Is the Saudi Pro League About to Borrow LIV Golf’s Approach?

Big changes are afoot for the league

Saudi Pro League
Cristiano Ronaldo gestures as Nassr's Saudi goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah and Nassr's Saudi defender Sultan al-Ghanam look on during the Saudi Pro League football match between Al-Nassr and Al-Ettifaq.
AFP via Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Al-Nassr of the Saudi Pro League last year landed the aforementioned league on the radar of a lot more soccer enthusiasts than had kept tabs on it before. But that massive signing wasn’t the extent of the league’s plans; aging superstars like Karim Benzema and Lionel Messi have also been associated with moves there. And if two recent stories are any indication, we’re going to hear about a lot more moves of this ilk in the coming years.

On June 2, the New York Times reported that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund — best-known in the sports world for its ownership of LIV Golf and Newcastle United — was assembling a pool of funds that teams could use to attract big-name soccer stars. A few days later, The Athletic offered more details, including that the Public Investment Fund was taking control of four of the Saudi Pro League’s largest teams.

Specifically, the PIF will have a 75% stake in four teams: Al Ahli, Al Ittihad, Al Hilal and Al Nassr. The goal of these manuevers is, as per the article, raising the value of the league by more than double.

The idea of bringing in big names for absurdly high salaries is one used by a host of up-and-coming leagues, though it’s far from a guaranteed recipe for success. The Times article cites the example of the Chinese Super League, which briefly attracted stars in their prime — but which eventually saw its own ambitious plans effectively implode.

There are also, obviously, parallels between this and LIV Golf’s model; in other words, attracting big names with far more money than they can expect to make anywhere else.

It Sure Seems Like the Saudi Pro League is Looking to Splurge on Aging Soccer Stars
Lionel Messi isn’t the only big name linked to the league

This latest development for the Saudi Pro League does raise some questions — including what the ancillary goals are. Is the Public Investment Fund looking to create a league whose television rights can be sold for substantial revenue? (There, at least, LIV Golf’s example might not inspire optimism.) Is the goal to make the Saudi men’s national team more of a global name? This looks like a considerable investment — but the measure of its success isn’t entirely clear.

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