As superstars Ronaldo, Benzema, and Neymar moved from Europe to Saudi Arabia over the last twelve months, the Kingdom is going on the offensive. The big spending behind the Saudi Pro League, backed by the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund-PIF (the 7th largest in the world with US$776 billion under management), aims to get Saudi in the top 10 soccer leagues in the world. Since 2021, the kingdom invested at least US$ 6.3 billion in sport as part of its effort to diversify its economy away from oil promoting tourism, sports, and entertainment. Approximately US$ 2.8 billion went to football to acquire players, coaches, and upgrade stadium infrastructures.
The Strategy is changing
Under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS) Saudi launched the Sports Clubs Investment and Privatization Project. This led to the PIF acquisition of 75 percent of the top four clubs, namely Al Hilal, Al Ittihad, Al Nassr, and Al Ahli. The privatization aims to improve the commercial performance of Saudi Arabia’s pro league bringing in broadcasting, sponsorship as well as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). When MBS was asked if the sports investment strategy can qualify as Sports-washing by Fox News, MBS replied, “Well, if sports washing is going to increase my GDP by way of 1%, I will continue doing sports washing,” “I don’t care … I’m aiming for another one and a half percent. Call it whatever you want, we’re going to get those one and a half percent”. Actually, MBS wants this number to hit 2–3 percent by 2026, and he will do whatever it takes to get there.
Vision 2030 and Partnership with Italy
With the Crown Prince coming to power in 2017, the Kingdom transformed its business model and policies and anchored its future economic and social development into Vision 20230. MBS is the champion of this vision, and he claims that KSA’s GDP has already achieve a compounded 66 percent growth since the launch of the strategy. Vision 2030 has a strong anchor in the partnership with Italian…