ONE Championship CEO Victor Cui gave the inside track about ONE’s rapid ascension to being the fastest growing global sports media property at the recent Australian Sports Analytics Conference.
While he pointed to crucial increases in key metrics for the Singapore based mixed martial arts promotion such as booming ratings in key Asian markets, increased broadcast hours and a much expanded broadcast television footprint it was social media where he believes that ONE is able to broaden their reach and compete with global sporting brands such as the English Premier League, Formula One and the NBA.
Social media impressions for ONE have increased year-on-year since 2014 from 352 million to over 19 billion in 2018 and 312,000 video views to 3.5 billion at the same time.
It does speak of the ability of their athletes who are able to appeal to their particular communities, or a particular culture, yet at the same time transcend to a continental level. But Cui also stressed to the audience that one of the crucial aspects of working for ONE is that every person must have social media savviness and be willing to learn as he clearly demonstrated digital media is their fuel for growth.
Winning the game with digital, social, to understanding the nuances of Chinese livestreaming were all talked about but he left the audience with a strong thought: “If you do not understand digital media you will be out of a job in sports in five years.”
We went one-on-one with Cui.
Is there a secret to building a sporting entity that feels truly regional, and truly Asian, as opposed trying to mimic ideas from North America or Europe?
Victor Cui: “I spent six and a half years at ESPN and if you think about it if money was the only factor to making a property successful then the whole world would be watching the NFL. It’s the most valuable sports property in the world at 75 billion dollars, they have significantly more resources than most other organisations yet nobody in Asia watches NFL.
“So clearly deep pockets is not the only factor and which is I think what most people think right away, ‘oh I could make hockey gigantic in Asia if I just had more money.’ I love hockey but I think if you had given me a hundred billion dollars to make hockey popular in Asia I think it would fail because first of all most people have never even seen a hockey puck, let alone ice, let alone skates.”
It’s always understanding the cultural aspect. That’s why we say different martial arts is identifiable to different Asian nations.
VC: “I would say that there’s two things that are critical to success for a property to have local relevance and a global appeal: One is you have to have something that has cultural relevance. Cricket is huge but it will never be huge in Asia outside of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka because there’s no cultural relevance to it. It’s gigantic in Pakistan and India as an example but if you’re not a part of the Commonwealth you probably don’t have that influence. So the cultural relevance is very key.
“The second thing is you have to have local heroes that people can cheer for. Even if a sporting event is held in that country, if it has no local heroes for anybody to cheer for it’s very, very difficult. Let’s reverse this, let’s pretend that the number one basketball organisation in the world was the Chinese Basketball League. Let’s pretend the Chinese Basketball League decides to expand to America because they don’t have basketball. They go to America and all the teams are all Chinese players, there’s no Americans and they do everything in Chinese, the graphics are Chinese, the signage is in Chinese, officials, branding, websites everything Chinese. You would think how are they possibly going to succeed in America? How does that make any sense. They go let’s open an office in Las Vegas and we’ll fill it with a bunch of really smart, talented Chinese people who don’t speak any English. That sounds ridiculous, yet time and time again organisations come to China and they do exactly that.”
It seems to be this perception that entering China is a cure all, they fail to understand the culture. Is there anything that a lot of organisations do wrong when they enter China?
VC: “I think an example is the recent entry of the NHL into China. Now of course I can’t speak for the organisation, I’m speaking as an entrepreneur and as a fan of hockey. They went there and had two games, one in Shanghai and one in Beijing. The Shanghai event was maybe 30 per cent full. Beijing was successful but unfortunately Shanghai wasn’t. I think one of the challenges that a successful organisation from overseas has when they enter into China one of the greatest restrictors to future success is your current success.
“When you’re so successful like the NHL you’re not used to courting new fans, courting new media and it’s another side of the same coin you’re actually used to rejecting fans and rejecting media to come. Too much media want to come and cover hockey when you’re in Canada but in China you have to convince the media to come because they don’t know anything about the sport.
“You have to educate them and you have to tell them why this is an important event. I think that skill set of having success and figuring out how to put that success behind and be hungry again when you come into a new territory is critical.”
In terms of also putting on live events, digital output and OTT distribution of content, it’s a challenge trying to speak to each region, each geography.
VC: “First, having a world class live event is as important for the fan experience but also for the television broadcast. But specifically with ONE Championship our fans follow all 24 of our events that we have held and will hold this year regardless of what country that it’s in because we deliver it digitally and on traditional linear TV and cable to each one of those countries. Our fans consume the content wherever the event is held in Asia but that’s because we have local heroes on every single event for them and if they watch an event it’s got Filipinos, Chinese, Burmese, Thai, Malaysians and more.”
If you could sum up ONE Championship in just a couple words or a phrase, what is it?
VC: “ONE Championship is the home of martial arts.”
Interview produced in partnership with Vumero Sports & Sports Analytics World Series.