Nielsen: ONE Championship reaches more fans than UFC

For long, long years, the seemingly impossible goal for mixed martial arts was to become mainstream. That was achieved. Now Nielsen Sports has published a downloadable report, How the World’s Biggest Sports Properties Engaged Fans in 2020, and we appear to be not just here to take part, but to take over.

The all important cumulative reach chart displays the 19 greatest sports properties on the globe:

1. EPL (Soccer) 709,188,000
2. UFC (Soccer) 610,101,000
3. ONE Championship (Martial Arts) 403,021,000
4.  Formula I (Motorsports) 384.147,000
5. NHL (Ice Hockey) 359,016,000
6. UFC (MMA) 346,173,000
7. NFL (American Football) 334,012,000
8. NBA (Basketball) 313,731,000
9. Wimbeldon (Tennis) 263.049,000
10. Australian Open (Tennis) 258,073,000
11. French Open (Tennis) 253,430,000
12. MotoGP (Motorsport) 210,363,000
13. US Open (Tennis) 196,584,000
14. MLB (baseball) 180,641,000
15. Bundesliga (Soccer) 174,815,000
16. Tour de France (Cycling) 169,762,000
17. NASCAR (Motorsport) 147,275,000
18. MLS (Soccer) 104,437,000
19. Bellator (MMA) 16,472

For those of you, like me, baffled that the NHL has a greater reach than the NFL and NBA, 55% of the NHL figure comes from China, and the NBA did not broadcast in China for the majority of the 2020 season. China has 1.4 billion people; it’s the most populous nation on Earth. By contract, the globe’s third most populous nation, the USA, has 330 million.

Nielsen Sports also broke down the world’s 14 most popular sports:

1. Soccer (1,042,155,000)
2. Basketball (865,600,000)
3. Volleyball (738,747,000)
4. Tennis (737,158,000)
5. Motorsports (683,771,000)
6. Cycling 683,771,000)
7. Extreme Sports (668,416)
8. MMA (608,581,000)
9. Badminton (559.422,000)
10. Baseball (519,286,000)
11. Golf (454,057,000)
12. Ice Hockey 438,521,000)
13. Rugby (399,789,000)
14. Cricket (216,101,000)

The most popular sports stats are odd from a US perspective. Soccer being the world’s most popular sports is obvious, as is basketball being #2; volleyball being #3 is baffling. MMA coming in at #8 just ahead of badminton isn’t wild-cheer inducing, but MMA has more fans than baseball, ice hockey, and golf, and that’s extraordinary.

A number of congratulations are in order. Congratulations to the (relatively) little engine that could – Scott Coker’s Bellator MMA – for making the list. Congratulations to the UFC – their first to market spot and extraordinary efforts laid the groundwork for what followed. But above all today, congratulations to Chatri Sityodtong and ONE Championship for exceeding the UFC in viewership. The UFC has pursued a high-growth strategy, tempered with high profits. Sityodtong, as did for example Facebook or Twitter or WhatsApp, went for the eyeballs, and he got them – more eyes on our sport than any other promotion. Further, rather than focus on bitter Twitter quarrels and tremendous action as does the UFC, Chatri focused on martial arts values and tremendous action. And it worked.

And lastly, congratulations to us, to all of the great fans of MMA. We all watched together, Nielsen counted us, and we did it – MMA is now mainstream and growing fast. Today, taking over is not as crazy a goal as was becoming mainstream in 2001. Think about that.

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