In the realm of football, we often look westward. The Premier League, La Liga, Serie A—these are the names that echo in the hallways of sports history. But what if the future isn’t just a Western tale? What if the next big story in football is written in the sands of Saudi Arabia? With aggressive investments, strategic planning, and a vision to be among the top-tier football leagues in the world, Saudi Arabia is a rising star in the realm of football. In this blog post, we will delve into the kingdom’s ambition and potential to reshape the future of the sport.
Making a Splash on the Global Scene
Saudi Arabia is both. A country primarily known for oil and desert is now pumping something else—football dreams. It’s as if they’ve been reading a different playbook, one that starts with “Why not us?”
The country has not only successfully attracted high-profile players like Ronaldo and Benzema but even came close to bringing in Messi. As Carlo Nohra, Chief Operating Officer at Roshn Saudi League, puts it during a brilliant panel moderated by Julio Senn (Senn Ferrero) at World Football Summit Europe 2023, “We respect it a lot. And we feel that with what we’re doing, we’re actually even investing in football in Europe. And what we’re trying to do now is to play our role in making the game even more global, developing the game in Asia, which is our home continent, and to be able to provide entertainment for the people.”
Aspiring to be a Top League
One of the most intriguing questions surrounding Saudi Arabian football is whether it can ascend to the ranks of the top leagues in Europe. According to experts like Jordan Gardner, Consultant at Twenty-First Group, “There’s talk about can Saudi be a top five or top ten League.” While the kingdom may not be there yet, the groundwork is being laid. Strategic investments in infrastructure and talent are not only influencing Saudi football but also the global transfer market.
Competing with Quality and Strategy
It’s not just about big names and big investments. Saudi Arabia aims for quality and sustainability:
“The ambition doesn’t stop at attracting big names; it extends to building a league that can compete in quality with the top European leagues.”
As Peter Hutton, Board Member at Roshn Saudi League, notes, “This is not just about people watching a 90-minute game, you know, we need to get people interested in the storylines of Saudi Arabian football, and therefore that’s a huge opportunity.”
Luis Vicente, Chairman at Apex Capital, went even further and suggested that Saudi Arabia is in a unique position to leverage the power of data and technology to involve the fan in the sports business model (which is something we discussed on this episode of the World Football Summit podcast with Michael Broughton) and find new avenues of monetisation.
One of those avenues could very well be the gaming industry. As Luis put it:
“Saudi Arabia will be for sure the number one country in the world in terms of gaming. That’s a massive opportunity because the virtual and the physical realms will connect. There are numerous opportunities for footfall coming from that and Saudi Arabia is the country where everything is going to happen, and another enormous opportunity to effectively bring new communities into sport.”
Backed by Impressive Business Metrics
The ambitions and efforts of Saudi Arabia in the football world are not just talk; they are backed by solid business metrics that demonstrate impressive growth:
- Revenue Growth: The Saudi Pro League has seen a staggering 650% increase in revenue in just the first month of the 2023/24 season. The goal is to quadruple the league’s revenues from US$120 million to US$480 million by 2030.
- Broadcasting Impact: The league has signed international broadcast deals with 38 different broadcasters, generating significant revenue. Last season alone, the league’s 28 international deals generated about $710,000.
- Digital and Social Engagement: The league has experienced a 75% growth in the number of sponsors this season, showcasing its impact on digital growth and global fan engagement.
- Investment in Talent: The Saudi Pro League has become one of the biggest spenders in global football, with a record $957 million spent during the football transfer window in 2023.
- Sponsorship Revenue: The league now ranks as the third most profitable league in the world in terms of sponsorship revenue.
As Jordan Gardner states, “The bottom line is the strategy is working to create interest in the league, and it’s growing the game in that country in a way that I don’t think would have happened in any other way.”
Listen to Jordan give greater detail on the World Football Summit Podcast:
Peter Hutton adds, “Then it’s based on a demographic that clearly suits the growth of football. You’ve got half the population of the country under 30. So you’ve got a much younger population coming through, and it’s a hearts and minds campaign to get them playing and make them actively part of the process. And then we can see the foundation of growth built on these really strong foundations.”
Saudi Vision 2030: The Blueprint for Football’s Future
Saudi Vision 2030 serves as the kingdom’s strategic framework to diversify its economy away from oil. Within this vision, sports, particularly football, occupy a central role for several key reasons:
- Economic Impact: Saudi Vision 2030 recognizes the potential of sports to boost economic growth through various channels such as ticket sales, broadcasting rights, sponsorships, and merchandise.
- Quality of Life: Beyond economic benefits, sports are seen as vehicles for improving the quality of life, fostering healthy lifestyles, and enhancing social well-being.
- Global Exposure: The vision also acknowledges the power of sports in raising Saudi Arabia’s profile on the global stage, serving as a platform for diplomacy and cultural exchange.
While the journey to the top may be long and fraught with challenges, the steps being taken are indicative of a bright future for football in the country. Keep an eye on this rising star; it’s only a matter of time before Saudi Arabia becomes a household name in the global football community.
Join us for World Football Summit Asia and witness the change in football first-hand.