Sponsorship boom lifts Saudi Pro League into world's top three, claims official

Commercial director Haschke says competition has overtaken Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 after six-month surge

Cristiano Ronaldo, right, celebrates scoring with Sadio Mane during the Saudi Pro League football match between Al Nassr and Al Riyadh. AFP
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The Saudi Pro League says its recent trebling in official partners puts it in the top three in the world for sponsorship revenue, with a staggering 2,000-plus per cent growth in the past six months.

The kingdom’s top tier has enjoyed unprecedented exposure in the past year, the result of recruiting some of football’s most prominent names to the competition.

Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo laid the foundations by signing for Al Nassr last December in reportedly one of the most lucrative player deals in the game’s history.

In the summer, the SPL embarked on an ambitious and aggressive player-recruitment programme that included then-Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema, Brazil superstar Neymar, and the likes of N’Golo Kante, Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez also.

The league, which before Ronaldo’s arrival was broadcast on television only in the GCC, now can be viewed in 186 countries.

On Wednesday, during a panel discussion at the World Football Summit Asia in Jeddah, the SPL said its official partners had increased from three last season – title sponsors Roshn, Alinma Bank and EA Sports – to nine since the summer transfer window. It added that another four have been signed up for the second half of the 2023/24 campaign.

Maximilian Haschke, commercial director at the Saudi Pro League, claims that means they now trail only the English Premier League and Spain's La Liga in terms of sponsorship revenue.

“In US dollar value, that puts us now number three in the world as a league,” said Haschke. “In terms of sponsorship revenue as a league, we have bypassed now in the past six months our esteemed colleagues from Bundesliga, Serie A, and Ligue 1.

“Which is obviously a good signal that, yes, the first six months were a good start. But it’s up to us now looking ahead, especially after the 2024/25 season when our broadcasting deals will be able to be sold [or] commercialised, to have a product and a brand of the Saudi Pro League ready for the market that, might be disruptive, that might be very different, but that might even accelerate the growth that right now is plus-2000 per cent of commercial revenue for the league.”

Haschke, whose remit covers sponsorship, broadcast rights, player image rights and digital assets, said that, despite the huge international growth in profile, the league would continue to prioritise producing a product to appeal to those within the kingdom.

“We obviously have our role to play within the kingdom’s Vision 2030; we know exactly where we have to be in 2030,” Haschke said. “Everyone is talking about we becoming one of the biggest leagues in the world.

“The most important thing we’re doing here is we want to become not only the most entertaining league, because we can just build it from scratch, differently to leagues with a huge legacy.

“But we want to do this for Saudi Arabia. So, this league shall provide the football and the entertainment to Saudi Arabia and to Saudi fans, first and foremost.

“We know there’s a by-product coming: it’s making us one of the most successful leagues, the best leagues, in the world. Is it a [No 1]? Is it two? Is it three? We’ll take it.

“But the first step over the next years is making this the best league the Saudis are proud of, and proud to enjoy and join.”

Updated: December 13, 2023, 5:58 PM