One Championship's 'Kings & Conquerors' mixed martial arts (MMA) event in Macau the past Saturday was its seventh fight card in 2017, out of 16. Attracting only one main brand sponsor, Monster Energy, this event was also the quietest the sports media property observed so far this year, but then, Macau is a tougher market than others.
Firstly, it is harder to localise the event given that Macau is better known as a transient tourist destination, which makes it hard for One Championship to understand the makeup of the audience in intimate detail, or to sell that potential reach to sponsors. Secondly, the local population base is only a few hundred thousand.
Venetian Macao was the venue sponsor for the event, part of Sands Resorts Macao's overall strategy to provide a "diverse range of entertainment options" for its guests, said David Baxley, vice president of entertainment at Sands China.
It should not matter which country the fight is held in, emphasised Chatri Sityodtong, founder and CEO at One Championship. "We actually broadcast to everybody on all sorts of platforms, whether free-to-air, paid TV or mobile. The value proposition we offer is the fact that we’re in 128 countries with a billion potential viewers within our reach around the world."
"Our TV ratings, our broadcast hours per country, our social media matrix, all those numbers have literally increased exponentially. To give you a sense, just a couple of years ago we were at 312,000 video views on social media, and we are already at 600 million views annualized right now. A couple of years later, we’re probably get about a billion views," he said.
Monster Energy pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and promotions into the Macau fight*, which entitled the brand to exposure inside the cage and outside the Venetian's Cotai Arena where a sampling station was set up. Gary Chui, country manager for Hong Kong and South East Asia at Monster Energy, told Campaign that the brand has been ramping up its sponsorship on MMA in Asia since 2014, alongside its other extreme-sports associations, such as with Formula 1 and Moto GP. The company was also one of the official partners for its 'Quest For Power' Jakarta fight in January this year.
One Championship revealed plans for between 24 to 30 events in 2018, notably in Japan and South Korea, while increasing its footprint in China. Now, China is the sport's largest untapped market for good reasons. The China International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (CIMMAF) was formally launched in November 2016, which was a big plus. But the image of the sport gets a punch at times with recent headlines like MMA clubs allegedly exploiting young children, or the brawl between independent practitioner Xu Xiaodong and Tai Chi master Wei Lei which went viral online after the latter was defeated in a mere ten seconds. It was talked about so much that the government stepped in and not only shut down any future taunts that may embarrass any revered Chinese ancient kungfu practices, but also the conversation threads on social media.
Sityodtong is adamant about setting the record straight regarding the values of his version of MMA, and remains confident for the promotion of One Championship in China, as long as done in a disciplined way with principles and rulesets.
"That Chinese MMA guy clearly comes from the Western philosophy of blood, violence, disrespect, controversy, antagonism, hate and anger between fighters... I have been doing martial arts for 30 years myself, and I believe that martial arts is not [only] about the physical aspect. I believe that martial arts is a combination—unleashing your potential physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually on all levels and deeply rooted in values of humility, courage, strength, discipline, respect, honour and kindness. These are the things that really what martial arts is about and what Asia is about."
Turning further south in Asia to Indonesia, where MMA is still small in terms of demand, the market provides synergy with the sport at the grassroots level, said Martijn de Jong, founder of Tatsujin Dojo, a gym and promoter in the country.
De Jong, being a personal friend of Go-Jek founder Nadiem Makarim, paved the way for Go-Jek to sponsor one of his fighters Anthony Engelen (who also fought in One Championship's Macau event). In Indonesia, fighters can train at De Jong's gym for free with Go-Jek taking care of the transportation.
"Go-Jek is for the people, as transportation is for everyone. Doesn’t matter whether you're young, old, poor, or rich." So Go-Jek and mixed martial arts mix well, as people from different layers of society train together. "Sport is something that unites people," he told Campaign on video (see below).
* Editor's note: An earlier version of this story mentioned a lower dollar amount. We have edited the text because both One Championship and the sponsor agree the figure Monster Energy cited during the interview represented only the event itself, and not the full investment Monster made, which included an extensive promotion in 1,750 convenience stores in Hong Kong and Macau. Moreoever the Macau event, a spokesperson said, was only one part of a long-term, multi-million-dollar deal negotiated with Monster's headquarters.