How ONE Championship has been making inroads into Indian sports media space

On March 20, reality series ‘The Apprentice: ONE Champion Edition’ premiered on Republic TV. ‘The Apprentice’ is a US reality TV series that famously featured former US President Donald Trump as the host. The show was dubbed the ‘ultimate job interview’, where contestants would compete in business related tasks and were eliminated by the iconic ‘You’re fired!’ catchphrase from the host.

‘The Apprentice: One Champion Edition’ continues in the same vein, where 16 candidates from around the world compete in a high-stakes competition involving business and physical challenges. The show has been created by ONE Championship, a global sports media company, anchored around martial arts and MMA content.

Headquartered in Singapore, ONE has a roster of 550+ athletes and presence in 150+ companies where host live events which is broadcast via TV and digital media. While the focus of the company is around martial arts content, they have diversified into general entertainment content like travel reality series, e-Sports, and other IPs leveraged around the brand and its athletes.

The winner of ‘The Apprentice: One Champion Edition’ would receive a $250,000 contract with the CEO of ONE, Chatri Sityodtong. Sityodtong will also appear in the show as the host that also features guest appearances from Indian wrestler Ritu Phogat; Ankiti Bose, CEO, Zilingo; Sudhir Agarwal, CEO, Everise; Eric Yuan, CEO, Zoom; and Niharika Singh, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Strategy, ONE, in the role of advisors among others.

Adgully caught up with Niharika Singh, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Strategy, ONE post the launch to learn more about show and ONE Championship, how the company is building their presence in India and much more.

Edited Excerpts

Tell us about ONE Championship.

Until a couple of years ago, we were purely a sports media company. Today, we are Asia’s fastest growing media company that has gone global. Our content is anchored around martial arts. Out of our roster of 550 athletes most of whom are from Asia but many of them are now from around the world and especially from India in the last two-three years.

Our events are broadcast on TV and digital across 150 countries. To give you an example, our live event broadcasts attract audiences up to 30-40 million globally. On digital, we created a massive community of 25 million on Facebook. Most of this community were Gen Z and millennial who were also oriented towards gaming and we launched ONE e-Sports seeing that opportunity. Our last DOTA 2 event attracted 85 million viewers. 

This massive community that we’ve built has helped us launch other properties around our brands and athletes. So far, we’ve done a travel reality series with mixed martial artist Rich Franklin. ‘The Apprentice’, which is our first general entertainment production, makes sense as shoulder content for ONE Championship.

We are a full stack IP Ownership Company so we don’t just do tournaments but also have access to all the athletes, broadcasters, distributors, and social media platforms. A majority of our distribution and all of our production is done in-house. We see ourselves as a sports media ecosystem that brings all of these stakeholders together. This helps us control the quality of the product because we have the creative freedom and own the full stack. What’s unique about us versus other mixed martial arts (MMA) companies in the world is that we don’t just do MMA.

How did a sports media company come to associate with a reality TV show like ‘The Apprentice’?

We are lucky that we’re an Intellectual Property (IP) business. The beauty of being an IP company is that you can leverage the IP to do multiple show formats. The ONE Championship IP is associated with certain things and there are many brands that approach us to do content around fitness, martial arts, sports and similar avenues.

At the core we are a mission oriented company, where our mission is to unleash real life superheroes. When we thought about ‘The Apprentice’ there was a common theme. We’ve done this on the e-Sports side as well. If you think about e-Sports – have you ever heard of a gamer as famous as Michael Jordan? No, because the stories are not being portrayed. In that vein, ‘The Apprentice’ fits perfectly because we are presenting 16 candidates who have emotional quotient (EQ), intelligence quotient (IQ), hustle and determination and their stories can inspire someone somewhere in the world.

What can you tell us about the show, candidates, host and format?

There are 16 candidates, comprising both of men and women, one of whom is Niraj Puran Rao from India. We have nine women and nine men candidates. In every episode, we have one of the famous CEOs of the world as a guest judge along with Chatri (Sityodtong) and me who will assign business tasks. Similarly, some of our World Champions and athlete celebrities will be guest judges who will assign physical tasks. Ritu Phogat is part of the show as a guest judge.

Chatri Sityodtong is the presenter. He is one of the most powerful CEO figures in Asia today and you will see his charisma and strong personality reflected in the show.

The show will have 12 episodes and one recap episode. In each episode, the candidates will have to complete a physical task, face a business challenge, a pitch room, and a boardroom until finally a candidate will be eliminated. The duration of each episode is about 45 minutes.

‘The Apprentice: ONE Champion Edition’ has nothing to with martial arts. We’ve brought in athletes and physical tasks to appeal to our hardcore fans because ultimately this is a ONE IP. It took us two months of screening to select the candidates after receiving video resumes from around the world. We were looking for the strongest minds, fittest bodies and most unbreakable spirit as qualities in the candidates and that is why this show is unique. These candidates are also people who’ve shown resilience in tough times. As the show progresses I’m sure some candidates will stand out more than the others but these 16 were the best in terms of qualities we were looking for.

The show is truly international, where we have candidates from the Philippines, Singapore, Russia, United States, Thailand, Singapore, United States, Indonesia, Venezuela, India, Japan, New Zealand, and Germany. Right now, we’ve done the Asia premier but from June onwards we are going to do a global launch.

What is the company doing to build its presence and brand in India?

India has been one of our priority markets for at least two-three years now. We have more than 20 Indian athletes on our roster. The thing about any sport you are passionate about – it is not about the company you’re following but individual heroes. Similarly for us, in the last two-three years we’ve added 20+ Indian athletes and the moment we brought in Indian athletes we had Indian following. We signed Ritu Phogat a little over a year ago and she trains at the Evolve gym here in Singapore. If Covid-19 hadn’t struck, we would have done an event in India sometime this year, but of course like all live events, it got pushed back a bit. In fact, we believe that Ritu Phogat has the potential to actually become India’s first World Champion on a global stage.

‘The Apprentice: ONE Championship’ is a showcase of candidates from across the globe, one of whom is Niraj (Puran Rao). Ritu Phogat and other India guest CEOs are also a part of the show.

If you look at Asia, all the sports that are popular, from Cricket in India to Soccer in China, are Western sports. Our thought was that martial arts are in the Asian DNA almost like a heritage. Even in India, wrestling has been in the DNA for a very long time. That’s why we thought why not take something that belongs to Asia and turn that into a property that is broadcast on the global stage.

ONE Champion is available on Star and Disney+ Hotstar for the past two years and we have a followership in India. Clips of our fights are available on Facebook, YouTube and on the ONE Championship app. We got Indian viewers to watch our content even before the distribution deal with Star.

‘The Apprentice: ONE Champion Edition’ airs every Saturday at 10 pm.


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