Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, will take control of four of the country’s most prominent football clubs, as part of the Sports Clubs Investment and Privatisation Project launched on Monday by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The initiative, which aims to encourage private investment in the sports sector, is aligned with the kingdom’s Vision 2030 and will have a particular focus on football. One of the project’s primary objectives is to position the Saudi Pro League as one of the top 10 football leagues in the world.
On Monday, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) confirmed it had acquired a 75 per cent stake in Al Hilal, Al Nassr, Al Ittihad and Al Ahli – the Saudi Pro League’s four ever-present members. The remaining 25 per cent will be controlled by a non-profit organisation. The Saudi Ministry of Sport said each club board will comprise seven members: Five appointed by PIF and the other two by the non-profit.
Hilal, the country’s most successful club, are 18-time Saudi league winners and four-time Asian champions – both a record. Their Riyadh rivals, Nassr, are nine-time champions. They finished runners-up in this season’s Saudi Pro League having signed Cristiano Ronaldo in December in reportedly the most lucrative player deal in football history.
Ittihad pipped Nassr to the title last month, to be crowned Saudi champions for the first time in 14 years, and ninth overall. Meanwhile Ahli, their fellow Jeddah club, earned promotion to the 2023/24 Saudi Pro League having last year been relegated for the first time in their history.
On Monday, PIF said it was “working closely with the Ministry of Sport on all the necessary regulatory procedures to complete the clubs’ transfers to their new structures as newly founded companies alongside non-profit foundations.
“The transfer of the four clubs will unleash various commercial opportunities, including investment, partnership and sponsorships across numerous sports.”
The ownership structure of four other Saudi clubs will also change, with Aramco taking a stake in Al Qadsia, Royal Commission for Al Ula Governorate in Al Ula Club, Diriyah Gate Development Authority in Al Diriyah Club and Neom in Al Suqoor FC.
A statement to accompany Monday’s announcement said the Saudi Pro League, which is hoping to become a major destination for top footballing talent, boasted players from more than 40 countries, with attendances increasing by almost 150 per cent in the past year.
The Sports Clubs Investment and Privatisation Project will seek to increase the league’s annual revenue from 450 million Saudi riyals ($120 million) to more than 1.8 billion riyals. The kingdom has also targeted raising the Pro League’s market value from 3 billion riyals to more than 8 billion riyals by 2030.
Monday's statement outlined that the new initiative would comprise two primary components, saying: “The first entails the approval of corporations and public sector organisations investing in sports clubs, with investment amounts corresponding to each club's value. The second component involves privatising sports clubs starting from the final quarter of 2023.
“Three strategic objectives underpin the project: fostering investment opportunities and an appealing investment environment in the sports sector; boosting professionalism, governance, and financial sustainability in sports clubs; and enhancing clubs' competitiveness and infrastructure.
“The ultimate impact will see the provision of world-class services to sports fans, enriching the fan experience and driving community participation.”
The statement added: “The privatisation and ownership transfer of clubs aims to accelerate progress in a variety of sports across the kingdom further growing participation, providing cutting-edge facilities, increasing competition and nurturing future champions.”