ONE Championship was launched in 2011 and has developed a great deal since. Carrying the mission of hosting the most exciting mixed martial arts competitions across Asia and starring the best athletes in Asia, ONE Championship is currently Asia’s largest sports media property. With a global broadcast to over 1 billion homes in 75 countries, it is widely recognised as the biggest MMA promoter in Asia with over 90% of the market share. As ONE Championship CEO Victor Cui puts across, his goal is to “bring MMA to every household, every single Asian, every single sport fan, every single fan in Asia”. ONE Championship currently has over 250 fighters under its banner and partnered with big corporate sponsors including G-shock, Haier, Cannon, and Under Armour. Its revenue stems primarily from ticket sales for live fights, pay-per-view, licensing, television contracts, and adverts.
Analysis of Social Media Performance
ONE Championship has been active on various social media platforms, with Facebook being the dominant platform (2.4 million likes and 951 shares per post on average). Its key strengths are its presence on major social media platforms, effective content marketing, community engagement on social media platforms, and building of local heroes through social media. However, ONE Championship 2 key weaknesses are the lack of sustainable online community for engagement and failure to address inherent brutality of MMA. This is primarily due to the nature of a sports business being susceptible to seasonal effects and MMA being a combat sport.
Research Question & Objectives
While there is no doubt that ONE Championship will continue to maintain its stronghold as the leading MMA promotion in Asia, there are still areas where ONE Championship can improve upon through the use of social media. Our research question will focus on how can ONE Championship improve its brand image and perception, and increase sustainable engagement through the use of social media?
Objective 1: Improve ONE Championship’s Brand Image & Perception
Objective 2: Increase Sustainable Engagement with Consumers & Build a Stronger Brand Community
The psychographics of our target audience are people who are interested in sports or personal well-being. These people involvement in sports are motivated by pleasure, physical and mental well-being, and aesthetic and moral representations. ONE Championship has done well in providing the identity and aesthetic value to address the consumers’ needs but lack in providing moral and sociability values.
ONE Championship’s message strategy has been for consumers to perceive ONE Championship as “one of the greatest platforms to unleash human potential” (Lee, 2016). Although the message is associated with the aesthetics motives and values for sport consumption, it does not address the image issues of MMA well and has an aggressive flavour with the phrase “unleash human potential”. Therefore, our proposed message strategy aims to emphasise that MMA is neither a “human cockfighting” nor a brutal sport. MMA is a sport that entails mental strength, discipline, confidence, self-improvement, strong work ethics, and a warrior spirit.
Strategy #1: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Approach
Based on our analysis of ONE Championship, we recommend that ONE Championship participate in CSR activities to improve its brand image and perception of MMA sport. CSR is the corporate obligation to conduct its business in a way that protect and improve both the welfare of the society and the interest of the organisation. Klara (n.d) avers that CSR is part of the strategic planning for organisations that want to improve their reputation and remain competitive (Asemah et al., 2013). Recent research has also found that CSR leads to greater corporate financial performance by improving customers’ goodwill, boosting sales revenue, and reducing business risk (Nurn and Tang, 2010).
- MMA as an Extra-Curriculum Activity in Schools
ONE Championship can partake in CSR by partnering with government schools across Asia countries to set-up and sponsor non-competitive MMA as an Extra Curriculum Activity (ECA) for high school and college students who are interested in sports. It is important to educate parents that the focus of such an ECA is not to teach teenagers how to fight, but as a form of self-defence and a healthy sport activity. The trainings should revolve around the same core message of MMA as a sport with values of mental strength, discipline, confidence, self-improvement, strong work ethics, and a warrior spirit. However, it is not efficient for a business to conduct CSR if no one knows about its CSR efforts. Therefore, ONE Championship should publicize its CSR efforts on all of its existing social media platforms for simultaneous media consumption even though Facebook clearly leads the other platforms in terms of both followers (2.4 million) and shareability (951 on average per post). ONE Championship should then organise for its local heroes to participate as “star-appearance” coaches to emphasize to students on the moral values of training MMA instead of the fancy techniques involved. Both fighters and trainees are encouraged to share the ECA training on social media, accompanied with the hashtag #ONEFCApprentice to generate more interest and awareness of its CSR efforts.
- ONEFC Cares Programme
In addition to the CSR approach strategy, we recommend a new initiative named ONEFCCares that utilise brand ambassadors in the direction that is aligned with ONE Championship’s message strategy. Under ONEFCCares, ONE Championship will handpick suitable fighters to become ambassadors for Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) such as anti-violence or anti-drug organisations. ONE Championship can also periodically arrange for their fighters to participate in community services. For a start, we have identified three areas for the programme.
- Mentoring troubled teens in homes or orphanage
- Organise special Olympics event for special needs children
- Entertaining residents at nursing homes
Similarly, ONEFCCares activities should be posted across all of ONE Championship’s social media platforms. The fighters who have participated in the programme need to share their experience through their social media accounts and hashtag #ONEFCCares to generate more awareness. This initiative will be able to create positive public relations and improve the perception on ONE Championship by the public. The results of such efforts are evident in the case study of National Basketball Association (NBA).
Strategy #2: Utilising Influencers
ONE Championship should invite famous Instagrammers that are well known for being involved in sports or workouts to achieve a healthy living, and have them to share their experience with ONE Championship through social media. An example of a suitable candidate could be Kayla Itsines who has 5.1 million followers that will allow ONE Championship to leverage on her huge follower base. ONE Championship could also feature other well-known top Asian sports celebrities’ interest in MMA sport. ONE Championship needs to invite celebrities such as Taiwanese basketball player Jeremy Lin, South Korean golfer Inbee Park, or even Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, offering them front row VIP seats in fight events and have them post their attendance on their social media accounts, tagging #ONEFCMMA (official hashtag). This would in turn generate interest and create a better brand image for ONE Championship, as consumers would view MMA as an elite sport that even top sportsmen from other fields are fans of.
Strategy #3: Using Mobile Application to Create Online Brand Community
Although Facebook and Twitter act as a type of discussion forum, they are not considered interchangeable with more traditional forums. Some of the disadvantages of holding discussions on Facebook include content “disappearing” after user scrolls past it or when new posts are uploaded, and limited control over functionality. While there is already presence of MMA forums online, discussions related to ONE Championship are often subsets of those related to UFC and it is challenging to navigate through the overwhelming interfaces.
Besides, there is also no dedicated ONE Championship mobile application that caters to fans who prefers to access information online. According to Bonnington (2015), a smartphone could be our only computer in less than 2 years at the rate of mobile technology development. A recent Pew Research Centre report (2015) also states that 92% of teens report going online daily, and 24% say they go online almost constantly, with much of this frenzy facilitated by mobile technology. All these data clearly suggest that it is timely for ONE Championship to jump on the bandwagon to keep up with its competitors.
With these observations in mind, ONE Championship should invest and create a dedicated mobile App. The concept of this mobile App is a one-stop shop that provides users with majority of the functions currently available online with a focus on simplicity, usability, and shareability. Our users will be able to login to our mobile App through their existing social media platforms and share the contents in the mobile App to their social media accounts easily. Other than links to the latest news, videos and photos, fighters’ ranking and statistics, this mobile app will also include 2 unique features that are the forum, and a mini-game named “fantasy”.
In conclusion, we acknowledge that ONE Championship has done well in the past 5 years implementing effective social media strategies. Our proposal aims to differentiate ONE Championship from its competitors through CSR, Influencers, and mobile App by offering moral and sociability values to our consumers. These efforts from ONE Championship will attract a larger pool of fans and spectators, and take a big step closer towards its goal of bringing MMA to every household in Asia.