The Impact of Saudi Arabia’s Spending Spree on Football: A 360-Degree Look

John Deer Jeje Laye
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The Impact of Saudi Arabia’s Spending Spree on Football: A 360-Degree Look

This summer, Saudi Arabia’s spending spree on football has been the focus of the athletic world. The country’s teams have spent almost €700 million on new players, which is second only to the English Premier League in terms of total transfer spending. With the huge wages being offered to pry players away from the bright lights of European football, the real number is likely to be far higher.

One of the major long-term beneficiaries of this trend is Fifa, the worldwide governing body of football, while agents get their cut and aging greats cash in one final time.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the 38-year-old Portuguese winger and the most followed man on Instagram, arrived in Saudi Arabia in January to launch the country’s new football project. In June, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund was given the green light and the funds to make headlines when it was awarded control of the four most prominent clubs in the kingdom.

More than two dozen players have joined the club since then, including Neymar, the world’s most expensive footballer, and former Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema.A number of promising young players have also transferred.

A lot of ink has been written trying to figure out what’s behind the recent attempt to make the Saudi Pro League more of a big deal. The effort to promote the despotic country as a sport and leisure destination is seen by some as little more than a sportwashing project. Some have called it an honest (though pricey) effort to get young Saudis out of their homes and into the gym.

The sport of football as a whole has been affected by the arrival of a new financial avenue. European clubs that have overstaffed their rosters have welcomed this financial relief, while others have had to spend to replace players who left for no apparent reason.

Fifa, led by President Gianni Infantino, stands to gain the most from this. The men’s World Cup provides more than 80% of the institution’s revenues, hence there has been an effort to diversify revenue streams.

In the four-year cycle ending in 2022, Fifa earned $7.6 billion from television rights fees, corporate sponsorships, and ticket sales. The English Premier League may earn the same amount in one season, whereas Uefa can earn the same amount from the Champions League in half that time.

Infantino has plans to revamp the Club World Cup and essentially create a new tournament. Although it has been in some form since 2000, the new edition, debuting in 2025 and involving 32 teams from across the world competing in a month-long event modeled after the World Cup, promises to be a game-changer.

The 2021 Asian Champions League champions, Al-Hilal of Riyadh, are one of the clubs that have already qualified for the 2025 tournament. To what extent the Saudis intend to build a team full of superstars capable of competing on the world stage is suggested by the fact that the club is the highest net spender in football this summer.

The addition of well-funded teams from beyond Uefa’s control should increase competition, spark interest, and introduce new ideas to Fifa’s endeavor. Broadcasters that are on the fence about airing this new tournament could be persuaded by a hypothetical group stage in which Al-Hilal faces Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Inter Miami. You can bank on Saudi Arabia securing sponsorship and possibly even a bid to host the World Cup.

Fifa estimates that it will make more than $10 billion over the course of the next four years. Money made from the Club World Cup was not factored into that total. Having Saudi Arabia on board is sure to increase that figure.