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UK companies set their sights on $22bn Saudi events sector

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A delegation of 25 British companies representing the sports events sector were invited to Riyadh to explore investment opportunities
  • UK events firms have signed cooperation agreements with Saudi Arabia
  • The Saudi sports sector is expected to contribute $22bn by 2030
  • The Public Investment Fund is launching 21 events destinations

Major UK firms are targeting the Saudi events sector for growth as the Gulf kingdom continues to build its reputation as a global destination.

Saudi’s Ministry of Investment recently welcomed a delegation of 25 British sports events companies to explore investment opportunities.

The ministry, together with the Ministry of Sports, signed cooperation agreements with ES Global and Global 13.

“There is great potential for more UK firms to establish themselves in the region,” said Jason Harborow, chief executive of sports strategy firm Global 13.

“The kingdom wants to expand and diversify its economy and sees international partnerships as a key driver to achieving this goal.”

Amy Casterton is business development director of ES Global, which provides modular venues and infrastructure at events such as the Olympics.

She echoed Harborow’s sentiment, saying: “Saudi Arabia is a significant – and rapidly growing – market for event services and modular infrastructure. The country is becoming more and more of a draw for rights holders.”

Their comments follow the hosting of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on March 19, fuelled by government investment commitments of $2 billion by 2024.

Last month, the kingdom hosted a high profile boxing event between British boxer Tommy Fury and social media star Jake Paul.

The Spanish Super Cup was held in Diriyah in January while, in October, it was announced that Saudi will host the 2029 Asian Winter Games at the mountain resort Trojena.

Swedish boxer Badou Jack believes Saudi Arabia is a leading destination for sports tourism

The sports sector’s contribution to non-oil GDP is expected to reach more than $22 billion by 2030. An additional $5 billion in private sector contribution is required, providing opportunities for international investors.

The wider entertainment events industry is also growing fast, with 11,136 licences issued. 

In November Saudi Entertainment Ventures (Seven), a subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund, also announced plans to invest more than SR50 billion ($13.3 billion) creating and operating 21 entertainment destinations across 14 cities.

Saudi Arabia also plans to leverage its under-construction giga projects such as Neom and Diriyah to set new standards in relation to event infrastructure and destinations, allowing the country to bid for and host big events. 

Global 13 head Jason Harborow praises Saudia Arabia’s “ambition” in growing its events sector. Picture: Supplied

“Global organisations are going to be greatly interested in taking their events to destinations such as Neom because of the unique experience it will provide,” said Harborow. 

“I think the ambition of Saudi Arabia is another key reason it has been able to become such an important player in the global events market in a short period of time, with the focus now on bidding for even bigger events and winning the rights to major events on a more regular basis.”

ES Global has worked on events and locations such as the Abba Arena in London, Olympic and Paralympic venues and stages for American rock band The Killers.

Casterton said it “engaged extensively” with some of Saudi’s giga projects during the trade mission, adding that it aims to “fast-track our entry to market and grow our Saudi footprint”.

“We see long term benefit in ES Global having Saudi Arabia as our base in the Middle East, hiring and developing local talent,” she said.

Harborow has been involved in delivering high profile events including Commonwealth Games and World Cups across multiple sports. He highlighted the launch of Saudi’s Events Investment Fund in January as a “game changer” for the Saudi events sector.

It aims to conceptualise, finance and oversee the development of more than 35 venues across the kingdom by 2030.

The fund’s assets include indoor arenas, art galleries, theatres and conference centres, and horse racing and auto tracks. It plans to deliver its first event later this year.

“It provides the kingdom with the resources and sustainability to ensure it can not only maintain but increase the rate of growth it has experienced in recent years,” Harborow said.

“It has shown already the capability to generate significant engagement from across the industry, and now understands how to maximise the effects these events can have both domestically and international.” 

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