Singapore: Temasek-backed ONE Championship eyes $1b valuation

Chatri Sityodtong (L) in 2013 with martial artists Renzo Gracie (M) and Rich Franklin (R). Credit: Facebook/Chatri Sityodtong.

Sports entertainment brands are emerging as compelling investments for both individual and institutional investors given the rising middle class in Asia. ONE Championship, which closed an investment from Heliconia Capital Management, a unit of Singapore’s state investment fund Temasek Holdings, seeks to create a pan-Asian sports entertainment property centred around the rich tradition of martial arts in the entire region. 

In an exclusive phone interview with Chatri Sityodtong, a martial arts entrepreneur  and founder-chairman of ONE Championship, tells DEALSTREETASIA that his firm was on track to reach a valuation of $1 billion within the next 12 to 18 months.

Edited excerpts:

What is the story behind ONE Championship and your ambitions for the brand? 

Every region (in the world) has a multi-billion dollar sports entertainment property. North America has brands like the NBA and NFL that can range from $4 billion to $30 billion apiece and Europe has sports platforms valued from $2 billion to $20 billion. But there’s nothing in the pan-Asian region except One FC.

You have the IPL in India but that will never become pan-Asian as cricket is very concentrated in South Asia. You have the Super League in China but it won’t expand beyond China’s borders. It’s a big opportunity. Asia has got 5000 years of martial arts history and every country has a martial arts tradition.

We want to unite 4 billion people and rally them as fans of ONE Championship and the martial arts tradition that it represents.

How do you see the market opportunity vis-a-vis European and North American competitors? What’s your market position?

Our full focus is on Asia. Globally, there’s a duopoly with UFC dominating the Western Hemisphere and ONE Championship leading the market in the East. We hold events in all the major cities – Jakarta, Dubai, Beijing, Singapore, Yangon, etc. – and broadcast live to 180+ countries.

Where do you see growth coming in for the brand, in terms of geographies and martial arts styles?

The greatest cultural treasure of Asia is martial arts, a tradition which is present in every single Asian country. Martial arts represents values like courage, work ethic, discipline, humility, respect, and honour. In essence, the values of martial arts are Asian values. And ONE Championships is about celebrating the true beauty of martial arts, which reflect the beauty and values of Asia. This is our DNA!

Evolve MMA – where does figure in ONE Championship’s ecosystem? 

We welcome all martial arts gyms around Asia and work with different fight promotions. ONE Championship is the largest in Asia and we want to work with every gym in the ecosystem. Right now, Evolve MMA is just another gym and run by a separate management team.

Do you see ONE Championship venturing into more traditional martial arts (e.g. Kalaripayat, Vajra Mushti, Silat, Lethwei) at a grassroots level to build its reach?

Our ethos as a company is about celebrating the true beauty of Asian martial arts and we partner with all the major martial arts associations in each country. As part of that partnership, we work with them and want to see whether they can pick up MMA.

What was the investment rationale for Temasek and their role in ONE Championship?

Temasek saw the grand vision and possibilities presented by the creation of the first multi-billion (dollar) sports entertainment property. You have mainstream brands in North America like the NBA. One Championship has the chance to be mainstream in Asia!

Temasek sees that opportunity as right now there are no pan-Asian sports properties so Temasek can see the magnitude of that potential. They have a seat on our board of directors and help with strategy and execution, as well as on many other levels, such as connecting us with partners. I can’t disclose the ticket size of what they invested in us due to our confidentiality agreement.

Is there an exit plan for ONE Championship like a public listing or do you plan to keep it private? 

We plan to grow One Championship over the next three years before taking it public. We’ll do so when stock market conditions are right and the company is in a stronger position. In terms of listing venues, it’s too early to see but global stock market exchanges like Hong Kong, London and New York are possibilities.

We’re on track for a billion dollar valuation over the next 18 months and currently have a variety of revenue streams: ticket sales, sponsorships, pay-per-view and others.

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