ONE Championship, the Singapore-based mixed martial art promotion company, is all geared up to enter the Indian market in 2019 – a-year-and-a-half is the targeted period to bringing One Championship to India. Chatri Sityodtong, One Championship Chairman and CEO, is confident that one of combat sports’ biggest commercial property has the potential to surpass Indian Premier League’s $4 billion valuation in the next three to four years.
In an exclusive interview with Insidesport Founder and Director Ashish Chadha on the sidelines of SporTel Asia, Chatri Sityodtong candidly talked about the vision, plans, goals and various other aspects of ONE Championship. Here are the excerpts.
InsideSport: In the last 6-7 years of your journey, what exactly have you done differently to create a product which no one else in Asia could create?
Chatri Sityodtong: You see the global sports ecosystem. US has its biggest leagues in the form of NFL, NBA, and others. Europe has its own sporting leagues, especially in football in the form of EPL, La-Liga and several others. Asia till date has no billion dollar league. The biggest continent in the world does not have any billion dollar sporting venture other than Indian Premier League. IPL has its limitations in terms of global footprint, scalability and reach. We thought we can create one with rich Mixed Martial Art heritage of South East and Far East Asia.
Coming to your question, what we have done differently. We have leveraged the digital media to narrate our story, we used the medium better than anyone else in the business to strike a chord with potential consumers. Our marketing on the medium is better than our competition and results are there for all to see. Today within no time we are Asia’s biggest sporting property with an aim to become the biggest in the world. We are convinced, we can achieve that goal. With constant innovation, we can realize our dream to overtake NFL someday which is hailed as the biggest commercial sporting property the world over.
IS: How exactly did this idea germinate? From being hedge fund manager in New York to create one of the biggest commercial IPs in world sports, how exactly the idea shape up?
CS: You need to understand the relationship between the left hand and the right hand to understand our journey thus far. My right hand was my investment banking role. My left hand always persuaded me to pursue my dreams of doing something really meaningful with my passion – that is the Mixed Martial Arts space. I would keep dreaming about my passion during my investment banking days in New York. So my left hand-right hand combined to give birth to ONE CHAMPIONSHIP. My investment banking skills showed me the opportunity in the space, supported me taking right decisions and my left hand – the passion – became the key driver to realize my dreams.
IS: How difficult was it to raise investments on the venture? How did you convince funds like Temasek or Sequoia?
CS: (Smiles). Will you believe that there were no takers for the idea for the first 3 years. No one believed in us. No one took us seriously. No one was ready to listen to our story and vision. But I knew, this (our business plan) just needed one push. South East Asian market has rich mixed martial art heritage but very fewer opportunities to showcase the skills. We were convinced that we could be the platform. We were sure about the idea and potential of the market. Once the proof of concept was there for all to see, we got the right kind of backers too. Temasek came early and now Sequoia. Our resilience and belief played a huge role in shaping ONE CHAMPIONSHIP.
IS: You are already in SE Asia, Far East, China – what about your plans to be in India?
CS: I will answer your question bluntly. In the next one and a half years we are entering India. We will soon be seen in one of the world’s most growing sporting stories. We envisage potential in the Indian market. Like other parts of Asia, it (India) has largely been ignored and unexploited and we will take advantage of it. Within next one and half years, you will see us in India.
IS: Will you be starting your Indian Promotions in this time frame?
CS: Yes. The way we have started our promotions in China and other parts of SE Asian market, we will soon bring the same model to India.
IS: But do you really see potential in the Indian market for MMA product?
CS: Yes. 100%. India is a huge market. Your broadcasters, consumers are paying for IPL. Sponsors see the value in the product. So there is no reason we can say that Indian market or consumers don’t pay. They pay for the right content. We will come well prepared for the Indian market. Right packaging, right marketing and right partners can strike a huge chord with the Indian market. My partner Saurabh Mittal is an Indian, he understands the Indian market well, have right connections and all that understanding he has will keep us in good stead.
IS: Will you be getting your content distribution in place in India?
CS: We have deliberately not distributed our content in India. We could have easily done that. We had interest but we are waiting for the opportune time to start distributing our content in India.
IS: When exactly you are launching your OTT platform?
CS: As mentioned earlier, digital has contributed immensely to our growth so it was natural that we graduate to launch our own OTT platform. Right from the Day 1, we have figured an OTT platform in our business plan. We are on the verge of making a big announcement in the next few days. Our OTT platform will lead us to the next stage of our growth. It is an intrinsic part of our strategy. We are ready to make the big bang announcement soon.
IS: Is it fair to say that soon you will be surpassing UFC in terms of audience base and revenues?
CS: Absolutely Yes. See, in terms of reach and distribution, we are already ahead of UFC. We have a reach in more than 130 countries as of now and the penetration is increasing by the day. The numbers are absolutely crazy. Revenues are growing by the day. Asia is a huge market and somehow UFC had ignored and failed to make a dent in this market. We have exploited this. Now there is no stopping in terms of growth for One Championships. We are growing and will soon be hailed as the No. 1 MMA property around the globe.
IS: Not even once ONE CHAMPIONSHIP revenue has been declared till date. Will you be continuing with this in the future, too?
CS: It is correct that we haven’t declared our annual revenue figures. But let me tell you that we are almost on verge of crossing $1 billion in valuation.To achieve this in a span of six to seven years reflects the strength of the product and our abilities. We are doing great in revenues at this stage and our investors are mighty pleased with our progress.
IS: There are reports that you will come up with a public issue soon?
CS: Not in the next 3 years for sure. We don’t have any dearth of private backers at this stage. Funds believe in us and the product, so going to the public, for now, is not what we are looking for, but in 3 years’ time, we should go public. Some more scale to be climbed before we do that.
IS: Where do you see ONE CHAMPIONSHIP reaching in next 5 years? In terms of audience base and revenues? Where would you like to reach? What are the targets?
CS: The aim is to be the world’s biggest sporting property. We want to achieve this as soon as possible. Presently NFL is the biggest sporting property worldwide in terms of the base with valuations @ $75 billion. We are far behind at a $1 billion valuation. We aim to surpass them. That is the ultimate dream.
With regard to the next 3 years, we should be surpassing Formula 1, UFC and many others. IPL @ $ 4 billion too will be surpassed in this period as it doesn’t have any big following outside India and its scalability options are limited. We should surpass all of these in next 3 years to be counted as one of the best in the business in the global sporting ecosystem.