Remember those childhood games that brought us endless joy and laughter? Back in the day, did you get into an impromptu game of keep-ups with a balloon at a party, played with marbles, or had an arm wrestle?
In AST’s latest deepdive, we will explore major new stadiums and projects across Asia, delve into ownership models and new technologies, examine notable case studies, and discuss the future of fan experiences.
Think back to the games you played or dreamt up as that curious kid we all once were. What if those innocent pastimes turned into cutthroat competitions, elevated to the level of full-fledged leagues and championships, broadcast live to a global audience?
In our latest article, we will explore some of the most eccentric sports leagues in the world that may not have even been thought to be possible on such a scale. Although these contests might appear unconventional, it’s quite astonishing how they’ve achieved significant success. We’ll be investigating the remarkable achievements and future prospects of these sports while uncovering the key factors behind their accomplishments.
Slap fighting, a brutal sport originating in Russia, has recently gained significant traction in the US. Key figures from the UFC, (including President Dana White) oversee Power Slap, a competitive reality show launched in January 2023. White invested US$10 million in Power Slap in 2022, envisioning slap fighting as the next big thing in combat sports. The series is available on various platforms, including Rumble, and the UFC app.
“Power Slap: Road to the Title” on TBS had a strong performance, with notable viewership and significant attention on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Dana White compared the show’s success to the NBA’s, mentioning their competitive viewership numbers.
The world’s first slap fighting organization, “SlapFIGHT Championship” was founded in 2017, and has recently been acquired sports entertainment company Pro League Network (PLN). PLN specialises in turning niche sports into marketable products and is leveraging SlapFIGHT’s studio to develop a new portfolio of sports content, while enabling wagering on slap fighting in six US jurisdictions, with previous fights available on DraftKings.
SlapFIGHT Championship has gained a substantial online fanbase, and notable former UFC fighters like heavyweight Tim Sylvia have added to its appeal; with matches being aired in Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, and Austria. Slap fighting has spawned multiple leagues in the US, such as SlapFIGHT Championship, Chin Check Slap Down Championships, and the Slap Fighting Championship. The latter was co-hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Logan Paul, expanding the sport’s audience when it was streamed worldwide on Paul’s social media platforms.
Balloon World Cup
During the covid lockdowns, those experiencing cabin fever forced to stay inside most of the time had to become creative whilst staying active at home. Some juggled toilet roll or did some indoor parkour.
Antonio Arredondo and his siblings chose to bounce around their Oregon living room with one objective: not letting the balloon hit the floor. They began recording their disputes and, out of curiosity, posted a video on TikTok in 2020.
(Still from the original TikTok that has racked up millions of likes. Image: Newsweek)
The surprisingly global viral response, drew the attention of influential figures like Ibai Llanos Garatea and Gerard Piqué. Ibai playfully suggested on Twitter that the game should have its own World Cup, and Piqué responded that he’d make it happen if the tweet received over 50k retweets.
The rest, as they say, is history. The competition was formalised the following month, with Antonio and his siblings flown to Barcelona to represent the US in a tournament involving 32 countries in October 2021.
The Balloon World Cup is a great opportunity to analyse how sports events are created in digital environments. Turning a 30 second video into a global event with sponsors and huge audiences isn’t easy, but it is yet another example of recognised influencers and celebrities turning their platforms into new businesses.
Phone Booth boxing
In boxing, “phone booth fighting” signifies close-quarters combat, creating intense action and emotions for fighters and spectators. Promotional agency “Punch Club” has taken this term literally by organising boxing matches inside phone booths.
Phone booth boxing features intense combat with fighters exchanging punches, including hooks, elbows, and slaps, all within the confines of a British phone booth. Fighters wear only hand wraps for protection, and each round lasts one minute. Victory is decided when one fighter surrenders, leaving no room for respite or grappling, emphasising immediate, action-packed combat.
Vik Mikheev created the concept in 2020, The organisers have been satisfied with the attention it has gotten, amassing over 340k subscribers on YouTube as well as hundreds of thousands, even millions of views on some of their videos; hoping that these matches will soon be carried to other parts of the world.
(“Car Jitsu” – an off shoot of phone booth boxing. Image: Grappling Insider)
The sport’s unique nature, combined with social media promotion and the use of unconventional venues, has captured the imagination of audiences seeking something fresh and exciting in the world of combat sports.
Competitive Marble Racing
When almost all professional sport leagues and games came to a standstill during the pandemic, a unknown motorsport, ‘Marble Racing” took the internet by storm.
Built entirely off marble racing content creators and YouTube channels such as M&H Racing, Fubeca’s Marble Runs, and Jelle’s Marble Runs (JMR) the following from each of these channels have brought a massive audience to marble racing.
(A still from one of Jelle’s Marble Run’s exciting races. Image: JMR YouTube)
JMR, founded in 2006 by the Bakker brothers in the Netherlands, has over a million subscribers. During the pandemic, their channel saw a remarkable 999% increase in subscribers and a 339% surge in video views. They started as a hobby, evolving into competitive marble racing, including events like the ‘MarbleLympics’ in 2016, now known as the ‘Marble League.’
The Greenstone Grand Prix, a race part of Jelle’s most popular competitions, the Marbula One, which premiered in March 2020 with a record of more than 11,700 live viewers at the time. And ever since has taken off astronomically past the pandemic, pulling in over 1.2 million views on their first race at their Marbula One series in May 2023.
Marble racing turns a basic idea of marbles rolling down slopes or navigating obstacle courses, enriched with Greg Woods’ commentary, into a brilliantly absurd standard with a dedicated global fanbase.
Arm wrestling, once a casual pastime, has transformed into a professional sport with 11 weight classes and age groups. The surprising evolution of this sport is evident at the World Armwrestling Championships organised by the World Armwrestling Federation (WAF). Last year saw around 350 arm wrestlers from about 30 countries taking part.
(Pro Panja arm wrestling ladies giving it their all. Image: ProPanja)
Asia’s largest arm wrestling league, the Pro Panja League (PPL), launched in 2020, has made a significant impact. PPL already boasts of a substantial online following, with their promotional events gathering over 275 million social media views, and its inaugural season drawing a record number of television viewers.
Sony Sports Network plans a substantial increase in investment in the upcoming seasons, planning to invest around US$1.8 to $2.4 million, while Swen Entertainment has already invested $600,000 in tournaments over the first three years.
This league is the perfect example of how digital-first Asian audiences (like in India for the PPL), combined with the reach of influencer platforms and the right proposition can create mass-market IPs from scratch in a matter of a few years.
What the future holds..
In a world where childhood games have transformed into eccentric sports leagues, from slap fighting to balloon world cups, these unconventional competitions are gaining massive attention, driven by celebrity and influencer involvement.
This reflects the evolving entertainment and competition landscape, alongwith the drastic change in consumer needs. AST believes that we are just getting started when it comes to new IPs – and we barely scratched the surface with our list above.
There’s underwater hockey, the intense fusion of chess and boxing, the exhilaration of Kabaddi, a sport currently sweeping across Asia with immense popularity and steadily gaining recognition on a global scale, and the magical game of Quidditch with participation from humans around the world!
Just as these sports have achieved surprising levels of success, we are dedicated to helping our clients realise their potential and succeed in the rapidly changing sports landscape.
Together, let’s redefine the fan experience for generations to come. Reach out to us today, and let’s create a future where sports and entertainment know no bounds.