Saudi Pro League announces rapid financial growth after summer transfer spree

Influx of top talent has led to 650 per cent revenue increase and 25 per cent growth in crowds, says SPL

Al Hilal's Brazilian forward Neymar, pictured in front of a packed stand at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh. AFP
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The Saudi Pro League has witnessed substantial growth in revenue, attendances and social media engagement, with revenue alone increasing by 650 per cent in the first month of the 2023/24 season – according to official league figures.

The Saudi Arabian top-flight embarked this summer on a period of unprecedented investment, with some of the world’s most recognisable footballers signing for the kingdom's leading clubs.

Among the most high-profile players to move to Saudi Arabia are Brazil superstar Neymar, Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema, current African Footballer of the Year Sadio Mane, World Cup winner N’Golo Kante, Manchester City treble-winner Riyad Mahrez, and former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson.

The Saudi Pro League said on Wednesday that the recruitment of world-class international talent has prompted a considerable rise in the league’s profile, recorded through fan engagement – local and international – and both broadcast and commercial revenue.

The SPL said the number of sponsors has grown around 75 per cent this season, claiming the competition has become the third most profitable league in the world in relation to sponsorship revenue.

New international broadcast deals, encompassing 38 broadcasters, mean the league has agreements across 140 territories, with matches shown live in multiple markets, such as the UK, Spain, Germany, France, Italy and Portugal.

The SPL said the broadcast deals have led to a 650 per cent increase in revenue, “clear evidence of the SPL’s successful transformation strategy to grow revenue for league and clubs, while increasing the commercial value of the league and attracting investors”.

Meanwhile, the overall attendance for the first six rounds of the new season has been tallied at 440,003 – a 25 per growth on last year’s figures for the same period.

The SPL cited an “organic growth” of 1.5 million new social media followers across its platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and X – formerly Twitter – with more than 150 million video views so far this campaign. Its official English Instagram account has attracted more than 200,000 followers since its launch on August 9, two days before the season kicked off.

The SPL has publicly stated its objective to eventually become one of the world’s top leagues.

Carlo Nohra, the SPL’s chief operating officer, said: “This is an exciting time for fans of football in Saudi [Arabia]; we are witnessing something very special. The combination of international stars and young Saudi talent is generating genuine excitement on and off the pitch and also raising standards to the highest possible level among our own player pool.

“The raised levels of interest in the [SPL], both by football fans in the kingdom and around the world, and in terms of the unprecedented number of potential global sponsorship opportunities, are clear evidence that the strategy is starting to work.

“We have a more competitive product, on and off the pitch, and we are moving to the next level in both areas, in line with our strategy. The next phase for us on this wonderful journey will be building infrastructure and developing the league further off the pitch while ensuring we have a world-class product that engages and excites on the pitch.”

On its aggressive player recruitment throughout the recently closed transfer window, the league said it made close to 100 overseas signings via the newly established Player Acquisition Centre of Excellence.

A statement said elite player recruitment forms part of a co-ordinated strategy between the SPL and the Saudi Arabian Football Federation to develop local talent alongside “the best international players, as part of a drive to increase competitiveness on and off the pitch while ensuring a sustainable future”.

The average age of players competing in the league in the past month has reduced by two years, to 27.

Michael Emenalo, the SPL director of football, said: “The Saudi Pro League has undergone a rapid and unprecedented transformation this season, where we have seen 94 players bought from around the world providing a centralised approach to governance, transfers, squad mapping and player care.

“It’s also allowed us to help to create clear developmental pathways for Saudi youth while also giving them immediate playing opportunities.”

Updated: September 21, 2023, 5:38 AM