Plan signals Riyadh’s ambition to expand its push into football, golf, tennis and beyond
Saudi Arabia plans to launch a multibillion-dollar investment company to expand its sports interests following its power grab in golf and success in English football, according to two people familiar with the matter
The sports group, which will be part of the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, will have a war chest to fund its expansion, according to one of the people, in a sign that Riyadh is committed to making further acquisitions, investments and joint ventures in football, tennis and other sports.
The $650bn Public Investment Fund has made a string of sports investments in recent years, flexing its financial might in a sector disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The drive has attracted criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and accusations that the kingdom is “sportswashing” its international reputation. Government officials say it is part of an ambitious overhaul of the economy, which they are seeking to diversify beyond the oil sector while attracting tourism and investment.
“After the World Cup there’s definitely been a sense of bullishness to invest in global sports,” said a person familiar with the PIF’s strategy. “It was driven by the fact that Qatar did it so well, and Saudi Arabia’s performance in the World Cup. There’s been a noticeable sea change in how they look at global sports.”
Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at Skema Business School in Paris, said Saudi Arabia’s push into sport was in some ways “nothing new”, drawing comparisons with previous investments by Qatar and Abu Dhabi.
However, he added that the “scale and speed” of Riyadh’s spending was unprecedented, and had the potential to leave a lasting impact across the sector.
“Saudi Arabia is now shaping the commercial, industrial and geopolitical networks of sport,” he said. “It’s beginning to test the limits of rules and governance.”
PIF officials were not immediately available for comment.
The PIF created a rift in the world of golf when it launched the LIV circuit last year, spending billions to lure top players away from the US PGA Tour to set up a new team-based tournament. But last month the two tours agreed a truce, ending a protracted court battle and agreeing to merge their commercial interests.
The sovereign fund is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler who has tasked the PIF with steering his country’s economic reform plan, increasingly centralising targeted sectors including sports under the sovereign wealth fund.
PIF governor Yasir al-Rumayyan is set to chair the partnership between LIV and the PGA, which still faces significant opposition among US lawmakers.
He also chairs Newcastle United, the English football club the sovereign wealth fund bought in 2021. The team, which was struggling at the time of the acquisition, finished fourth in last season’s Premier League to qualify for the Uefa Champions League, the top European competition.
Neither LIV Golf nor Newcastle United will fall under the new company, according to one person familiar with the matter, who said it would be focusing on new opportunities.
The company’s launch will coincide with the PIF asserting a bigger role in the kingdom’s football ambitions, which include strengthening its clubs at home. The country has this year lured late-career football stars including Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to its league with lucrative contracts, while also poaching younger players. The PIF also recently announced it would take over four of the largest domestic football clubs.
The Financial Times reported last month that the sovereign fund had also held talks with the men’s ATP tennis tour over potential events and investments.
The PIF has sought to centralise sectors by creating national champions to oversee strategy and investments.
The new sports company could adopt the same approach the PIF has taken towards the gaming industry with its investment company Savvy.
The company, which is chaired by Prince Mohammed and has a $38bn war chest, has spent almost $8bn on acquisitions over the past 18 months in what one analyst described as a “bulldozer approach,” snapping up among others the US-based games developer Scopely for $5bn.