The deal

FIFA, global soccer’s governing body, recently confirmed a major global partnership with Saudi Arabian oil giant Aramco.

Aramco has claimed it intends to work with FIFA to “drive innovation, identifying opportunities to deploy the company’s expertise and technologies in the delivery of football events globally.”

This includes initiatives that aim to provide “new and innovative ways” for fans to engage with FIFA’s events.

The two parties will also collaborate on social initiatives, it has been claimed.

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FIFA will now no doubt be looking for other major Saudi firms to come on board as partners – particularly for a Saudi men's World Cup in 2034.

The organization brought on Gazprom, the state-owned Russian energy giant, as a sponsor for the Russia 2018 edition of the World Cup, while Qatar Airways was a commercial partner last year when Qatar hosted the first-ever World Cup to take place in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia became the sole bidder for the 2034 World Cup in late October when Australia withdrew from the bidding process just before a FIFA deadline (only submissions from Asian and Oceanic countries were eligible because of FIFA’s rotation method for selecting hosts).

There is an ongoing and growing conversation currently taking place across world sports about exactly why Saudi is pursuing this significant sporting events policy, with many accusing the kingdom of sports washing – using the positive publicity and interaction associated with major properties to sweep its dubious human rights record under the carpet.

Aramco has been moving further into the world of sports sponsorships in recent years – particularly in cricket – but this represents its first major deal in soccer.

So far, Aramco has deals in place with motor racing’s iconic Formula 1, as well as with the International Cricket Council and the Indian Premier League domestic cricket competition.

Conrad Wiacek, head of analysis and consulting at Sportcal (GlobalData Sport), said: “FIFA's deal with Aramco is perhaps the strongest indicator that a World Cup will be held in Saudi Arabia.

“As with previous Aramco deals with the likes of F1 which predated an event taking place in the kingdom, as well as seeing the likes of Qatar Airways partner with FIFA ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a deal with one of the biggest brands in a country is a strong indicator as to the future direction of travel for FIFA.

“Given the fact that Saudi Arabia has made no secret of its desire to host major sporting events and given the World Cup has already been moved from summer to winter to accommodate the weather in a host nation, there is no reason why this cannot happen again. Aramco has essentially invested in FIFA to ensure that this is the case.”

The details

Initial reports of FIFA’s deal with Aramco last year claimed it would run until the 2034 World Cup and be worth $100 million annually, becoming FIFA’s most lucrative commercial partnership.

However, the unveiled tie-up is instead – for the time being – only until the end of 2027.

Under a four-year agreement, the company becomes FIFA’s major worldwide partner exclusive in the energy category, with sponsorship rights for multiple events including the 2026 men’s World Cup and 2027 Women’s World Cup.

Aramco becomes FIFA’s sixth global partner – joining Adidas, Coca-Cola, Qatar Airways (renewed last November), Hyundai, and Visa.