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One Championship's big moves for 2020 and beyond

The martial arts giant's group president talks about the company's overseas expansion plans, its prospects in China and e-sports

"My focus is on growing our commercial, strategic and media partnerships, and carrying out our international expansion," says Mr Teh.

THE past 12 months have certainly packed quite a punch for Singapore-based sports media property and martial arts giant One Championship.

The company, which was launched in 2011 by founder Chatri Sityodtong, celebrated its milestone 100th "live" event called One: Century in October this year, with unprecedented back-to-back shows in Tokyo held on the same day.

One Championship also delved into the lucrative world of e-sports in a big way in 2019, staging major tournaments in Tokyo and Singapore.

Apart from entering the Japanese market with three shows this year, the company also held its first show in Vietnam.

There are big plans for 2020, with a first show in the Chinese city of Chongqing on April 11 and - if all goes well - a first event in the United States in the later part of the year.

BT Weekend recently visited One Championship's office at DUO Tower where we spoke with group president Teh Hua Fung, who was promoted to this role in February after joining the company in early-2018 as its chief financial officer. This is an edited excerpt of the conversation.

What are your main responsibilities as group president?

I'm the No 2 executive leader in the company. Together with (chairman and CEO) Chatri, we run the day-to-day operations and plan our corporate strategy. My focus is on growing our commercial, strategic and media partnerships, and carrying out our international expansion. Right now I'm spending a lot of time in China, Indonesia, the US and Singapore.

What are the prospects for China like?

Our China business is growing really fast. We have a headquarters in Shanghai and an office in Beijing. We have focused on the larger Chinese cities in the past - Beijing and Shanghai, of course, and Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

In March 2020 we will have our first "live" event in Chongqing, and it's going to be exciting. I would say Chongqing is the top of China's second-tier cities. There's a huge market and appetite for martial arts in western China, and many of our fans come from that part of the country.

One Championship has gone into e-sports in a big way. How did this come about?

The figures show that we are the largest producer of live sports content for millennials today, and we can say that because of our broadcast reach, both digital and traditional. We create content and we are able to distribute it to over 140 different countries.

Between martial arts and e-sports, there's a huge overlap of the fan base. About 60 to 70 per cent of martial arts fans also enjoy e-sports. We've got an e-sports CEO now, Carlos Alimurung, and we are doing all we can to tap on this multi-billion dollar industry.

There's a perception in some quarters that e-sports doesn't really qualify as a true sport. Your thoughts?

I would say e-sports is a bit misunderstood. The truth is, it's becoming a real career for many people. Some people may say it's not a real sport, but these e-sports players are actually pretty fit. You need to have lightning-quick reflexes and excellent hand-to-eye coordination to do what they do.

There are other sports out there that don't require jumping or running after something, but they are sports all the same. Chess, snooker and darts are professional sports too. And at the recent Southeast Asian Games in Manila, e-sports was included as a medal sport for the very first time.

How did the landmark 100th show in Tokyo perform?

The numbers are in, and we drew a record-breaking 85 million viewers worldwide across all platforms, according to official data tabulated by Nielsen, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

The event broke all viewership records and stands today as the most-watched martial arts event in history. China alone brought in over 10 million viewers on "live" terrestrial TV and digital platforms.

The content on One Championship's app is free, and the shows are broadcast around the world for free on TV too. Are there any plans tomonetise this in future?

Our app is currently free for everyone, but not all the features in there may remain free forever. There is a lot of content on the app that you can't get anywhere else, so that's the value we give to our fans.

We could put some ads on the app at some point. Facebook is free, and yet it's making so much money, with most of it coming from advertisers. But there are so many other ways for us to make money. We are monetising through our numerous sponsorships and partnerships.

Our exclusive multi-year broadcast contract with TV network Turner Sports in the US began in January this year. Our US business was profitable from day one as we had no real overheads in the US. Turner paid us an eight-figure sum for the rights, so they are the ones underwriting it. They pay us up front, and they will make it back in terms of subscriptions and ads.