Unibet ‘chess proposition’ triggers Norway drama

A potential tie-up between Norges Sjakkforbund (NSF) – Norway’s Chess Federation – and online bookmaker Unibet may turn into a political showdown for multiple national stakeholders.

Norwegian media reports that NSF has been approached by Kindred Group Plc’s flagship sportsbook property Unibet, offering the federation a NOK 50 million (€5m) partnership – Norwegian Chess’ biggest ever sponsorship.

Reacting to the news, NSF has been ordered by TV 2 (Egmont Group) to reject the ‘controversial proposal’, as the broadcaster seeks to bring the 2020 Chess World Cup to the South Western city of Stavanger.

Working alongside Norway’s Ministry of Culture, TV 2 governance is reported to be preparing its Stavanger 2020 bid, seeking to host Norway’s biggest ever chess event and further cashing-in on the popularity of Chess Grand Master Magnus Carlsen.

A potential NSF-Unibet partnership will likely jeopardise TV 2’s bid, as Norway has outlawed the promotion of ‘foreign unlicensed operators’ by national media incumbents.

Nevertheless, Norway’s vague laws on marketing have allowed Unibet to approach NSF, with a sponsorship offer that is reported to be twice the value of TV 2’s World Cup offering.

Kjell Madland, Chairman of NSF, has stated that the federation notes media and political concerns, but that Unibet’s significant proposal will be reviewed in the interest of Norwegian Chess development.

Should NSF move forward with Unibet’s offer, it will likely come head-to-head with gambling regulator Lottstift, during a period in which it has enforced its ‘toughest stance on restricting remote gambling operators’.

Unibet is prepared to undertake Chess’ biggest sponsorship to date, with the online bookmaker highlighting the success of its lead sponsorship of the 2018 FIDE World Chess Championship in London between Magnus Carlsen vs American Fabiano Caruana.

An epic encounter featuring 51-hours of play across 12 drawn matches, Carlsen Vs Caruana drew worldwide audiences, with Unibet stating to SBC that the FIDE Championship had been one of its most successful sponsorships ever‘.

Speaking to national media, Trine Skei Grande – Norway’s Minister of Equality & Culture – detailed that his department would not seek to influence NSF decision with regards to partnering with Unibet, but warned that NSF events could be restricted in promotion as Norwegian Chess’ governing body is a subordinate of the Norway Sports Federation.

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