Saudi Arabia’s tourism board Visit Saudi has become a global sponsor of Spanish soccer’s top-tier LaLiga.
The agreement will see LaLiga showcase Saudi Arabia as a year-round tourist destination, with LaLiga activities held in the kingdom to boost the profile of the league to potential fans in the country.
The sponsorship deal will be further developed through partnerships, collaborations, impactful sponsorship arrangements, digital content, and immersive consumer events.
Oscar Mayo, LaLiga executive director said: “Signing this agreement demonstrates our strong commitment to advancing sports and football science in the Arab world, as well as expanding our presence, and that of our clubs, in a relevant global sports hub.
“I am convinced that this remarkable partnership will truly touch fans’ emotions and empower them to feel the unifying power of football. Football and travel complement each other perfectly, serving as a means to connect and unite cultures all over the world.”
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Why it matters
LaLiga is keen to develop connections and alliances with the cash-rich kingdom as it looks to compete commercially with the soccer behemoth that is the English Premier League. However, questions have been raised about the involvement of LaLiga president Javier Tebas in the deal, who up until this point has been a fierce critic of the other petro-states investing in soccer.
He and the league have previously submitted financial fair play-based complaints about English soccer giants Manchester City, which is majority owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s Abu Dhabi United Group through the holding company City Football Group, as well as French champions Paris Saint-Germain, owned by Qatar Sports Investment, a subsidiary of the state-run sovereign wealth fund of Qatar.
In 2021, he criticized the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) for its deal struck with Saudi Arabia to stage the annual Spanish Supercup in the kingdom, accusing the country of “whitewashing their image.”
At the time he said: “One thing is to sell our broadcasting rights and the other thing is to go to that country where there are issues around human rights.
“We should not forget what happened in the Turkish embassy 18 months ago with another journalist [Jamal Khashoggi, and his murder]. We should not forget these things. This happened [the murder] in an embassy, not a bar and this is very serious, at least in my opinion. Money is not the only thing that matters.”
Conrad Wiacek, GlobalData’s head of sport analysis, said: “LaLiga signing a deal with Visit Saudi highlights the reach that the Saudi state now has into all levels of European soccer, and how European soccer sees the Saudi state as a cash cow to relieve all its self-inflicted financial problems.
“From bailing clubs out of transfer mistakes to sponsorship deals that are above market value, the desire of Saudi Arabia to diversify its economy using sport coincides nicely with the desire of European leagues to mask its own profligacy.
“The hypocrisy of Tebas, who in the past has criticized the flooding of ‘petro-dollars’ into soccer, should come as no surprise given the willingness of soccer administrators to say one thing and do another.
“The deal with Visit Saudi will boost the finances of LaLiga without question, but given Tebas’ position on the issue previously, it does raise eyebrows. It is no secret that LaLiga’s finances are in a perilous state, with only three transfers over $20m taking place in LaLiga this summer (compared to over 30 in the Premier League) and one of the league’s biggest clubs in Barcelona using every accounting trick in the book to be able to continue as a going concern.
“Having to chase the Premier League led to the half-baked Super League concept, a blatant attempt to neuter the Premier League’s commercial power, and while LaLiga stood against the Super League given it would have rendered Spain’s top division largely irrelevant, Tebas has shown he is not above sacrificing his moral high ground in the pursuit of a significant revenue stream.”
According to Spanish news outlet 2Playbook, the deal is worth more than €20 million ($21.7 million) per year.
The agreement comes as Saudi Arabia prepares to host the men’s FIFA Club World Cup in December. It will also stage the 2027 AFC Asian Cup and is bidding to host the Women’s Asian Cup for the first time in 2026.
The kingdom has emerged as a key player in sports investment and has poured billions into major events. However, it has been accused of using its financial prowess to launder its alleged human rights abuses, restrictions on women’s rights, and use of the death penalty.
Its latest project has been to bring high-profile players to its domestic league through lucrative contracts and high transfer fees, the latest being Brazilian superstar Neymar.
Earlier this month, meanwhile, the state-run Public Investment Fund launched a new sports investment company to “accelerate the growth of the sports sector” in its home country and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
While the kingdom has made several legal changes, including ending a ban on women driving and allowing women to apply for official documents and travel abroad independently, consensual same-sex conduct is strictly prohibited, punishable by death or flogging. Women’s rights campaigners have also been imprisoned.
The 2023 LaLiga season, meanwhile, started on August 11 and will end on May 26, 2024.
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