How ONE Championship kept fan engagement strong during the pandemic

While physical sports events were unable to take place, viewership, especially in martial arts and gaming, has not abated. Instead they have shifted and grown online.

digital transformation, enterprise solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many industries experiencing disruptions to their business. While retail and travel have suffered, the sports industry has experienced a new lease of life with demand seamlessly shifting online and onto live streaming platforms. For many fans, the show goes on.

digital transformation, enterprise solutions

iTNews Asia speaks to Teh Hua Fung, Group President at ONE Championship, to find out how the Asian sports events organiser has adapted and stayed resilient.

iTNews Asia: How has the pandemic changed how ONE Championship conducts its events and operations?

The pandemic has been challenging for all types of businesses and although COVID-19 has limited our ability to hold live events and competitions in various countries due to travel restrictions, the team has adapted creatively to continue to bring sports entertainment to our fans.

For example, we have worked very closely with the Singapore government to host closed-door events and ensure a safe and strict travel bubble for our athletes and officials. We were also the blueprint for Singapore to pilot test the reopening of entertainment events by allowing 250 fans to attend a number of live shows in late 2020.

ONE Esports has pivoted to hosting online tournaments as the esports industry continues to flourish during the pandemic. Our shoulder programming and verticals such as the athlete Stay at Home features offered fitness and lifestyle content during a time when home workouts became popular.

These and other content stacks broke viewership records as hundreds of millions of fans stayed indoors and were seeking inspirational content.

The recent Nielsen report showed that ONE Championship ranks #4 overall in total video views. Despite the challenges in hosting live events, we have been growing in terms of numbers with our brand of martial arts and gaming content.

iTNews Asia: How has the engagement strategy changed, and how has the engagement levels been on the different platforms? Post-COVID, do you think this new engagement strategy will be the new norm?

We ramped up our daily engagement with fans even more through video content across our multiple channels and platforms – including social media platforms, YouTube, and our own ONE Super App.

The ONE Super App took us about six months to build the first version, which was intended to be a one-stop mobile app that gave fans access to all the content that ONE has to offer – including videos, articles, games, athlete profiles, and stats. Given our small engineering team, one of the key decisions that we took was to build the app using React Native, and this helped us accelerate the pace that we roll out new features across both iOS and Android platforms.

We pivoted and adapted, such as organising ONE Esports tournaments online, and working with many of our athletes to continue to shoot online videos and repurpose pre-recorded content to continuously engage with our fans.

Even post-COVID, we expect that video will still be the primary means of how our global fans engage with our brand and our content. As our ONE Super App audience continues to grow globally, we recently migrated all our video content onto Brightcove’s video platform to provide reliable, high-quality video streams for all our events, and scale according to our growing reach.

While it’s only been less than a year since implementation, we’ve managed to cut content management time in half, and increase video watch time by 300%.

iTNews Asia: How has ONE Championship been able to support the number of fans tuning in to the content from across the 150+ countries?

We have been able to support our fans by continuing to invest in our video and content distribution platforms and ensuring that we maximise the distribution and reach of our video content – meeting our fans where they are instead of asking them to come to us.

We have seen significant growth in our total video views over the last year throughout the pandemic, reaching over 6 billion total video views in 2020.

To achieve that reach, we had to solve some key technical challenges along the way, including building out the internal infrastructure and tools we needed for content management, editing, streaming, and distribution. To that end, instead of building everything ourselves, we chose to partner with industry leaders like Brightcove and WSC Sports to help provide us with those capabilities.

iTNews Asia: Video analytics is being leveraged to provide a hyper-personalised experience for fans. How is the data for this collected, and should ONE Championship be concerned if fans block data tracking to ensure their privacy?

At ONE, we respect our fans’ privacy greatly, and we do not currently use personalised data collection to personalise content for individual users. We only look at aggregated data to optimise our content planning and delivery.

If we do provide content personalisation for our users in the future, we will make it clear to the user upon sign up and provide them a means to opt-out if they wish.

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