Wednesday December 6, 2023

ONE Championship’s Quest To Challenge Rival UFC Through U.S. Expansion

  • Founder and CEO Chatri Sityodtong says ONE’s first year of its five-year rights deal “exceeded Amazon’s expectations.”
  • “When you look at combat sports globally, there are two 800-pound gorillas: UFC in the Western Hemisphere and ONE Championship in the Eastern Hemisphere.”
Chatri Sityodtong
ONE Championship
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ONE Championship founder and CEO Chatri Sityodtong had conversations about acquiring Bellator MMA, although the discussions didn’t go as far as the Professional Fighters League’s pursuit of the Paramount-owned organization. 

“We believe that organic growth is the right path for ONE Championship,” Sityodtong told Front Office Sports. “Other organizations may feel the need to merge if they’re lacking in one area or another. From ONE Championship’s perspective, we believe in our global brand.

“The reality is that when you look at combat sports globally, there are two 800-pound gorillas: UFC in the Western Hemisphere and ONE Championship in the Eastern Hemisphere.”

And now ONE Championship is competing on UFC’s home turf — and with one of UFC’s former champs in Demetrious Johnson, ONE’s flyweight titleholder.

ONE Championship is a year into a five-year media rights deal with Amazon. That’s longer than what’s left on UFC’s deal with ESPN that runs through 2025, and PFL’s agreement with ESPN set to expire at year’s end. 

“Our respective teams get along fabulously, and our first year together exceeded Amazon’s expectations,” Sityodtong said. “We continue to grow the partnership. I think in the months and years to come, you’ll see only bigger, better, and bolder things from the partnership.”

ONE Championship held its first U.S. event at the 1STBANK Center outside Denver in May, a card that sold out the 6,500-capacity arena weeks beforehand. Sityodtong said there will be multiple U.S. events next year as the Singapore-based outfit continues to hold most of its cards in Asia. 

“We are the new kids on the block in the U.S.,” Sityodtong said. “No one knows us in America except for hardcore MMA fans. Give it some time. There’s going to be a lot of effort from my team on the ground in the U.S.”

The viewership numbers — something Amazon and other streamers keep tight to the vest — for ONE were not provided to Front Office Sports. Amazon did announce its “Thursday Night Football” regular-season opener on Sept. 14 (Philadelphia Eagles vs. Minnesota Vikings) had a record 15 million viewers. 

“We’re thrilled by our customers’ reception to ONE events on Prime,” Marie Donoghue, Amazon’s VP of U.S. sports content and partnerships, told FOS. “Engagement has been strong, and we are excited to continue partnering with ONE on a robust slate of primetime events, giving Prime members access to marquee fight nights every month.”

Other metrics on ONE Championship via data acquired from CrowdTangle, Fanpage Karma, and other tracking firms obtained by FOS show an uptick in engagement. 

Over the last year, ONE Championship’s official accounts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok had 321 million engagements. While that’s about half of what UFC totaled (651 million), ONE was far ahead of MMA competitors Bellator (23 million) and PFL (18 million). 

And ONE Championship got a boost in the U.S. with Thursday’s announcement that its fights will be carried in the thousands of bars, restaurants, and hotels through a deal announced with DirecTV for Business. 

The multiyear deal with DirecTV solves issues with all-streaming deals: exposing sports fans to ONE who either don’t have an Amazon Prime membership or haven’t stumbled across it on the streaming platform yet. 

But Sityodtong said Amazon will be the catalyst for ONE Championship’s efforts in the U.S. 

“This is just the very tip of the iceberg,” he said. “I believe that Amazon and ONE, together, have the potential to dominate combat sports, not just in the U.S., but globally.”

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