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Sanya Vugraph: Finals only on OurGame, not BBO

The WBF has entered into an agreement with OurGame that grants OurGame exclusive rights to broadcast the finals of the events in Sanya. WBF officials assured me that the Vugraph broadcast will be available using a web browser, will not require registration, and will have English commentary. Despite these assurances, I have short-term, long-term and philosophical concerns about this. I want to be absolutely clear that these opinions are mine alone and are not USBF positions.

Short-Term Concerns

At the moment, if you want to watch Vugraph on OurGame, you must register at their site and download software to your computer. In order to register, you must have a Chinese identity number. The OurGame website is in Chinese. See <http://bridgewinners.com/article/view/ourgame-for-non-chinese-speakers for more information on the current state of affairs re OurGame.

The World Bridge Series takes place in Sanya in two months. When it comes to computer software, it often seems that things take longer than expected and don’t work as well as expected. I hope this instance will be different, but I am concerned that those of us who are not Chinese will in fact not be able to access Vugraph from the finals in Sanya on a web browser.

At the moment, as far as I know, there is no English commentary on OurGame broadcasts. I know very well how hard it is to get good commentators for Vugraph. Even on BBO, we often have problems, and OurGame doesn’t, at least now, have the sort of connections and history with the excellent commentators who help us make BBO Vugraph more interesting. I have no idea whether they have the capability for voice commentary, and although I only rarely have the opportunity to listen to that (it would be too distracting when I am working as a Vugraph operator or organizer, even if I were able to listen to it without having any “leakage” to the room), I know it is very popular with the Vugraph audience, and I hope it will be available from the finals in Sanya.

Long-Term Concerns

My long-term concerns arise from my belief that Vugraph is important to the growth of our game (without capital letters J). I may occasionally be unhappy that I don’t have enough money to do something I’d like to do with Vugraph, but I feel very strongly that the solution is not to charge for Vugraph. I recognize that there are die hard Vugraph fans who would pay $10 or $20 to watch, and it is possible that charging would make economic sense for someone organizing the broadcast. But I think that one of the ways in which Vugraph can help keep bridge alive is if people who are only casually interested in bridge have the opportunity to watch experts compete at the highest level and hopefully become hooked. Those casual people aren’t going to watch if they have to pay. Drug dealers and cigarette companies know that the way to build your customer base is to give out free samples, and so should we.

But OurGame paid a very large amount of money for the exclusive rights to broadcast the finals from Sanya. Before you ask, I don’t actually know how much it will cost them, but they paid the $300,000 the WBF charges for holding a World Championship in a specific location and are also supplying playing site, Vugraph operators, caddies and other personnel, and some equipment for Sanya. A knowledgeable person suggested it was going to cost them in the neighborhood of a million dollars in all, and I have no reason to doubt that. OurGame is, as far as I know, designed to make money. I worry that in the future they will seek exclusive rights to all Vugraph from World Championships and that they will eventually charge the audience. I hope I’m wrong.

Philosophical Concerns

I know that if BBO hadn’t developed internet Vugraph probably someone else would have. But in fact, BBO did. We all owe BBO a debt for all of the (originally unpaid) time and effort they put into Vugraph. I would be very surprised if we’d have the great Vugraph we now have without them. It just feels wrong to me that they should be told “sorry, but you didn’t want to pay us for exclusive rights and someone else did.” I probably can’t justify that feeling, which is why I call it philosophical. But I have it nonetheless.

When I asked Fred & Uday about all of this, Fred shared with me the letter he wrote to the WBF President when BBO was asked to bid for Vugraph rights. His letter says some of what I’ve said above and many other things in what is, to me, a very persuasive way. I don’t want to try to summarize or extract from that letter, so I’ve posted it in its entirety on the USBF site (one of my perks as an unpaid USBF volunteer is use of the USBF website) and you can read it at http://usbf.org/docs/misc/wbf%20vugraph.pdf

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