Week 180 (25 - 31 March)
Asian sports media guru Chatri Sityodtong delivered a powerful speech at this week’s SportsPro Live, communicating his clear vision for the future of Asian Sport.
Through his company, ONE Championship, the leading Mixed Martial Arts franchise in Asia, the 45-year-old Thai entrepreneur is working tirelessly to redefine the perception of Asian athletes. Founded in 2011, Asia’s answer to UFC has grown to become the continent’s biggest sports media company and is currently broadcast to over one billion people.
Visiting his country of his birth 15 years ago, Sityodtong would ask children who their sporting hero was. The most common answer he received was David Beckham - an English footballer based thousands of miles away. For Sityodtong, the lack of Asian sporting heroes was a void waiting to be filled: “We would watch David Beckham and Manchester United and those would be our heroes. But as you know, in the business of sports, local heroes are what really drives fan engagement and a fervent fanbase.”
Speaking at SportsPro Live, Sityodtong communicated his vision in his typically engaging fashion: "That’s the problem that ONE Championship are solving - we are producing, for the first time in history, true Asian global superstars that connect with their countries - so that they don’t have to cheer for David Beckham, because that is the only sports hero that we had.
“That’s why ONE Championship has become Asia’s largest sports media property so fast in four and a half years, in 70 countries, filling all these 10,000, 20,000-seater stadiums, when no other sport has been able to do that in Asia. It’s very simple: Asians are craving for local sports heroes.”
His rise to the top of Asia’s sports media market has certainly been unconventional but, for Sityodtong, there is no secret to his success. He once said: "If you really want to become a millionaire or a world champion, you have to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week. You can't get the rewards without the work." And Sityodtong has undoubtedly practised what he preached. He was born into a wealthy family, but after being crippled by the Asian financial crisis, he found himself in a poverty-stricken and broken family. His steely determination led him to overcome his early years of hardship to be awarded a place at Harvard Business School, where he graduated with an MBA.
Sityodtong is convinced that the future of Asian sport has immense potential: “There are 4.1 billion people in Asia. My vision is I want every single person to be part of this: watching as a fan, training as a student, and, for some, albeit a minority, actually coming in and competing in ONE Championship. But for me, the opportunity is so huge that I know we’re going to have many more obstacles to overcome, and we’re still very, very early in the game.”
If there is anyone who can redefine the nature of sporting heroes in Asia, it is Sityodtong - a powerful and emotional communicator, there are few better storytellers in the entire sports world.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons