In an unprecedented move, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has taken 75% stakes in four of the Kingdom’s leading football clubs as the country prepares to host the 2027 Asian Cup – and potentially the 2030 FIFA World Cup.
Each team - Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr and Al Hilal - will be managed by non-profit foundations, which will own 25% of each club. The move to bring Saudi clubs under the PIF umbrella follows its acquisition of 80% of English Premier League side Newcastle United that valued the club at GBP300 million (US$330 million). Newcastle has gone from strength to strength due to a constant stream of Saudi capital in club development – including more than GBP200 million (US$220 million) in players.
The plans bolster PIF’s development of a massive sports and leisure portfolio, as part of the country’s Vision 2030 objectives and form part of the Sport Clubs Investment and Privatisation Project. It aims to raise the Saudi Pro League’s commercial annual revenues from SAR450 million in 2022 to more than SAR1.8 billion while generating private sector investment opportunities and increasing the market value of the Roshn Saudi League from SAR3 billion to more than SAR8 billion by 2030.
Sport is integral to Vision 2030 with football at the forefront of the diversification push. In 2022, PIF committed more than US$2 billion to several new long-term football sponsorship deals, including deals between PIF subsidiaries Qiddiya and Jeddah Central with teams such as Al Nassr and Al Hilal, as well as real estate development company Roshn’s five-year contract to title sponsor the Saudi Pro League.
PIF is involved in even bolder ambitions for international football. In February, Saudi Arabia was awarded the hosting rights to stage the AFC Asian Cup 2027. It was also announced that Saudi Arabia will be hosting the 2029 Asian Winter Games, and the country appears to be setting its sights on staging a future edition of the Olympics. PIF-backed NEOM city has the ambition to become a major global sports destination, including plans for football stadiums, cricket pitches, and athletic facilities, which will put it at the center of Saudi Arabia’s sport ambitions.
The Gulf nation is pushing to host the 2030 Fifa World Cup, potentially launching a joint bid with Egypt and Greece, which would inevitably see PIF’s portfolio companies heavily involved in investment. Saudi Arabia has reportedly offered to fund stadium construction in Greece and Egypt in return for an agreement for it to host three-quarters of the fixtures. Neither of the de facto junior partners in the proposals have responded.
Beyond the world of sports, PIF is also building a leisure empire centered on gaming. In April, Savvy Games, a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), purchased Scopely, which owns several popular franchises, for US$4.9 billion. In its aggressive push into the gaming industry, PIF is now the biggest foreign shareholder in Japan’s Nintendo.. The fund first started investing in Nintendo shares in May last year and raised its stake by more than 3% since the start of 2023. Since then, Nintendo has emerged as PIF’s second biggest public equity holding outside Saudi Arabia, after its massive stake in NYSE-listed Lucid Motors. At the same time, PIF’s gaming subsidiary Savvy Games Group pumped US$265 million into Tencent-backed VSPO, becoming the company’s largest equity holder.
Altogether, PIF’s major transactions in the gaming and e-sports sector total more than US$20.5 billion to date and the fund is still planning more acquisitions as well as adding value to its holdings. The scale of PIF’s ambition is far bigger than dominating the domestic market. And the signs are that PIF is looking to turn its planned futuristic NEOM City into the gaming equivalent of Silicon Valley.