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Fight back: how One Championship is bringing live sports back to brands and fans

Live MMA is returning to Singapore, despite circuit breaker arrangements.

In Asia Pacific, strict lockdowns and restrictions have meant that live sports with audiences have been off the calendar since March. But mixed martial arts (MMA) is now coming back to Singapore thanks to One Championship.

One Championship has worked with the Singaporean government to put in place a range of measures around safe distancing and testing to bring in international sports stars in front of an audience of 250 superfans.

Ahead of the event on Friday 30 October, One Championship chief commercial officer, Hari Vijayarajan, spoke to The Drum about the challenges the business, built around live sports, has faced and how it’s hopeful for a successful fight back.

With its live shows being put on hold, Vijayarajan says the company has had to turn to its talent to pivot and find new ways of bringing MMA to audiences.

“ONE Championship is blessed to have a rockstar team of some of the world’s best problem solvers, thinkers and doers. Despite this being the worst crisis in over 100 years, we quickly came to a decision on how we could – as a company – keep delivering against our mission to offer hope, strength, dreams, and inspiration to a world that badly needed it. As they say, ‘Never let a crisis go to waste.‘ With that spirit and mindset, we pivoted and innovated,” he says.

The first solution was live audience-free events in Bangkok, starting in July and continuing through August and September. The new ideas launched this year included using ONE Studios to create sponsor-funded show The Apprentice: ONE Championship edition. “It was our first entry into reality TV and non-scripted non-sports programming. This week, we started production of the first season in Singapore.”

The company also completed its first 100% online esports event this summer with the Dota 2 South East Asia Invitational tournament. “We had over 36m viewers, with viewers spending an average of over 90 min on Twitch. Sponsors such as Intel, HP, TUMI, Red Bull, Logitech and others were delighted that we were able to pull this off and exceed their viewership and engagement expectations. We also ran an esports tournament exclusively for Toyota last weekend, which delivered 10 times the expected views. As an industry, gaming and esports grew exponentially during the pandemic and we able to adapt and double down,” he says.

In order to bring audiences back to live sport, One Championship worked closely with the government to make sure it was safe. The event will be the biggest martial arts event of 2020.

“We believe the Singapore government is an amazing partner to have on this journey to resume live sports. We believe the strict bubble arrangements and quarantine/safety protocols set by the government will set the stage for live sports to gradually resume safely in South East Asia and we look forward to when that happens so that we can continue to have local heroes on a global stage continue to inspire and delight fans in every country.

It’s good news for brands and sponsors that use live sports to gain a connection with target audiences.

“We believe that live sports are one of the most powerful vehicles to create magical memories and experiences for fans. That is why One Championship has continued to sign new sponsors in every quarter this year, right through the pandemic. We are super excited to have such a marquee list of brands like DBS, Microsoft, Unilever, Toyota, Foodpanda, Reckitt Benckiser, Oculus, Li-Ning, etc who work with us to engage their audiences and build loyalty by leveraging the power of live sports and ONE’s amazing heroes and stories, “ he explains.

With the event still due to take place at the time of writing, the success of the measures and the precedent it sets for future events is unknown but Vijayarajan is hopeful that it paves the way for One Championship to strike up similar agreements with governments in other countries.

In terms of what One Championship has learnt through all this? “I always tell my team that a truly strong ship is not tested in the calm waters of a harbour. It is made to conquer the rough seas in search of new horizons.”

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