The business of combat sports is soaring with an estimated three hundred million fans worldwide. On this episode of The Exchange, the Chairman and CEO of ONE Championship speaks about how digital technology is helping to grow his billion-dollar sports empire.
Combat sports are fast becoming a global sensation and technology is changing the way fans all over the world can both engage with and enjoy the action.
An estimated 300 million people now consider themselves fans of Mixed Martial Arts and popularity is at its highest in countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Singapore, and China
And increasing numbers of people are trying the sport out themselves. Last year, in the United States alone, the market for martial arts studios and clubs had grown to be worth an estimated 9 billion dollars.
Two massive martial arts media companies are currently sitting at the top of the industry providing innovative ways for fans to enjoy the action. The UFC and the ONE Championship are now both worth well over a billion dollars according to recent market capitalisation figures.
Dana White’s Las Vegas-based UFC now has a 10-billion-dollar market cap, with Chatri Sityodtong’s ONE Championship valued at 1.4 billion Dollars. But this explosion of popularity extends to other brands too – such as Bellator and the Professional Fighters League.
And the big fight between the brands now is all about how fans watch the content. Streaming services and social media platforms have become the battleground set to decide the future of the industry.
According to Chatri Sityodtong the Chairman and CEO of the ONE Championship, combat sports have the edge over ball sports and Formula One racing when it comes to consuming content on a portable phone. He says that these sports are too “long form” for the smaller screen and in the case of ball sports, it can sometimes be difficult to see the ball.
“If you take a look at your phone, where millennials and Gen Z live. TikTok, Instagram, Facebook etcetera - you can see a flying knee. You can see a head kick K.O. Bite-sized content, live, that's what combat sports are - you know there’s three rounds of action and then the next fight comes.” Says Sityodtong.
This “bite-size” approach to watching combat sports on your phone also allows the fans to pick and choose the fighters they want to watch and it’s quick and easy to understand.
“There are five thousand sports properties in the world but I'm talking about ONE Championship which is in the top ten largest sports properties. Because you hit scale and you actually can ignite fandom all over the world. A single event for us several months ago, we were number one on Twitter in the US and number one on Twitter globally. At the same time that weekend, we were number one on the biggest social media networks in China simultaneously. That is the power of digital and that is the power of sports.” Says Sityodtong.
Sityodtong believes that ONE has become one of the world's largest combat sports companies, because of its values and because of the martial arts combatants who he says are genuine heroes with the power to inspire the fans of combat sports.
“They display values of integrity, humility, honour, respect, courage, discipline, and compassion that are the bedrock values of martial arts. And I think that ethos with One as the home of martial arts has resonated worldwide.”
Huge growth is driven by global brands and the latest streaming technology. But with more and more people taking up sports like Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, and Muay Thai - how are smaller businesses capitalising on the popularity of Combat Sports? Martial arts experts in Qatar are building a business around a shared passion and the MMA gym in Doha, is one of the biggest centres for the sport in the region. In the last decade, the sport has grown massively with huge fan bases across the world. But how do businesses like this operate?
Samuel Carneiro is a Coach at the MMA.
“Day to day it's usually pretty busy. We run a lot of classes here, Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, MMA, and also for the kids Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu. In this gym, we've been running some amateur competitions with all the protection and stuff. I had a couple of my students fighting here as well. And you know when you have eighteen-year-olds that come and fight, all their friends from school, sometimes even their teachers come to watch. And they like to see their friends win and they like to see their friends fight, and it just brings more and more people. I think we can only grow MMA, especially in the Middle East since it's a new sport just like it was in Brazil and just like it was in the US at the beginning.”
But what is the future of MMA – can it continue to grow and become one of the globe's leading sports? Ron Westfall from the Futurum Group, explained that streaming might be key to the expansion in popularity of sports like this across the globe.
“In fact, what we're anticipating is a spike in bundling effects in the US. Already half of new streaming subscribers are part of bundles. And certainly, a prime example is the Disney ESPN bundle. And so that I think is going to harbinger more of this. I think we're going to see more bundles that include certain sports that will not just be, for example, U.S. sports, but world sports.”