seeing as Unibet is a global brand. Obviously we share other interests as well."

Chief commercial officer of Kindred Group Rhodri Darch spoke on behalf of Unibet. He mentioned the NBA, football, poker and chess as common interests, and that in 2014 Unibet was the first international betting operator to offer live odds on chess.

"We're delighted," said Darch. "Magnus is a huge star, the reigning world number-one since 2010. I joined the company in 2009 and we were discussing around chess as far back as 2010. We've seen a phenomenal growth in chess and we've seen our own interest growing in chess."

The deal has been accompanied with an epic commercial featuring Carlsen, which seems to have been at least partly inspired by Rocky Balboa:

Darch: "Magnus is also a perfect embodiment of the Unibet brand positioning. We talk about 'luck is no coincidence,' that's really about making great decisions using data. We encourage our players to use data statistics and really think analytically and make sound choices, either about how they choose to use the tools we offer to play responsibly or how they find an edge, how they find the very best opportunity."

Carlsen Unibet sponsor deal
Another official promo picture. Photo: Unibet.

The deal is not without controversy, and Carlsen referred to that during the press conference: "For me this is something that's become also a more natural fit after what happened last summer and us sort of being on the same side of a major discussion."

It all started with talks between the Norwegian Chess Federation and Kindred Group in the summer of 2019. On the table was a possible $5.9 million deal between the federation and Kindred Group, despite the fact that any promotion of foreign gambling companies is illegal in Norway.

Instead, Kindred Group had offered a five-year deal to secure the chess federation's help in lobbying for a change of the current law, in which government-owned Norsk Tipping is the only licensed gambling company. (That's also why, when Unibet sponsored the Norway Chess tournament in 2014, it was called "No Logo Norway Chess.")

Carlsen thereupon created a new chess club named Offerspill and offered free membership to the first 1,000 members, with Carlsen paying the federation fees himself. Critics saw this move as an attempt to influence the upcoming vote on the sponsorship deal in the Norwegian chess federation. Eventually, a majority voted against the deal.

Magnus Carlsen Unibet sponsorship
Chief commercial officer of Kindred Group Rhodri Darch and Magnus Carlsen during today's press conference. Photo: Unibet.

On January 8, Carlsen sidestepped the objections from the federation as his club Offerspill signed a direct $441,000 agreement with Kindred Group. Half of that amount is intended support the development of young Norwegian talents.

Now a personal, global deal has been added. Carlsen will be promoting Unibet wherever he plays, except for his home country: "I will not promote Unibet with branding in Norway; this is a global partnership and we adhere to Norwegian law," he said. 

International director of the FIDE management board Mohamed Al-Mudahka was quick to suggest that there might be issues during official events for the World Chess Federation, such as the title match in November:

With all the controversy in mind, one reporter asked Carlsen at the press conference what kind of reactions he expected from his new sponsorship deal.

"I don't think I am the person who should speculate on possible reactions; you are the media and that is your job!" was the world champion's initial reply.

Asked what reactions he was hoping for, he said: "What I'm hoping for is for people to share the excitement that we feel about this cooperation."

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

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