The last time chess was broadcast regularly on UK television the BBC employed a man covered head-to-toe in black cloth to make moves on a giant board – but now chess on Eurosport is coming.
Three decades on the game is making a comeback to the small screen after the broadcaster revealed it will start showing daily chess highlights during major competitions.
World Chess, the organisers of the 2018 World Chess Championship, said a three-year contract has been confirmed with Eurosport giving it exclusive rights to coverage.
The agreement will allow Eurosport to show key moments and highlights across Europe and Asia starting with the title match taking place in London right now.
Chess has seen an explosion of interest in Norway, where the 27-year-old world champion Magnus Carlsen is seen as a major sporting hero.
Two channels including the state broadcaster NRK – Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation – are showing the match live on the prime-time evening slot.
An explosion of interest
Recent figures show the match, in which Carlsen is defending his title against US challenger Fabiano Caruana, has been attracting an audience share of 26 per cent.
NRK also revealed last week it has extended its broadcasting rights for the World Chess Championships by seven years, until 2027.
World Chess CEO Ilya Merenzon said: “Chess is very cool but it’s struggled to find a perfect format for television.
“Now we know how to do it and I am delighted with the great value we can deliver to our existing sponsors, as well as attract new ones.
Chess on Eurosport, daily
“Chess has grown in popularity and is incredibly popular among the most coveted audience – young and educated – especially as lends itself so well on smartphones.”
Chess was last screened live in the UK in 1993 when BBC2 and Channel 4 shared the coverage of Nigel Short challenging Garry Kasparov for the World Championship at London’s Savoy Theatre.
However, the last regular chess show was the BBC’s Master Game, which was broadcast in the 70s and 80s.
Master Game featured post-match analysis, with grandmasters talking directly to camera about the strategies they had employed at the chessboard.
Master Game is also remembered for the primitive graphics used to illustrate moves on the board.
A graphics operator, covered head to toe in black cloth, sat in a darkened cabin and moved chess pieces around a glass board in sync with the commentary.
The announcement of the game’s return has been made during the World Chess Championship match between Carlsen and Caruana, the top two players in the world.
It is currently being broadcast Pay Per View on the official website, worldchess.com.
Laurent Prud’Homme, rights acquisitions for Eurosport, said: “Chess is a growing sport with millions following and playing the game around the world, so we are delighted to bring the biggest events to Eurosport platforms for the next three years.
“We are committed to helping World Chess expand the game further and engage new audiences with our multi-platform coverage and digital promotion of the sport.”