ONE Championship is reimagining the fan experience

CEO Chatri Sityodtong tells us how the rise of smartphones and other technology has driven the company’s success, and how Microsoft will play a key role going forward

Elly Yates-Roberts
By Elly Yates-Roberts on 27 January 2021
ONE Championship is reimagining the fan experience

Chatri Sityodtong, Chairman and CEO of ONE Championship, was not handed his success on a plate. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago when he considered calling it quits on what has now become Asia’s largest global sports media property. Sityodtong credits advancements in technology as a major reason that he persisted with his passion. 

“When I show statistics of all the key metrics – whether it’s viewership, social, digital, TV, live audience – people are blown away that ONE Championship is larger than Formula 1 today,” he says. “F1 was started 70 years ago and ONE Championship was started eight and a half years ago. 

“I had no idea that we would explode onto the global scene and become one of the world’s largest sports properties. But I will tell you – if you chart the rise of smartphones, social media and technology usage all over the world over the last seven years, you also chart the rise of ONE Championship.”

In its first three years, the organisation was struggling. Receiving thousands of rejections every single day, it was going nowhere. 

“We were rejected by brands, broadcasters, agencies, fans, athletes, reporters and governments,”  Sityodtong explains. “At the end of year three, I called my mother and said, ‘it’s been so rough – I’m thinking about calling it quits.’ And she said, ‘OK, well, why don’t you just quit then?’ It would have been so easy to call it a day there. We had 114,000 video views for the whole year. Exactly five years later, we had 7.2 billion. And technology has played a major part in enabling that.

“I have a genuine passion for martial arts; I love it. I was genuinely trying to unite four billion people in Asia, but I think if we didn’t have technology it would have taken me 70 years to get to where we are now.” 

Sityodtong thinks that smartphones specifically were a timely catalyst for ONE Championship’s success. 

“On a smartphone, you can’t see the golf ball during a game,” he says. “You can’t see the basketball or the football, but you can see two martial arts combatants fighting. And you don’t need to know the rules to know who wins and who loses. Our content happened to be perfect for mobile.

“I feel very blessed to be sitting here today with ONE Championship in this position. The ride has been really crazy but technology is what has driven it.”  

In July 2020, ONE Championship entered into a partnership with Microsoft to deliver new digital experiences to its fans. As part of this, ONE Championship is now using the Microsoft cloud – including Azure and Microsoft 365 – to increase fan engagement and staff collaboration. With technology at its core, Sityodtong believes that Microsoft will help take the brand even further. 

“It’s tremendous to be involved with Microsoft,” he says. “The company takes sports very seriously, and we’re very fortunate to now benefit from its resources and expertise. Our partnership is about reimagining the whole fan experience through various technologies but also being extremely data-driven. Having a partner like Microsoft is going to unleash our true potential in surprising and delighting our fans all over the world.

“It is my dream to unite the world by inspiring individuals with the stories of our heroes, celebrating values of integrity, humility, honour, respect, courage, discipline and compassion, and changing the world through these values. But you can only do that when you have tremendous data and analytics, and when you have technology in every part of your production, marketing and sales processes. Microsoft is the comprehensive technology partner that will unlock ONE Championship’s true potential globally.”

According to IDC, the amount of data in the world will grow 61 per cent to 175 zettabytes by 2025. With a primary application of artificial intelligence being the analysis and understanding of data, its role will become increasingly important in the future, as Sityodtong is already noticing. 

“Technology and AI enable us to harness the power of data, make sense of it and then leverage its predictive patterns,” he says. “We can do this during the production of our live show, moving cameras, getting the best angles and capturing those moments that resonate with the fans. Working with Microsoft and having this partnership taken seriously at the highest levels is so exciting for us.”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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