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As a sovereign entity that invests in a variety of assets, including technology, real estate, infrastructure, etc., the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), as recently as 2021, attained an 80% stake in Newcastle United, an English Premier League football team. PIF has made several investments in, toward, and also surrounding Newcastle United since the $305 million takeover, and roughly one year after the acquisition (in 2022), the club signed a new $100 million sponsorship deal with Saudi Telecom Company and has since invested in the club’s infrastructure, including a new training ground and a new stadium. Since PIF has been holding the reigns of NU, the club has been deemed to be one of the richest in the world, with one of the largest followings in the league averaging 50,000 supporters, finishing 11th in the Premier League in the 2021-22 season (their highest ranking since the 2016-2017 season), and based on 1v1 performance stats they currently rank 3rd in the league.
The range of investments made by the PIF has been impressive aside from the aforementioned 100 million sponsorship deal with Saudi Telecom, training ground, and stadium. They’ve since invested in signing numerous high-profile players like center midfielder Bruno Guimaraes for $40 Million, forward Chris Wood for 25 million pounds (who departed from the club as recently as January of this year), and right-back defender Kieran Trippier for $12 million, to name a few, and also invested in the hiring of Eddie Howe who’s responsible for managing the team.
PIF has played its part in terms of making sure all the right pieces are in place on the field, which has given a shot of adrenaline to the ambition of the club alongside their fanbase and supporters. For Saudi nationals, however, the question might be, “What good does this investment into a British Football club do for Saudi Arabia?” It is a justified question that has multiple answers spanning several different sectors, all of which in the end could be summed up as “the future.” From a government sense, better relations with foreign countries and a more positive outlook of the KSA by the world’s populous are two initial intended outcomes, which at the same time would usher in potential business opportunities that wouldn’t necessarily have come otherwise, ultimately benefitting several sectors.
Some of the economic benefits could be an increase in tourism revenue, impacting many of the smaller businesses that either cater to or house visitors from afar. Let’s not forget, worldwide fans of Newcastle United have surpassed 100 million people, resulting in an enormous platform to showcase the best of the Kingdom, and (in one way or another) can promote people to come and visit, see the sights, taste the culture, and invest in some of the many opportunities that the country has to offer. This isn’t to suggest that the team should be used as an overpriced propaganda tool, but through common sense, attention to detail, and wisdom behind the wheel, the benefits can come to the KSA naturally, honestly, and diversly.
Prof. Alaa Alghamdi
Saudi Scholar & Writer