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Most watched MMA promotion in Asia? UFC argues its case over ONE Championship

(The UFC hosts four events on four continents in four weeks. MMAjunkie is in Stockholm, Rio de Janeiro, Auckland and Singapore from May 23 to June 18 for the 2017 MMA Road Show.)

SINGAPORE – While the UFC’s marketshare in Asia has been questioned, the company recently released findings from a third-party study that concluded the world’s leading MMA promotion is also “the leading provider of MMA TV content across Asia.”

Commissioned by the UFC, research firm Futures Sport + Entertainment looked at several of the biggest commerical markets in Asia, including
China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand, as well as the host of this week’s UFC Fight Night 111 event, Singapore.

“The appeal of UFC’s content is such that the number of hours watched far exceeds that of regional MMA promotions,” Futures Sport + Entertainment Head of U.K. Steven Adamson stated. “Fans in Asia tune in en masse to watch marquee UFC events held in Las Vegas and other global destinations. This tells us that consumers in Asia are eager and more than willing to spend time consuming UFC’s international event content than any other MMA promotion.”

Conventional wisdom previously stated ONE Championship was the dominant brand in Asia, with the company claiming to host “the largest sports entertainment events across Asia, featuring the best Asian mixed martial artists and world champions, all signed to exclusive contracts, on the largest media broadcast in Asia.”

UFC Senior Vice President of International and Content Joe Carr said the numbers in this report suggest otherwise. However, he said there’s room for both promotions to thrive in the market.

“The reality is that (ONE Championship) is a regional promotion focused on Southeast Asia, like a Cage Warriors in Europe or an LFA in the U.S.,” Carr told MMAjunkie. “By any meaningful metric like viewership or revenue, UFC is significantly larger than (ONE Championship) in this region, and that gap will presumably widen as we refocus our efforts in Asia. The good news is that the sport of MMA is growing rapidly in this part of the world, and there is more than enough room for us to coexist and be successful, as is the case with UFC and local leagues in most other markets.”

Using an “hours viewed” metric, which is defined as “one person watching a program for one hour,” the Futures Sport + Entertainment report concluded that in Asia, “total hours viewed of UFC content was 26 times more than total hours viewed of the next largest MMA promotion, and in every market analyzed, UFC generated more than double the hours viewed.”

Carr said there was a reason the UFC asked for such a metric, rather than a more typical “ratings” figure generally seen in comparative reports.

“Hours viewed was a more useful metric as we were trying to compare not only demand but also the scale of both promotions across the region,” Carr said. “Hours viewed is ratings times hours aired – it was equally important for us to track the frequency of our programming in addition to standard ratings. The reason the gap is so large is because not only are our ratings performing but our content is also being aired more consistently.”

Other intriguing statistics from the report include data on China, where the findings claim “in 2016, broadcasted UFC content totaled 234 million hours viewed compared to just 3,000 viewing hours of the next largest MMA promotion,” as well as South Korea, where “the research shows that UFC is the dominant MMA promotion in Korea with the next largest MMA promotion attracting less than 0.2 percent of the viewership in 2016.”

ONE Championship officials point to broadcasting contracts in more than 118 countries, meaning the organization’s events are “broadcast to over 1 billion viewers” and highlighting the company’s “exponential growth from 2014 to 2017.”

Carr said that while ONE Championship is certainly performing admirably, the company’s measurables may sometimes be overstated.

“We are called ‘promotions’ for a reason, and a big piece of this business is actually getting out there and marketing your brand,” Carr said. “I think they do a fantastic job from a PR and communications perspective, and it’s ultimately the responsibility of media and journalists to dig a bit deeper and not necessarily take everything at face value.”

The UFC is in ONE Championship’s backyard this week for “UFC Fight Night 111: Holm vs. Correia,” which takes place Saturday at Singapore Indoor Stadium and streams on UFC Fight Pass. Carr said the event is expected to net more than $1 million SGD (about $730,000 U.S.) at the gate.

The event marks the UFC’s first event in Asia since November 2015, and the first of three the organization plans to host in the market this year alone. Carr said that all stands as proof that there’s plenty of demand for the sport in Asia, and that the UFC and ONE Championship can certainly fill different roles in the space.

“It feels like the Asian MMA market is hitting a bit of a fever pitch with new promotions popping up all over the region and the amount of investment flowing into the sport,” Carr said. “To be fair, we had focused more of our attention on Europe the last few years, which has been incredibly successful for us. Now we can turn our attention to Asia and really accelerate the organic growth that has taken place since 2014.

“Asia is more highly fragmented than Western Europe in terms of language and business culture, but we have committed to three events in this region in 2017 and will have similar output going forward. After our success here this week, we are thinking about making Singapore an annual stop. We are very focused on talent development in this region and our first Asian champion is inevitably on the horizon.”

For more on UFC Fight Night 111, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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