As the rise of sport in Saudi Arabia continues, we spoke to Dean Akinjobi, of Football Media, as he discussed the commercial opportunity that awaits brands in the region.
InsiderSport: Firstly, can you share with us some more detail on the commercial opportunity for brands when completing partnerships in Saudi Arabia?
Dean Akinjobi: I think that the commercial opportunity is highly significant for brands when partnering with organisations and clubs in Saudi Arabia. You only have to look at the recent growth of football in the region.
The huge levels of investment in football growth in Saudi Arabia will continue as it is part of their vision 2030 strategy, a government program aimed at achieving the goal of increased diversification economically, socially and culturally.
The Saudi Pro League is one part of a much larger strategy, therefore, the commercial opportunity for brands is one that will be very lucrative in the long term. It enables them to be part of a structure that is being built upon economic, social and cultural diversification that will present significant opportunities to engage with new and emerging audiences and target demographics, that will provide future business growth opportunities.
InsiderSport: How crucial is it that Saudi sporting events continue to choose the right global broadcasters for maximum engagement?
DA: I think that the selection of the right global broadcasters and global marketing channels is of key importance to deliver maximum engagement.
When you take into consideration the Saudi government’s objective of increasing tourism and business in the region as part of a long-term diversified economy, the value of global broadcast rights alone for top tier sporting events in Saudi could become a key revenue channel for the country.
This is especially the case when you consider the commercial value of broadcast rights in other countries, for example, in the UK where for the period between 2022 and 2025, domestic media rights for the Premier League is worth $6.3bn(£5bn), while the value of international rights reached a record $6.55bn.
A key driver of this is the Premier League product itself and how the league is marketed as a brand to global audiences. The Saudi Pro League can eventually generate significant global broadcast revenue, as the influx of high-profile players continues, the demand for the broadcast rights will become even more competitive and lucrative, therefore creating a key revenue channel for Saudi Arabia across football and other key sports events, that has the potential to generate billions.
InsiderSport: What do you believe brands can do to maximise the global eyes on sporting events in Saudi Arabia?
DA: Brands can maximise the global eyes on sporting events in Saudi Arabia through activating their brand presence across digital in their target regions before, during and after events. Some of the activities and strategies that Football Media is working on with our clients include:
Pre-event – working on a strategy that includes event build up marketing, this can be done through exclusive advertising around official images related to the event, being used by global publishers, through the implementation of image meta data targeting.
Brand-led, pre-event video content that is distributed across digital with an offer-led promotion around brands, products and services, which can be linked to the event. This will enable brands to be part of the conversation prior to the event, with an amplification strategy across digital advertising and social, using micro influencers that are aligned with the sporting event.
During the event – a strategy led around social and mobile data targeting, offering customers the opportunity to stay updated on the live event through a brands channel, this can include an event specific app, live match or event blogs for audiences that might be out whilst the event is being broadcast live.
Post event – implementation of a post-event strategy around the online watchalongs, where fans can review and discuss the highlights of the event with current players, ex-players and or influencers, within an exclusive brand focused digital environment.
InsiderSport: What has experience been like for yourselves when doing deals with brands in Saudi Arabia?
DA: Our experience when doing deals with brands in Saudi Arabia has been very good. One of the key areas is understanding the culture and what brands want to achieve as well as the ever-changing landscape that Saudi Arabia is and will go through as part of the Vision 2030 strategy, along with the current and new audience and demographic growth opportunities that this will present to brands.
InsiderSport: What do you believe Saudi Arabia can do to become a region that is known for sporting prestige and not just being a lucrative sporting destination?
DA: I think that when you look at Saudi Arabia’s strategic objectives, an initial strategy of positioning and creating the country as a lucrative sporting destination makes sense, as the country needs to first build a foundation that helps to increase international and domestic tourism.
What Saudi Arabia can do to be known for sporting prestige is the following:
Attract some of the most decorated sporting coaches and directors to create a grassroots program of producing the world’s best sporting talent from Saudi Arabia. The youth of Saudi Arabia are currently naturally being inspired by all of the changes happening in the country, from the influx of some of the world’s best football players, through to some of the world’s best sporting events being held in Saudi Arabia.
Global collaborations with the world’s best international sports teams, research institutes, sports doctors, and universities, where strategic partnerships can be formed and best in class ideas and resources are developed to create Saudi Arabia as a nation known for sporting prestige.
Creation of best-in-class sporting infrastructure that can be used to host more international events and warm weather training facilities for international sports teams and athletes.
Annual pre-season matches hosting some of the best teams in the world playing against Saudi Pro League teams, supported by the development of strategic international football club partnerships, where young players can gain experience on loan playing in the Saudi Pro League.
InsiderSport: Do you think we will see growth of women’s sport in Saudi Arabia and what do you think this could mean for the region’s status on a global scale?
DA: Yes, I think we will see the growth of women’s sport in Saudi Arabia and football will be a key driver of this. We are already seeing players from Europe and other parts of the world moving to play in the Saudi Women’s Premier League and I expect this trend to continue.
As women’s football continues to grow globally, Saudi Arabia will want to have the world’s best women’s football players playing in the league and I foresee the implementation of a similar strategy that is being used in the men’s game to achieve this objective for Saudi women’s football.
InsiderSport: Is there still hesitancy from brands over the political and reputational impact of partnerships in Saudi Arabia?
DA: Subject to the brand, geopolitical factors can be a consideration when making marketing or sponsorship investment decisions.
However, we haven’t come across much hesitancy, at Football Media our process is based upon selecting and presenting our digital advertising, sponsorships and sponsorship activation propositions for Saudi Arabia to clients and brands that can see the vision and journey that Saudi Arabia is on across sports, tourism and business, and where being part of this journey can benefit brands to engage with new and emerging audience across a region that is developing on multiple fronts.
With any new and emerging market, there are always going to be challenges but working through these challenges in the case of Saudi Arabia, with a level brand and cultural awareness, is the key to creating collaborative long-term relationships and success.