A Challenger Emerges: Singapore MMA Upstart Squares Up Against UFC

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Group One, a Singapore mixed martial arts (MMA) promoter that’s built a massive, millennial-driven following in Asia, has just tapped a top U.S. baseball and basketball media executive to help establish its brand in the American octagon.

David Levy, who spent two decades building media conglomerate Turner Broadcasting’s sports business, joined Group One’s board Monday to direct an expansion of the company’s live events and bring the promoter into the ring with MMA heavyweight Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Tale of the Tape

Born in the ‘90s, UFC found its footing in the mid-2000s by cultivating a dedicated audience willing to fork over pay-per-view cash to witness its high-octane bouts. Owned by media conglomerate Endeavor, UFC draws in hundreds of millions in revenues, went public in April, and sports a $12 billion market cap.

Group One has taken a different approach, achieving massive audiences (29 million viewers per event in 2019) by partnering with as many free-to-air broadcasters across Asia as possible. And although the promoter drew an MMA record 85 million spectators for one broadcast, profitability has been elusive:

  • While pursuing global expansion, Group One’s losses climbed to $96 million in 2019, up from $61 million in 2018 and $25 million in 2017.
  • The firm has raised $346 million in funding, and founder and CEO Chatri Sityodtong told Business Insider that Group One is valued at “above $1 billion.”

Next-Gen Fans: “It’s a lot easier to watch a fight that lasts anywhere between 30 seconds to 15-20 minutes on a phone than it is to watch a 90-minute football game,” Hua Fung Teh, Group One’s president, explained to the Financial Times. “It’s 10-15 quick conclusions within one event. So for millennials who have short attention spans, martial arts is perfect.”

Octagon in the 8th: Mixed martial arts now has a global fanbase of 600 million, according to Nielsen Sports. That makes it the eighth most popular sport in the world, beating out baseball, golf, and hockey.