Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

On Saudi Acquisition of Sports Clubs!

Hardly a week goes by without news of exciting developments in Saudi Arabia. This week, sports news took the spotlight with the announcement of a new strategy for the development of the Saudi sports market.

Under the strategy, sports clubs will become companies. The Public Investment Fund (PIF) has thus far acquired four key sport clubs, while Saudi Aramco has established its very own. So did the Royal Commission for AlUla, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, and NEOM.

With these acquisitions, sport clubs will depart from their former modus operandi, in which all sports competitions relied exclusively on the generosity of sponsors and were conducted under the supervision of the General Sport Authority.

Contrary to popular belief, the popularity of sports competitions is not a novelty in the Kingdom. In fact, sports have been a crucial part of the Saudi society since the 1950s, and in many other countries as well. However, only a handful of states developed their sports sector in terms of institutionalization and marketing. In many advanced world countries, sports today are far more than a mere hobby: the sector has become a full-fledged, profitable economic activity. Not surprisingly, most of the world’s top athletes come from those countries.

For the emerging sports market to succeed, steady and growing sources of income must be secured. This can be achieved by countering the piracy of sport products, protecting sport rights, developing the sports journalism and media sector, and upgrading sport venues with state-of-the-art technology and entertainment capabilities.

Combined, these efforts ensure the prosperity of the sports market for decades to come. Moreover, the sports strategy goes hand in hand with improved youth welfare, entertainment, local economy, tourism, and national sentiment.

What about the exorbitant costs of contracting top athletes such as Ronaldo, Benzema, and others who might move to Saudi Arabia in exchange for enormous amounts of money? Well, sports may be expensive today, but it will be more expensive tomorrow.

A 30-second television advertisement in the US during the Super Bowl Season could cost up to $7 million, with some $250 billion spent annually on ads. However, a comparison with our current markets would not stand.

Qatar invested some $200 billion on the FIFA World Cup project, and it was the best investment it could have possibly made. It achieved its aspirations in spite of the relatively short duration of the competition (40 days).

With this new project, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aspires to position the Saudi football league on the world’s top 10 most popular leagues. If the efforts to develop the sports economy in an emerging country like Saudi Arabia succeed, the Kingdom will gradually be able to get a significant return on investment.

This is especially true when considering the high percentage of the youth population in the Kingdom, most of whom are highly interested in sports and entertainment. With a successful sports sector, Saudi Arabia will become an even more attractive country, especially to young populations.

This would be in line with Vision 2030, which envisions the Kingdom as a pioneering and successful country with a diverse, thriving economy and a vibrant society that ensures fulfilling lives for its people. In fact, one of the objectives the ambitious vision aims to achieve by 2030 is to increase the ratio of active Saudis from 13 percent to 40 percent.

In the last few years, various sport facilities have been expanded, and many initiatives empowered women and girls to practice sports activities by launching girls’ and women’s clubs and competitions. These efforts continue today, as the brands and economic scopes of sports activities are constantly being developed.