Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has gained major traction across the world and has enjoyed immense fandom since the turn of this century. While UFC has dominated its market in the West, Singapore-based ONE Championship has revived MMA in Asia, which has seen major popularity since it’s arrival in 2011.
The ONE Championship has witnessed world champions and other elite athletes taking part in the sport. ONE Championship has now shifted its focus towards India. It landed a deal with broadcasters Star Sports for its events and looks to further get a foothold in a country of 1.3 billion people. Pooja Tomar and now Reetu Phogat are waving the Indian flag high on the international arena.
With the COVID-19 induced lockdowns imposed across the world, though the fights have taken a halt, ONE Championships is getting more creative to adapt to the situation and planning a road for the future.
The Bridge got a chance to speak with Mr Hari Vijayan, Chief Commercial Officer of ONE Championship, who spoke about the present challenges, future plans and how the competition is setting its sail in India in the coming days.
Q. How has ONE Championship been affected owing to the outbreak of COVID 19?
ONE Championship is getting more creative and continuously adapting due to the temporary pause to our live martial arts championships since end February. Locked at home, hundreds and millions of fans have been trying to adapt to a different content structure which is accessible from home and inspirational genre as well as gaming that has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Esports has pivoted to online tournaments like the DOTA2 SEA League that starts in June and culminates in July. Our shoulder content and new content stacks such as Franklin Speaking, video podcast on our social media page, as well as our Stay at Home videos featuring our athletes and world champions are breaking new viewership records. In fact, we are excited to announce that ONE Championship ranked #4 in the world out of 5,000+ sport media properties in term of viewership in 2019.
Q. When do you see a return possible? And how will it return?
We are exploring all possible angles to re-start live events as soon as possible. We are working with governments and other stakeholders very closely; we are monitoring the border controls so that once they are resumed, we can restart live-action as soon as possible. We will likely be looking to start with closed-door events as protecting the health of fans, athletes and staff are paramount. Hence, it will be a spectator less tournament. Meanwhile, we continue to produce content that is innovative, exciting for our fans and distributed through our social media and our broadcast partners across all major countries around the world.
Q. Since fighting is a contact sport, what special measures would be taken?
We will follow the health and safety protocols mandated by the government of the country where we host it to ensure that the event can be carried out safely along with the safety of the fighters. Adequate COVID-19 testing on everyone involved in putting together the events will also be carried out and utmost care will be taken to follow sanitizing protocols.
Q. Will it see some new rules to be implemented in the post coronavirus scenario?
While all safety and sanitization protocols will be followed to conduct matches following the relevant guidelines, for the first few months post the lockdown, we will have to amplify health precaution measures, such as temperature checks and mask for staff. This being a contact sport, we are in touch with experts to advise if more review measures need to be undertaken.
Q. How much has it suffered financially?
We had signed several new partners and global brands in 2020 and the fourth quarter of 2019 of which we announced a few last weeks as well. Brands like JBL, TUMI, Redbull, Lazada, DBS Bank, Foodpanda, Hugo Boss, Harvey Norman, Secretlab, California Fitness, Kredivo, Reckitt Benckiser, and Unilever are now associated with ONE Championship and ONE Esports on various martial arts and esports initiatives. These partnerships are set to leverage multiple platforms, creating a unique and exciting synergy between the business, martial arts, and esports communities despite the lockdown. The benefits of the great response that we have got for our various content stacks even during this pandemic has been passed on to these Sponsors and partners.
Q. Tell us something about “The Apprentice” and what were the thoughts behind to get entrepreneurs like Ankiti Bose for the Show.
ONE Championship will produce a cool, hip, vibe with the acclaimed “The Apprentice” and make it the best season of the show in history with Chatri Sityodtong as host. We expect it to be watched by 100M+ people across Asia, including India. We will add a few amazing elements into the narrative of the show such as having Celebrity Guest CEOs judging business challenges and ONE World Champion Fighters judging Physical Challenges which will be the unique additions to the format.
We’ve got some great content and storytelling planned with our new brand partners. Ankiti is India’s only female entrepreneur to have built a near-unicorn with ZIlingo invested by Sequoia. At the age of 28, her wisdom and experiences can serve as great coaching to contestants as ONE’s version of Apprentice which will focus on mentoring and teaching – the contestants on how to build the next unicorn.
Q. How to plan to popularise the event in India?
We currently have a great partnership with STAR Sports and Hotstar. The viewership has gone up 30x in 1 year since we launched, with matches featuring Indian athletes like Ritu Phogat spiking 4x vs avg. ONE will continue to invest in signing Indian talents, and over time maybe bring ONE Hero Series (OHS) Content Stack to India. OHS is the local feeder league of ONE Championship, pitting local rising stars against each other in a given country on their quest to earn a coveted spot in ONE Championship.
OHS will help us build a pipeline of amazing Martial Arts talents and find the next rising stars who can represent India on a global stage and at the high level of competition with players like Ritu Phogat, Gurdashan Mangat, Arjan Bhullar, Puja Tomar, etc leading the charge.
Q. What are the prospects of more Indians fighting in the future of this tournament?
India is a core strategic market for ONE that we are investing in for the long term from a reach, frequency and engagement standpoint as well as talent standpoint too. As mentioned, we hope to continue investing and signing new Indian talents and bring our ONE Hero Series content stack to India soon.