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Report: Saudi PIF spending US$2.3bn on soccer sponsorship

Sovereign wealth fund’s financial statement reveals scale of country’s investment in world’s most popular sport.

11 October 2022 Josh Sim

Getty Images

  • Significant investment going towards 20-year deals with Saudi soccer clubs 
  • PIF portfolio company Noon recently became sleeve sponsor of Saudi-backed Newcastle United

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has committed to spending over US$2 billion on several new long-term soccer sponsorship deals this year, as the country continues to grow its influence in the sport.

In its latest financial statement, which was seen by the Financial Times, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) said it had entered partnerships with several soccer clubs ‘amounting to SAR8.75 billion [US$2.3 billion]’ during the first eight months of 2022.

According to the FT, most of the investment comes from 20-year commercial deals that PIF-owned companies Qiddiya and Jeddah Central have with some domestic soccer teams, including Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal. Real estate development company Roshn, which is also part of PIF’s portfolio, also recently signed a five-year contract to title sponsor the Saudi Pro League, the country’s top-flight soccer competition.

Overseas, PIF’s most high-profile soccer investment to date was its controversial takeover of English top-flight club Newcastle United. Since acquiring the team for around UK£300 million (US$331.2 million), the owners have spent more than UK£200 million (US$220.8 million) on new players, as well as appointing a new head coach and chief executive for the Premier League team.

In addition, Noon, a PIF-backed online commerce platform, recently became the club’s new sleeve partner. The firm is also an official sales partner of English soccer champions Manchester City, who are owned by Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family.

The huge investment into elite sport demonstrates how PIF, which claims to have more than US$600 billion in assets under management, continues to ramp up its efforts to diversify the nation’s economy beyond the oil industry.

More recently, it has been reported that the Gulf nation is pushing to host the 2030 Fifa World Cup, leading a potential joint bid with Egypt and Greece. Beyond soccer, it has already staged several high-profile boxing bouts, a Formula One Grand Prix, and is behind the breakaway LIV Golf tour.

It was also recently announced that Saudi Arabia will be hosting the 2029 Asian Winter Games, and the country appears to be setting its sights on staging a future edition of the Olympics.

However, accusations of sportswashing continue to cast a shadow over Saudi Arabia’s sporting activities, with critics claiming that the nation is making huge investments in sports to divert attention away from its human rights record.

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