In a column for Sport Industry Insider, SMG Insight managing director and founder Frank Saez reveals new data about UAE football consumption habits. 

Recognised by his peers as one of the foremost practitioners in global sports business analysis and research, Frank has over 18 years international experience, working with some of the world’s leading sports rights holders and sponsors including Rolex, Visa, Peugeot and Goldman Sachs.

Alongside our partners CSM Sport and Entertainment, we’ve just conducted some ground-breaking research on attitudes towards football in the UAE. Exclusively for Sport Industry Insider readers, we outline some of the research’s main headlines and insights.

  1. Football is king

With 51% of UAE residents following the activity, football is the country’s favourite sport. Next up are cricket (35%) and tennis (26%). Ninety percent of residents follow at least one sport, putting the country firmly into the ‘sports-mad’ bracket.

  1. Football followers are relatively easy to identify

Almost four in five football fans are men and, with 62% of them being aged between 18 and 34, football fans are relatively easy for sponsors and rights-holder to target. Although only 21% of football fans are women, we expect that number to grow, just as it has in other countries. The nationality of football fans is a more even split, with followers divided relatively evenly between Emirati, Arab, Asian and Western expat communities (see chart below).

  1. International appeal

International football holds the greatest appeal for UAE football fans, with the FIFA World Cup appealing to half of supporters. European football is next popular with domestic leagues and then MENA-region competitions hot on their heels.

  1. Domestic clubs give international giants a run for their money

The Arabian Gulf League enjoys the largest following of any MENA club or international competition and its most popular clubs see their level of support in the UAE rival that of many UEFA Champions League regulars.

  1. Social media is the way to a football fan’s attention

Social media is key to attracting and retaining support in the region. Over half of UAE football fans keep up-to-date with the game using social media, meaning potential sponsors should carefully consider a social activation strategy for any MENA football partnership.

  1. Fans are positive about domestic offer

UAE football fans are generally positive about the health of football in the region. When asked which words they most associate with the game in the MENA region, ‘Exciting’, ‘Entertaining’ and ‘Accessible’ are the top three.

  1. Improvements to be made

Residents highlight three key areas when it comes to improving the experience of football fans:

  • Atmosphere in stadiums

  • Prices

  • Transport to and from matches.

Our research also covers areas including the effect of bringing major events to the area, sentiment towards football sponsors and perceptions of future footballing tournaments – and it’s all available for free to Sport Industry Insider readers. For the full report, including detailed data and insights, visit the CSM website.