ONE Championship Faces Balancing Act Head-On

Demetrious Johnson poses while holding a ONE Championship belt inside an MMA cage. Confetti falls in the background.
Demetrious Johnson headlined ONE’s debut on Amazon Prime Video this weekend (ONE Championship)

ONE Championship has faced one problem since their inception more than a decade ago: how do you build a promotion that caters to the U.S. and Asia markets at the same time?

This question hasn’t been an easy one for them to crack. Each area cares about different talents. They consume the product through different media platforms. They communicate in different languages. And they live in different timezones.

The promotion has attempted in the past to maneuver these details in a way that works best for most. They have sought after broadcast deals for different countries, often providing localized feeds that have commentary in a market’s primary language.

They have signed names that cater to the East and West. In Asia, veterans like Shinya Aoki or Eduard Folayang compete alongside prospects that come up through regional scenes. To grab the attention of American viewers, ONE has scooped up many former UFC names, including Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez.

And now this year, the promotion has started their most ambitious attempt to cater to all audiences. While still doing their usual numbered event series, ONE has started to also air events exclusive under the Amazon Prime Video service in U.S. and Canada.

The new deal sees ONE attempt to provide live, prime-time programming for U.S. viewers on a monthly basis, all the while also doing events that take place during the evening in Asia.

Take for example this weekend, which started this new style for the promotion. ONE Championship held a doubleheader of fight cards from Singapore. “ONE 160,” which aired on Friday at 8:00AM EDT, started at 8:00PM local time. Then 12 hours later, the promotion returned for their Prime Video card. That event, which had a live crowd, kicked off at 8:00AM locally on Saturday and took place during evening hours in the U.S.

Apart from a test run of events on TV channel TNT last year, ONE has almost never experimented with the idea of running a live show for prime-time U.S. viewers. For years, the majority of North American viewers of the promotion either tuned in during the waking hours of a Friday, or returned at a later time to catch a replay of a show.

The new plan is an ambitious one for the Singapore-based promotion. Can they grow the interest in both markets by putting on shows that cater to the schedules of both? Or does the diverse hours of programming drive away some viewers?

The latter could certainly be the case. It may be hard to gain the attention of viewers if they are only able to catch half of the shows that a promotion puts on. After all, the results of a show that happens in the morning and a card in the evening all matter the same in the rankings and overall lore of the promotion. Viewers will miss out on a large part of the promotion’s storytelling if they are only available (or interested) in watching half of their events.

More now than ever, ONE is testing if their company can garner interest from two markets at once. What they are doing is undoubtedly a risk and could cost them viewers. However, it is a risk that they had to confront eventually. They have put millions of dollars into the U.S. market in some form throughout the past years. Advertising, public relations, the aforementioned talent and more have all been worked on for years in the hopes that a following in the U.S. would develop. But during all of this time, there was no real proper prime-time event to lead these viewers to. Now that a Prime Video deal is set, that outlet is finally in place for the promotion.

ONE’s inevitable big venture into the U.S. market has finally arrived. Now it’s time to find out if it can work in tandem with their goals in Asia as well.

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