When the first Middle East Sport Industry Awards took place in 2013, it was a major breakthrough for the region. Set up by the industry for the industry, the SPIAs provided an opportunity to reward good practice and high achievement. Since then, the ceremony – organised by UAE-based multimedia company Sport360 – has become a much-anticipated annual fixture on the Gulf’s sporting calendar.

The venues have changed and the categories have multiplied but the objective, according to Sport360 Managing Director Bassam Nawfal, remains the same. Just like those inaugural awards, the 2019 SPIAs celebrated the many noteworthy accomplishments of the industry.

“We set up the Middle East Sport Industry Awards to celebrate the leaders, decision-makers organisations, facilities and campaigns that have contributed to the development of sports in the region,” Nawfal tells Sport Industry Insider. “Athletes are always at the forefront in sport but there is a huge force behind them in the form of various industry stakeholders who make it possible for them to achieve.

“Now the SPIAs have become the benchmark for all companies within the sport industry here. When I have a meeting in someone’s office and see a SPIA trophy being showcased, I feel great pride. This tells us how important the awards are to everyone who participates. The pool of participants has grown year on year, which in turn has increased the level of competition making the SPIA trophy even more sought-after.”


Part of the legitimacy of the awards comes from the rigorous judging process, which places great emphasis on fairness and transparency.

“Judging is a two-part process,” Nawfal explains. “The first selects the nominated finalists and the second chooses the winners. Each year we invite a new set of judges and they are always selected on credibility and designation. We ensure they have a high knowledge of the sport industry in the region. As we always stress, Sport360 simply organise the awards – we do not decide who wins.”

The 2019 SPIAs saw two new categories added – ‘Best Use of Public Relations in Sport’ and Sports Business Leader of the Year’ – with a total of 17 contested on the night. This year’s gala awards ceremony took place at the newly inaugurated Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai.

“Hosting the 2019 SPIAs at the Coca-Cola Arena made a lot of sense for both us and the arena itself. Firstly, as organisers of SPIA we are big believers in progression and innovation and that is certainly two words you’d associate with the new arena. For the Coca-Cola Arena, they wanted to showcase to the sporting industry their new product and there is no better platform than the SPIAs for that.”


Nawfal first joined Sport360 in 2012 and has been firmly embedded in the sporting landscape of the Gulf since then. The sands have shifted dramatically across the region in recent years, with Saudi Arabia’s recent sporting evolution seen as a particularly exciting new opportunity for the region.

“The governments and sports authorities absolutely understand the power of sports in building the character of citizens, from both a health and social aspect,” Nawfal explains. “What is happening in KSA lately is the perfect example. The strategy that the General Sport Authority has put in place is based on reinforcing sport values and principals among athletes, women, youth and promoting social cohesion, in addition to promoting the country as a sports hub.

“These developments have brought a positive change in what has been a tough market. Huge investment is being injected by the Saudi government into sports and entertainment. More world-class events will be organised in different cities around the Kingdom. This provides great opportunities for all businesses in the sport industry.

“Sport360 as an example is in process of expanding our existing operation in KSA by recruiting more Saudi content creators who understand the sports scene in the Kingdom. It is an exceptional market with unique consumer behavior. The recipe to have a successful business in the Kingdom is having the right Saudi talent as part of your team.”


While Saudi Arabia’s desire to host world-class sporting events and prompt its population to become more active has brought optimism and investment to the industry, the current landscape is not without its challenges. But Nawfal believes that embracing change, rather than fearing it, is key for the long-term health of the industry.

“People often blame the tough market we face at the moment on the economics of the region. That obviously has some influence but it is also connected to the digital disruption that has affected how sport fans react to events or how they consume content. Sports media distribution has changed dramatically, Esports is now booming, the rules we thought we knew around content have changed.

“We cannot change the existing economic situation so we must focus on the other part. Publishers, IP owners and event organisers needs to adapt to these consumer changes ASAP. This is a challenging and interesting transition at the same time. I think the sports market will keep on growing in this region as it is a part of governmental strategies and visions. We all need to make sure that we are ready for this growth.”