"Our research shows that most chess fans are middle- to upper-income decisionmakers who have an interest in things like computers and other high technology products," said Bob Rice, commissioner of the fledgling Professional Chess Association.
High-profile players like world champion Garry Kasparov and British master Nigel Short founded the New York-based group last year to develop the game's marketing potential. The strategy is to make chess more contemporary by employing fast-paced action, in-your-face commentary, rock 'n' roll music and exotic locations.
So far it's had a slow start. The only sponsor is California-based computer chipmaker Intel, which is bankrolling $1.4 million in prize money with total spending a spokeswoman described as "several million dollars" on the Intel World Chess Tournament.
The organization is negotiating a deal with ESPN to carry its events, if not this year then next.
The tournament hit New York's Trump Tower June 7, backed by a slick but inexpensive campaign consisting of posters themed "Daze & knights" and radio spots. The advertising was created by New York sports marketing company Kaleidoscope.
The matches, which continue through June 21, have also used public relations tactics, including a June 11 "Chess-a-Thon" in Grand Central Station.
The matches will determine who will challenge Mr. Kasparov in New York before the tour moves to London in August, to Barcelona in late September and then Paris, where the tournament wraps up Nov. 13.
Mr. Rice, a chess enthusiast and tax attorney with no marketing experience, is also pushing hard to sell other exclusive sponsorships such as official timekeeper and official travel and hospitality companies. Other opportunities, he said, include signage on scoreboards or earphones for translation.
For its fee, Intel gets its name attached to the tournament plus displays and signs.
"For Intel, it's a good fit," said Srimath Agalawatte, Intel marketing manager charged with overseeing the chess tournament. "We continue to drive the pace of change in the computer industry, so our advertising [and promotional marketing] has got to follow suit."
Part of the attraction and a chief component of the group's plan to make the game palatable for U.S. TV is the quick-action format of the organization's Grand Prix tournaments. Each player is given 25 minutes to complete all moves in a speed-chess game, so the game wraps up within 50 minutes.
Bradley Johnson contributed to this story.