'Mentality shift' as One enters U.S. scene

Turner Sports paying eight-figure amount to S'pore-based MMA outfit to stream live fights

One Championship chief Chatri Sityodtong believes his organisation's statement of intent in the three-year deal with Turner Sports is matched by a "mentality shift" that an American broadcaster is paying the Singapore-based mixed martial arts outfit "a significant sum".

Chatri, who is One's chairman and chief executive officer, revealed to The Straits Times that the deal with Turner for B/R Live, Turner's live sports streaming service, to showcase One's live events each year is worth "eight figures".

It is believed that this is the first major deal which has an American broadcaster purchasing Asian sports content.

The 47-year-old said: "It is no secret that One Championship has dominated UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) in Asia, and we are taking the fight to America now.

"But the significance of this partnership with Turner is far greater than just One Championship going into America.

"Turner Sports, ESPN and Fox are the three giants in sports broadcasting in America, so this is a huge validation of everything One Championship has been doing in the last seven years - that one of the major US broadcasters, with some of the most iconic sports properties, has chosen One Championship as its martial arts content platform."

Turner Sports has major broadcasting contracts with the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, PGA Championship and Uefa Champions League.

WE HAVE TO BE THERE

The US market is the biggest sports market in the world so obviously it gives tons of exposure for our athletes. The option of throwing an event in the US is still very much there for us. But first, we lead with our broadcast deal, and drive TV ratings and viewership with the fans.

CHATRI SITYODTONG, One chairman and CEO, on the Asian MMA outfit breaking into the US.

In 2012, it acquired sports news website Bleacher Report and earlier this year launched B/R Live.

This subscription-based video-streaming service was in the news last month for offering refunds, after technical issues affected those who paid US$19.95 (S$27.50) to watch "The Match" between golf stars Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

PwC Singapore entertainment and media leader Oliver Wilkinson felt that achieving critical mass through the "right distribution arrangement" is the key for organisations such as One to succeed in the MMA business.

"To succeed in the entertainment and media industry, you need to marry the right content with the right distribution. In the past, distribution meant carriage agreements with pay TV broadcasters," he said.

"However, over time, that dominance is reducing as more people watch content online, including on pay per view (which is common for MMA or sports in general).

"You need to build awareness first, in order to find an audience that is prepared to pay for your content and find it online.

"Finally, to succeed in MMA, you need to achieve critical mass. This can generate a virtuous circle - lots of fans means more income, which means you can pay to attract the best fighters, which in turn attracts more fans.

"Having the right distribution arrangement in a large market like the US can be the catalyst needed to start that virtuous circle."

One Championship broadcasts in 138 countries, and is aiming to increase its global footprint by reaching 194 countries over the next three years. It had already made its American dream known with recent high-profile signings from the US-based UFC, such as Eddie Alvarez and Demetrious Johnson.

Chatri, who aims to hold a One event at Madison Square Garden in New York in two years, said: "The more countries we broadcast live in, the better for our athletes in terms of exposure, sponsorship opportunities, fight purses, better economics for everybody involved.

"The US market is the biggest sports market in the world so obviously it gives tons of exposure for our athletes.

"The option of throwing an event in the US is still very much there for us. But first, we lead with our broadcast deal, and drive TV ratings and viewership with the fans."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2018, with the headline ''Mentality shift' as one enters U.S. Scene'. Print Edition | Subscribe