Carlsen’s fame boosts fortunes

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UPDATED: At age 23, Norwegian chess sensation Magnus Carlsen isn’t only raking in a fortune for himself and his staff but also for Norway’s own chess federation, Sjakkforbundet. Five years ago, the federation had hardly any money but now it’s secured three major sponsor agreements, won a spot featuring Carlsen on a postage stamp and is hosting the Chess Olympiad, which started in Tromsø over the weekend.

Chess star Magnus Carlsen in Tromsø on Friday, admiring the new Norwegian postage stamp that marks the national chess federation's 100th anniversary. PHOTO: Posten

Chess star Magnus Carlsen, admiring the new Norwegian postage stamp that marks the national chess federation’s 100th anniversary. PHOTO: Posten Norge/Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The stamp was unveiled on Friday, just before the the opening ceremonies of the Chess Olympiad that runs through August 14. “It was natural that Magnus Carlsen would be part of the motif for the stamp,” said Halvor Fasting of the Norwegian postal service, Posten Norge. “Magnus is one of the most famous Norwegians in the world today, and a fine representative for an exciting sport.”

Carlsen’ fame is helping the chess federation in other ways as well. It’s no coincidence that Carlsen and his teammates will be drinking only water bottled under the Norwegian brand Isklar during the huge international chess tournament over the next two weeks, reports newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Isklar agreed to sponsor the chess federation to the tune of around NOK 500,000 (USD 84,000), according to DN, while Codan Insurance and Norwegian magazine Se of Hør have also committed to sponsoring the federation.

Gisle Bjugn of the federation wouldn’t confirm the amounts of money involved, but called it “fantastic” that such private sponsors are now supporting chess. “The agreement with Isklar is the biggest in our history,” said Bjugn, who was hired by the federation as its marketing and communications chief to help drum up new sponsors.

The new Norwegian postage stamp featuring Carlsen and chess can't be used alone on a international air-mail card or letter. That costs NOK 16 (the equivalent of USD 2.60) PHOTO: Posten Norge

The new Norwegian postage stamp featuring Carlsen and chess can’t, however, be used alone on an international air-mail card or letter. That costs NOK 16 (the equivalent of USD 2.60) PHOTO: Posten Norge

Chess experts, like the postal service, link the new sponsorships directly to the Norwegian public’s heightened interest in chess, mostly because of Magnus Carlsen himself. Long ranked as the top chess player in the world, Carlsen’s victory in the chess world championships last fall cemented his national and international celebrity status. Commercial sponsors now appear increasingly keen to latch onto Carlsen and the new public interest in chess.

“Everything that’s happening now is because of Magnus Carlsen,” Torstein Bae, an international chess master and former president of the chess federation, told DN. “Without him, we’d be where we were 10 years ago, getting two lines in the newspaper now and then.”

Profits soar at Carlsen’s company
Carlsen, meanwhile, has been raking in sponsorships himself as well. DN reported earlier this summer that revenues for his company, Magnuschess AS, tripled last year, resulting in a pre-tax profit of NOK 10.7 million. Revenues rose from NOK 6.2 million in 2012 to NOK 18.2 million in 2013, with operating profits up 186 percent, from NOK 3.5 million to NOK 10 million.

“The company has had higher revenues … and the degree of results growth is very high,” wrote Henrik Carlsen, Magnus’ father who works closely with his son, in the company’s annual report. Magnus Carlsen owns 85 percent of the company while Henrik Carlsen owns 15 percent.

The after-tax profit of NOK 7.7 million was kept in the company and DN reported that neither Carlsen took out any dividends. Manager Espen Agdestein has earlier noted that Magnus Carlsen has a “sober” approach to his personal financial situation and is most comfortable letting the money remain in the company, which last year had two employees for the first time and payroll costs of NOK 1.7 million.

Carlsen’s sponsors from earlier years include the brokerage firm Arctic Securities, law firm Simonsen Vogt Wiig, newspaper VG and Nordic Semiconductor. Carlsen also earned around NOK 8 million in prize winnings from the world championships.

Didn’t play in opening match
Carlsen himself didn’t play in Saturday’s opening match at the Chess Olympiad in Tromsø but Norway beat Yemen 2.5 to 1.5. It was no dream beginning and Norwegian fans are being cautioned not to expect too much from what they call the “Chess-OL” now underway. It’s a team effort and no one can rely on Carlsen to ensure victory, especially up against the likes of powerhouse teams from Armenia, Ukraine and Russia. Several chess experts have claimed that Norwegians should be pleased if their country winds up in the Top 10.

Carlsen was back in action on Sunday, though, after opting to climb a local mountain, Tromsdalstinden, on Saturday. Norway was playing Finland, with Carlsen up against Toni Nybäck who beat him at the Chess Olympiad in Dresden in 2008. “I think Magnus was happy to get the chance for revenge,” Bae told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). The match ended, though, in remis (a tie).

Carlsen, as unassuming yet direct as ever, arrived in Tromsø after saying that he doesn’t think opponents’ views of him have changed much despite him winning not only the world championship but also the so-called “triple crown” of chess this year. “No, I think it will be pretty much the same as before,” Carlsen told newspaper Aftenposten. “The others know that I’m the best, and they’ve already known that for a few years.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund