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SPOTLIGHT

More reach, more punch

Chatri Sityodtong, boss of Singapore-based mixed-martial arts organisation One Championship, aims to be bigger than the NFL.

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Chatri Sityodtong, founder of ONE Championship, speaking at the third edition of Cutting Edge.

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The organisation is gearing up to overtake the US-based National Football League as the world's leading sports media giant in the long run.

A COMPANY with a heavy focus on profit will never evolve into a big business. In fact, global giants Amazon and Tesla are still not making money, said Chatri Sityodtong, the CEO, founder and chairman of Singapore-based mixed-martial arts organisation One Championship.

But if these big companies had focused on boosting their bottom lines instead of investing for growth in the early stages, they "probably wouldn't be where they are right now".

This go-big-or-go-home mentality was anchored by Mr Sityodtong at the third instalment of the Cutting Edge series on Thursday, which is jointly organised by The Straits Times and The Business Times every quarter.

Sponsored by property firm GuocoLand, the Cutting Edge forum spotlights renowned global leaders and features audience participation.

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Mr Sityodtong told the audience that all companies - startups or incumbents - have to seek a balance between the pursuit of profits and expenditure for long-term growth.

One Championship is leaning towards the latter, he said, as the organisation gears up to overtake the US-based National Football League (NFL) as the world's leading sports media giant in the long run. The NFL has a market cap of around US$82 billion.

"If I scale back and stay in Singapore, we will be profitable. But my vision is to create the world's largest sports media property and to do that, I need to enter new countries, open more offices, hire more people and improve our infrastructure while our metrics grow," said Mr Sityodtong.

The organisation has not seen a positive bottom line since its founding in 2011. That said, it is projected to be profitable in the next 12 to 15 months.

Having captured over 90 per cent of market share in the region, One Championship is Asia's largest sports media company, boasting a broadcast to over 2.6 billion potential viewers across more than 140 countries around the world.

BIGGER TARGETS

The group will host "live" events in South Korea and Vietnam for the first time later this year, and is gunning to reach viewers in 196 countries in the next three years, said Mr Sityodtong.

Its maiden event in Tokyo in March this year attracted some 41 million viewers. One Championship anticipates crossing the 50 million mark for its upcoming event in the Philippines.

The organisation is also targeting to host its first US event in the fourth quarter of 2020, while plans to set up offices in Los Angeles and New York already in the works.

"I want to share Asia's greatest cultural treasure (martial arts) with the (rest of the) world," said Mr Sityodtong.

Apart from driving growth via its core business of events and live broadcasts, One Championship is also wrestling for a slice of the growing e-sports scene.

Globally, the e-sports market is poised to exceed US$1.6 billion by 2021, according to market research firm Newzoo.

One Championship will launch Asia's largest global e-sports league on July 29. Known as One eSports, this new championship series will feature blockbuster game titles across the region, and host e-sports events alongside One Championship's main martial arts events.

There are also plans to roll out original video games in future.

"We see lots of different avenues for growth; we can leverage on our branding to expand into e-sports and video games," said Mr Sityodtong.

In April 2019, One Championship launched One Studio, the film and television arm of the organisation. Its first movie project, starring One Championship athletes, will be announced some time next month.

The film will be distributed globally via digital partners such as Netflix and Amazon, said Mr Sityodtong.

"When our stars retire, I see One Studio as an opportunity to turn them into The Rock (Dwayne Johnson)."

Johnson was a professional wrestler in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) for eight years before pursuing an acting career in Hollywood.

The meteoric rise of One Championship over the past eight years comes down to its "simple and scalable formula" for success, said Mr Sityodtong.

He explained that the organisation is not so much selling the sport, but rather, the values pegged to martial arts - such as courage and honour - as well as the inspiring life stories of its fighters.

"Our genre may be martial arts, but our platform is humanity. At the end of the day, it is the values and stories in these sports that matter.

"Every human being can relate to such content, every human being can enjoy and be inspired by such content," he said.

One Championship is eyeing a US$100 billion market cap in the long run, and Mr Sityodtong is confident that the universal emotional appeal of its content will give it a good leg up over the NFL.

"NFL is a single-country property that only focuses on American football. It's a pure American phenomenon," he said.

The nature of One Championship's content - short-form viral videos - is also an ideal fit in today's digital age.

Mr Sityodtong counts himself lucky to have founded the company at a time when social media and smart phone usage are picking up momentum worldwide.

One Championship's online content started to gain significant traction only from 2014, he said. Its videos amassed 300,000 views in 2014. This figure swelled to 5 billion this year, said Mr Sityodtong.

EVERYDAY FIGHT

Globally, there were 2.62 billion social media users in 2018, up from 1.91 billion in 2014. Estimates suggest there are now more than 2.7 billion smart phone users worldwide.

"If I had started the company five years earlier, I wouldn't have had a chance," said Mr Sityodtong.

Despite the commendable success of One Championship so far, there is no resting on its laurels. Sustaining the business remains an "everyday fight", said Mr Sityodtong.

He spends most of his Sunday nights trying to tear the company's business model apart.

"I write down everything I can possibly do to take down One Championship," said Mr Sityodtong, explaining that this practice helps to keep complacency at bay.

"It's now the easiest time in history to create a brand from scratch and make it global because of our (increased) connectivity. But at the same time, it's also the hardest time in history for an incumbent, because there are so many new brands attacking the space."