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Fourteen Saudi football clubs for sale in new FDI drive

Saudi football Al Nassr supporter Reuters/Ahmed Yosri
An Al-Nassr fan in the stands before a match with Al-Okhdood: his team has been transferred to the PIF
  • Four Pro League teams on market
  • Gulf investors ‘most likely to buy’
  • Hopes sale will boost FDI

Fourteen Saudi football clubs are up for sale, including four from the country’s top Pro League, as the country tries to monetise the sport and attract much-needed foreign investment. 

Six teams, including three in the Pro League – Al-Okhdood, Al-Orouba and Al-Kholoud – will be offered from August. The other eight will follow at a later date, including Al-Riyadh, the sports ministry said, after the cabinet approved the project. 

The aim is to “encourage the business sector to take part in the establishment and growth of the sports industry,” the ministry said.

Foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia is well below the government target of $100 billion a year by 2030, including in sports, tourism and entertainment. 

Saudi football clubs are more likely to draw interest from Gulf investors, an Arab writer familiar with Gulf media and investment strategies said. 

The commentator, who requested anonymity, said: “They would love to have foreign investors from outside the region. But if you look at the sports business in Europe you see that Manchester United was on offer for a long time but it didn’t work. There is a lull. 

“Big multinationals like Red Bull might take it up, but more likely it’s going to be Gulf investors, whether individuals or institutions,” he said, referring to the drinks company’s ownership of nine clubs in Austria, Germany, Brazil and the United States. 

Last year the Saudi government transferred to the Public Investment Fund 75 percent ownership of four Pro League teams: Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Hilal, where the Brazilian superstar Neymar plays, and Al-Nassr, for which Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo plays.

The state oil giant Aramco was given ownership of the Pro League team Al-Qadsiah, and the PIF-owned giga-project Diriyah Gate was given Al-Diriyah, which plays in the lower leagues. 

How profitable these ventures will be is not clear. 

PIF revealed this month in its 2023 financial report that it could be constricted in its ability to offload the clubs, since its ownership is considered a “common control transfer”, in which ultimate shareholding is retained by the government.

Last year the Saudi professional football league sold broadcast rights to 12 networks across 130 countries for its 2023-24 season for an undisclosed sum, after a huge spending spree on world-class players, including Ronaldo, Jordan Henderson and Ruben Neves.

The investments have extended to other sports once seen as niche or non-existent in the kingdom including golf, snooker, Formula 1, boxing, mixed martial arts, tennis, baseball and even darts.

But the investments appear to have quickly given Saudi Arabia soft power, winning a large global audience in television and other media, a survey published by the media analytics consultancy Carma last month said

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