ONE Championship's Chatri Sityodtong Talks U.S. Expansion
ONE Championship Founder & CEO Chatri Sityodtong has created the largest global sports media property in Asia's history, and now he has his eyes set on the U.S. market. In December, ONE Championship made its first waves in the U.S. after signing a three-year deal with Turner Sports to distribute live coverage on B/R Live and re-airs of highlights on TNT. Sityodtong believes he has a product that will appeal to Americans and deliver something different from other combat sports properties like the UFC. “ONE Championship is about wholesome values, inspiring heroes and about the triumph of the human spirit," he said. "Americans want something new and fresh and that’s what we have." Sityodtong recently chatted with THE DAILY about his goals for ONE Championship in the U.S. and what sets them apart from the competition.
Q: What are some differences between ONE Championship and the UFC?
Sityodtong: UFC is the number one player in the Western hemisphere and ONE Championship is the number one player in the Eastern hemisphere, so there is a global duopoly. UFC focuses solely on mixed martial arts, while ONE Championship focuses on all martial arts. We will have bouts in mixed martial arts, boxing, kick boxing, Muay Thai, lethwei, submission grappling and a whole host of other martial arts. The brand, the product and the experience of a live broadcast are completely different.
Q: What are your plans/goals for expanding ONE Championship in the U.S.?
Sityodtong: The U.S. sports market is the largest in the world -- it’s also the most competitive. There are many sports properties in America, and so Americans have their choice of sport and have their choice of where they want to spend their extra dollars and eyeballs. So, I’m very cautious in our entry to America. But we do believe that our formula is 180 degrees opposite from anything that exists in the U.S. market in terms of combat sports. The American fans have always seen controversy, hatred and anger in combat sports. I would say every promotion in America, they sell fights. ONE Championship builds heroes, much like the Olympics. Martial arts is part of the culture, the history and the tradition of Asia. When parents all over Asia put their kids in martial arts schools, it’s not to learn fighting, violence, hatred or anger. Rather, it’s to learn integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage and compassion. We are going to bring this fresh new product, fresh new brand of values, heroes and stories that every American can enjoy.
Q: What has the broadcast deal with Turner Sports done for helping you expand your reach in the U.S.?
Sityodtong: It’s the first time in history that a major U.S. broadcaster has paid media rights for an Asian sports property. Historically, Asian broadcasters pay media rights for American or European sports. We think the deal with Turner is significant. Turner executives were just here in Singapore and we were reviewing the numbers on TNT and B/R Live, and they believe that we are off to a great start. They are committed to a long-term partnership and so are we. Both Turner and ONE Championship believe that there is a significant opportunity in the U.S. because our product, our strategy and our brand is so 180 degrees opposite of what exists in the U.S. marketplace today.
Q: How close are you to doing an event in the U.S.?
Sityodtong: We will only do an event in the U.S. if we can really make a statement and make a big splash. The early discussions we’ve had with Turner is that we would do something late next year. We are opening our N.Y. and L.A. offices this summer and are slowly building our U.S. presence and U.S. roster. We are going to hire across all job functions. Whether its marketing, sales, production, operations, accounting, finance, etc. We have a job search right now for a U.S. president to help us lead the charge. We are looking for a seasoned media veteran from the U.S. market with significant authority, pedigree and clout. In the long term, the U.S. is going to be a core market for ONE Championship, but in the near term, I want to take baby steps.
Q: What type of U.S. fighters does ONE Championship hope to acquire?
Sityodtong: It’s not an accident that the first three UFC athletes that came on board with ONE Championship -- Demetrious Johnson, Sage Northcutt and Eddie Alvarez -- are not only phenomenal martial artists but they are also great human beings, with great values. That is the profile we are looking for. We want the best athletes in the world, but we also want heroes outside of the cage. We are looking to tell their stories of triumph over adversity to inspire the world. Again, the approach is very much like the Olympics. Everything is done in an honorable and respectable way that has human dignity. It’s not enough that you’re a good martial artist, you have to be a good human being. If Conor McGregor were a free agent, we would not sign him.