BOSN talks to... Matthew Eaton

What are the origins of Tap Media; what made you launch it?

Quite simple really. We saw a huge opportunity to build a professional publishing platform in a fast-growing industry that was largely being covered by fans and passionate bloggers. It all started with a quarterly print magazine in 2013 and we have gone on to make two key acquisitions in Singapore and Hong Kong. We now operate three of the biggest combat sports news sites in Asia.

MMA has campaigned hard to be included in the Olympics for some years now. What do you think are the key factors of its exclusion?

From what I hear, it’s mostly political. MMA is now considered the fastest-growing sport in the world and that threatens many of the established sports already in the Olympics like judo, boxing, wrestling and karate. The International MMA Federation is doing great work to regulate MMA globally and standardise drug testing, training, coaching, plus developing the sport at a grassroots level with schools and governments. MMA is an exciting sport built for a young, millennial audience. It’s just a matter of time before we see it in the Olympic Games.

Do you think combat sports are becoming popular in Hong Kong?

The short answer is yes, but Hong Kong is a tricky one. The city has a long history with martial arts and Bruce Lee was an early innovator of mixing styles and disciplines. But MMA in Hong Kong has not seen nearly the same levels of growth when compared to Japan, Singapore, Thailand and even Myanmar. Those markets have eclipsed Hong Kong with access to world-class training facilities and government funding for amateur athletes.

What are the challenges facing combat sport competition hosts or right holders in Hong Kong?

The biggest I believe is a lack of quality venues. It’s probably the key reason why the UFC and ONE Championship have not held a live event here. Coming in a close second is a lack of sponsorship and government support. It’s no secret that MMA has a perception problem - it’s violent, cage fighting… But the industry is founded on honour and respect. It’s a safe sport with very strict rules. MMA needs to lift its game in communicating the untapped potential of this market.

How have you personally found the experience of navigating the world of martial arts entertainment in Asia?

The industry in Asia is growing at breakneck speed and keeping up with it has its challenges. Personally, I’ve had to rethink the way I work. My background was business reporting and that’s fairly straight forward. Sports reporting today is entirely different. MMA fans want a 24-7 stream of news about every aspect of the game - and they expect you to be present on all digital platforms. It’s been fun, wild and hugely educational.

At the professional level, do you see any differences in how UFC and ONE Championship position themselves in Asia?

These two giants of the MMA world couldn’t be more different. UFC is the pinnacle of MMA competition, but also understands the value of entertainment - hence the high levels of smack talk and an almost WWE-like approach to promoting fights. ONE has developed the idea of “Asian heroes” with tremendous success. It champions the values of respect, courage, integrity and honour. Sorry, no trash talk here.

You came from the publishing industry with a tech and digital marketing background. What made you change the directions slightly to combat sports marketing?

Opportunity. There was a very real and growing audience that was not being served in a way it should have been. The opportunity to acquire some websites came up and I jumped on it. I still think we are scratching the surface of what is possible. We’re looking into developing a Netflix series, documentaries, sponsorship, athlete management, industry awards… it’s still very much early days.

Where would you like to see combat sports progress to in the next five years?

I think the development of amateur MMA is key. We should be encouraging young athletes to sharpen their skills before making the jump into the professional leagues. It would also be nice to see the big industry players develop the sport as a whole and not just protect their own interests.