The opening up of Saudi Arabia has been well documented in recent months. The dramatic recent increase in sporting events in The Kingdom has signalled that there will likely be plenty of opportunities for those looking to dive into this potentially lucrative new market.
Sport Industry Insider spoke to three companies – Harlequin Arena, Rise and Nielsen – that already operate to some degree in Saudi Arabia in order to discover how they, and others, are expecting to capitalise on the new sporting landscape.
THE EVENT SUPPLIERS – PAUL BERGER, CEO HARLEQUIN ARENA MIDDLE EAST & ASIA
We have been working in Saudi for four or five years for Saudi Aramco, delivering temporary structures for their cultural festivals. On the back of that we already have a company – Arena Tents Saudi Arabia – with a partner in the Kingdom. The massive investment into the sports and entertainment sector announced by the Crown Prince definitely presents a bigger opportunity for us and we are in the process of getting more people on the ground in Saudi Arabia.
I think the challenge for anybody in the Middle East looking to get into Saudi is how do you go about it?
It’s not easy. First of all it requires significant investment. Do you set up a loan? Do you set up with a partner? Certainly, the bureaucracy in terms of visas, legal structures, facilities and access to resources you would traditionally rent or borrow, is not necessarily readily available. There are definitely some logistical challenges with setting up there to meet the growing demand over the next three to four years.
Arena are definitely at an advantage as we have had five years of working there – we know the Kingdom well. We know the challenges and the pitfalls. We are big enough and strong enough as a global company to be able to invest and do it properly.
It’s an exciting time for Saudi Arabia and there is definitely an appetite from people on the ground for change. Suddenly the biggest cities in the Middle East in terms of population are going to be attending entertainment and sports events. They’ve been starved of that for so long and we want to make sure that their experience of it matches up to the quality of events everywhere else in the world.
THE SPORTS MARKETERS – DAVE MCCANN, PARTNER AT RISE
I started working in Saudi with Abu Latif Jameel and their sponsorship of the Saudi Pro League. At the time, that was the second biggest league sponsorship deal in the world, valued at 100 million Saudi riyals a year.
Saudi’s Vision 2030 has targets for driving participation in sports, entertainment and culture, and bringing major global events into the Kingdom is already triggering the sports economy. Take the recent ten-year deal signed between Saudi’s General Sports Authority and WWE, for example, which kicked off in April with one of WWE’s biggest ever events hosted in the Kingdom, and the recent news that Formula E will host races in the capital. Saudi is very much testing the water at the moment, seeing what they can deliver and what is popular. Long term, they will look at developing those sports and industries further.
Overall it is definitely an exciting time. Saudi Arabia is serious, they are ambitious, and they’ve got HRH Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the top of the tree who’s really driving everything forward.
THE DATA COLLECTORS – ROB BALSOM, DIRECTOR, MENAP AT NIELSEN SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT
We measure interest levels in sports in Saudi Arabia on a yearly basis, and we constantly track Saudi Pro League football TV broadcasts. Football is by far the most popular sport in Saudi Arabia with regards to interest, significantly ahead of all other sports. Football also sets the commercial benchmark for other sports to aspire to, as all sports continue to expand, develop and commercialise as part of the 2030 Vision.
The strength of football in the media is highlighted through our Football24 service that monitors 180+ broadcast Saudi Pro League matches a year, totalling 550hours+ of coverage – football is a hugely impactful platform for sponsors to invest in, providing continuity of sponsor brand exposure for 10 months of the year. Our analysis informs us that the Saudi Pro League partners, cumulatively, gain $170million+ worth of TV media advertising exposure during one season.
The growing sports and entertainment landscape in Saudi Arabia is of huge interest to us. We have received a notable increase in requests for market data and research, and we expect this trend to continue as sports, and entertainment events and operations, expand and target long-term commercial sustainability.
Our data sets benchmarks and tracks direction of travel, and we work hard with our clients to help them understand the value returned from their investments. Without measurement frameworks in place, it’s impossible to say whether the implementation of strategic plans has had the impact.
We know the demand for best practice research techniques and evaluation will increase in Saudi Arabia as the sports and entertainment industry continues to expand, and we’re expecting our business to grow significantly in the market in the next few years.
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