The Saudi Pro League continues to fulfill its plans. Last week the sale of young Spanish star Gabri Veiga to Al-Ahli became official. The Galician pearl, after having held negotiations with major European teams, lands in Saudi Arabia for 35 million euros. There is still a month to go before the Saudi transfer market closes and there will surely be new surprises. Today, however, the Saudi government’s long-term goal is to give its teams a chance to play in the most prestigious club competition, the Champions League, Bloomberg reports.
“We are trying to be different, so any kind of format change or improvements that can be made to the league will be welcome,” Carlo Nohra, the Saudi Football League’s (SPL) director of operations, said in an interview. The Middle Eastern country follows the model of Qatar: getting through sport to clean up its external image and having the possibility of hosting major sports competitions, such as the 2030 World Cup and the 2040 Olympic Games.
At first, it seemed that the Saudi Pro League was going to become a retirement competition for the biggest stars of the world of football, however, this summer has proven otherwise. Since the summer transfer market began, in addition to taking over the services of great sports legends such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema or Neymar, the Arab teams have signed different footballers from the main European teams, with a long way to go in their careers. . . This is the case of Mahrez, Kanté, Saint-Maximin, Fabinho… The closest objective is not to sign already established stars, but to hire young promises, as has happened with Gabri Veiga, so that the competition has more projection.
Despite seeking to compete in the Champions League, from the Saudi Pro League they maintain their interest in participating in the AFC Champions League, which is the main club competition in Asia, said Carlo Nohra. However, they know that to achieve further growth they must play against the best clubs.
Zvonimir Boban, UEFA’s soccer director, sent Bloomberg that the adhesion of these teams to the European competition is a “fabrication” Although this idea cannot be ruled out completely, since there are non-European teams that will participate in the tournament. Saudi football’s top leaders take Kazakhstan, a non-European UEFA state whose teams participate in the competition, as an example. FC Astana was the first team in the country to play in a Champions League in 2015.
The SPL has increased its television revenue by 650%
In terms of profits, the SPL is still a small player compared to the big European leagues. Although the acquisition he is making of soccer superstars makes clear the grand ambitions he has. The country seeks, they point out from Bloomberg, to diversify from oil through significant investments in different sectors: from soccer, to renewable energies, new cities, automobiles…
The Saudi league has worked hard in recent years to try to attract new sponsorships and to sell its television rights for a higher price. Carlo Nohra reports that the Saudi Pro League matches are broadcast in 140 countries around the world. In Spain, these rights have been acquired by the sports newspaper Marca, which will broadcast the matches through its website. Since the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo was made official at the end of 2022, television revenues from this league have increased by nearly 650%. However, they want to be cautious. “It’s not massive revenue to fund all the activities we have, but it certainly is a significant move,” the Saudi soccer league’s chief operating officer said.
Soccer is not the only sport they seek to exploit. The government has created a sovereign wealth fund to make all kinds of investments in sports. Saudi Arabia will be in charge of celebrating the 2029 Winter Olympic Games. In addition, it has the creation of Liv Golf, a new circuit that has put traditional tournaments in check. It is also making great challenges in the motor world. Since 2021 they have held a Formula 1 Grand Prix, in MotoGP last year they acquired a race and, in addition, the Dakar rally will be held in the country until 2029. The latest acquisition has been in tennis: the Saudi land will host the ATP Finals for the next five years.