(James Goyder is the owner/editor of AsianMMA.com)
Nielsen has released a report entitled ‘How the World’s Biggest Sports Properties Engaged Fans in 2020’ and it makes interesting reading for anyone who follows the MMA industry. Among the 20 market leaders featured in the report are the UFC, ONE Championship and Bellator.
Using a combination of data sources the report analyzed the fan base size, digital impact and TV audience of the 20 properties. The list featured the NBA, NFL, EPL, UCL, MLB and various other world renowned sporting leagues, tournaments and competitions.
MMA was ranked as the eighth most popular sport in the world with soccer, somewhat predictably, coming first. According to the Nielsen report ONE Championship is growing significantly faster than any of the other sports properties in terms of percentage follower growth.
While the UFC still has twice as many online followers as ONE Championship the gap between them is closing fast. Bellator MMA is lagging slightly behind but is also picking up followers at a rapid rate as this graphic demonstrates:
MMA has long been touted as the fastest growing sport in the world and the Nielsen data suggests there is some substance to this claim. In terms of total video views the NBA is clearly the market leader but there is almost nothing to choose between the NFL, the UFC and ONE Championship in the race for second place:
The report highlights how viewing trends are changing. 40% of people use ‘over the top’ platforms like DAZN or Amazon Prime to consume televised sporting content while 46% use ‘linear’ platforms like traditional television.
The report analyzed the cumulative televized reach of the properties across key markets. Once again soccer was way out in front with the EPL closely followed by the UCL.
But leading the rest of the pack is ONE Championship, the promotion’s decision to eschew a pay per view model and focus on working with broadcast partners appears to have paid dividends in this respect:
The report observes that in 2021 ‘fans around the world expect more content and new ways to access their favourite events’. This demand has been met by sports properties which are busy ‘creating new content types, with greater volume, increased frequency and higher value engagements’.
The UFC was founded in 1993 just a year after the English Premier League and UEFA Champion’s League were launched. But the latter two were rebranding of existing football competitions that had been run for many decades while the MMA promotion was breaking newer ground.
Founded in 2011, ONE Championship is the newest property on the list while Bellator, which was launched in 2008, is the second youngest. By contrast the NFL was founded in 1920, the inaugural Formula 1 season was 1950, the NBA has been around since 1946 and the MLB has been running since 1903.
It means the UFC, ONE Championship and Bellator are rubbing shoulders with some of the most prestigious sporting events in modern history and, according to several of these metrics, more than holding their own. MMA has certainly come a long way since the days when underground events of dubious legality would attract only the most hardcore fans.