Fact Checking The Economist on ONE's 'Hyperlocalism'

ONE Championship’s biggest strength as a promotion might be its ability to drum up coverage from major publications. During the company’s five years of operations they have received positive coverage in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and more. Now, the most recent edition of The Economist features an article entitled “Bloodsport, hold the blood.”

The main thrust of the article is that while the UFC has made money due to Conor McGregor’s “boasts” and “brashness,” ONE Championship has been successful with a policy described as “hyperlocalism.”

ONE has pursued a policy that might be described as ‘hyperlocalism’. Western sports properties, such as the English Premier League (EPL), a football championship, seek to sell their brands transnationally in Asia. ONE builds up local fighters in each market. In May Angela Lee, a 19-year-old Canadian-American of Singaporean descent (pictured, upside down) won the atomweight championship in Singapore. In December the men’s heavyweight champion, Brandon Vera, a tattooed Filipino-American with a gentle manner and dangerously quick leg work, will defend his title in Manila.
— The Economist

Let’s look at ONE’s past events and see how localized their events have really been. The following chart shows the percentage of fighters on each card who are native to country hosting the card. For the sake of the chart, nationality data was pulled from Tapology.com

Obviously ONE did not begin with the idea of “hyperlocalism.” The promotion hosted 23 events before one of their cards featured a majority of native fighters. Since then, only six cards out of 24 have featured a majority of native fighters.

The hyperlocalism strategy is much more noticeable in certain markets that the promotion appears to be targeting for expansion. For example, cards in China, Cambodia and Myanmar have a much higher percentage of native fighters.

We have discussed ONE’s push into China in the past. Clearly they are making a concerted effort to find a Chinese star, or at least promote as many Chinese fighters as they can. However, they do not appear to have been able to really move the needle. South Korean based promotion Road FC seems to have caught lightning in a bottle with Sanshou fighter Aorigele. His recent bout with Bob Sapp reportedly garnered 40 million views of China’s state-run CCTV5 channel. 

Per The Economist, ONE’s strategy of hyperlocalism is working. The article cites the fact that the promotion has hosted events in 11 countries and is televised “in at least 100 more” as proof of success. In reality, without ratings data or financial information, it is hard to tell if ONE’s strategy is paying off.

One financial measure that is available at this time is attendance data. ONE has released the attendance figures for their first 38 shows. If hyperlocalism is the driver of fan interest, then there should be a positive correlation between the percentage of native fighters and the number of fans filling the seats. The following chart compares the percentage of native fighters with the percent capacity (attendance/capacity X 100) for the first 38 events.

As you can see, there does not seem to be very much positive correlation between the two. In fact, the correlation coefficient is negative (-0.31). However, anything below +/- 0.5 is considered to be extremely weak correlation. 

In the end, it does appear as if ONE is practicing hyperlocalism, at least in their emerging markets. However, the level of success of this specific aspect of their strategy is still in question.