Can ONE Championship Ride the Digital Wave to Domination?
CEO Chatri Sityodtong says the content is ‘tailored for mobile devices’ and has 2 billion fans
The UFC may be the first thing that comes to mind in the U.S. when it comes to mixed martial arts (or MMA). But Chatri Sityodtong, founder/CEO, ONE Championship, makes clear that his goal is to combat that perception and become not only the dominant martial arts brand globally but also the dominant sports brand globally, especially given that 80% of its fans are millennials.
“To watch an entire EPL, NBA, or NFL game on a mobile device is impossible. Our events may be four hours long, but 70% of fights end within 3 minutes,” says Sityodtong. “It is exciting content that is tailored for mobile devices and an estimated 2 billion fans around the world.”
For many people in the U.S., the dominance of the UFC as a cultural stakeholder has warped the perception of mixed martial arts. ONE Championship’s focus is on pure martial arts disciplines like karate, muay thai, kung fu, and judo rather than mixed martial arts. Each discipline resonates deeply in at least one region of Asia, and, collectively, they give ONE Championship cultural relevance across Asia and with fans around the globe.
Sityodtong sees the UFC in stark contrast to ONE Championship. “It’s like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker,” he explains. “UFC is focused on selling fights, violence, blood sport, and antagonism and hatred, while we are focused on building and unleashing real-life heroes who ignite the world of hope, strength, and dreams. It is a very different approach and very different DNA, and I think it comes with the fact that I am a lifelong martial artist, which results in a much different approach than if I was purely a business man.”
The rise of mobile devices, he adds, has been a key driver for ONE Championship.
“Social media has really propelled us: everything is transparent, and it either resonates or it doesn’t,” he explains. “We have amazing heroes and technology platform and a virtuous cycle that would not have been possible without technology.”
ONE Championship’s media presence includes a mix of free-to-air television, cable, and $9.99 event live streams. The company says it now has a broadcast footprint in 118 countries and its social-media video views have topped 2.6 billion. And it now has dedicated teams to deliver content to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter as well as to seven offices across Asia.
“We have a big competitive advantage in Asia against the global sports properties: we have local content with local relevance and yet global appeal,” he points out. “Our local offices are engaged culturally, and we understand the sensitivities as Asian countries are all different when it comes to type of government, history, customs, and culture. And they may only be an hour apart.”
Along with the launch of a new app later this year, the ONE Championship technical team’s R&D department is experimenting with AR and VR.
“We are a technology-content company as much as we are a sports-media property,” he adds. “We have a full army of engineers in India focused on technology, as it is a vital part of our strategy as a company.
“We are the number-one sport in Asia,” he continues. “We celebrate Asia’s greatest cultural treasure, Asian values, and Asian heroes on a global stage. And, by all metrics, we will be ahead of F1 by the end of the year.”
His mention of F1 is fitting: his goal is to propel ONE Championship into the valuation realm of global sports brands.
“Every region has several billion-dollar sports properties, and Asia has nothing,” he says. “The NFL has a market cap of $75 billion, and it is a single-country sport. Here in Asia, we have 4.4 billion people. And martial arts is Asia, and Asia is martial sports. It is something that is scalable and can make it the most valuable sports property in the world. It’s not impossible.”