World Cup qualification to kick Saudi clubs’ brands into big leagues

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Happy days have returned to Saudi Arabian football following the national team’s qualification for next year’s World Cup. The side made it to Russia thanks to a 1-0 victory over Japan last Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 14 September 2017
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World Cup qualification to kick Saudi clubs’ brands into big leagues

LONDON: When Fahad Al-Muwallad fired in the winner that saw Saudi Arabia beat Japan last Tuesday, he not only sent the Green Falcons to next year’s World Cup but also gave a huge boost to the potential brand value of local football clubs.
That’s the view of industry insiders who claim there is nothing like a World Cup campaign to get the public not just behind their team, but also more focused on football in general.
As part of the country’s Vision 2030 plan, whereby dependence on oil is set to be reduced and the economy diversified, government-owned football clubs are to be put up for sale with profits set to be spent on promoting social well-being and healthy lifestyles.
Given the planned privatizations, the timing of the win over Japan — which will see coach Bert van Marwijk’s men set to fly the flag for the country in Russia next summer — could not have come at a better time.
“The World Cup is the biggest tournament in sport and attracts an unrivaled level of interest. Strong performances by the Saudi Arabian team will trigger excitement domestically and perhaps more importantly internationally for football in the country,” Finn Dowley, sports analyst at the London-based business consultancy Brand Finance, told Arab News.
“Football club brands are reliant on strong on-field performance and individual player brands. The World Cup will thrust Saudi Arabia’s star players into the spotlight which will directly benefit the brands of the clubs they play for.”
The Saudi national team has long been one of the most successful in the Middle East and Asia. The Green Falcons have played in the World Cup finals four times and won the Asian Cup three times.
But amid the boom in sports finances and growth of football into a megabucks business, Saudi Arabia’s national team has been somewhat sidelined, having last qualified for the World Cup in 2006.
Local clubs already have strong and solid support, but given the increased exposure during the World Cup tournament in Russia, could now see a boost ahead of the privatization plans.
“It is important to remember that sports clubs in Saudi Arabia include a number of sports — not only the football teams — however, it is fair to say that in terms of core support and fan appeal the football teams are the key assets,” Steve Bainbridge, head of Al Tamimi & Company’s Sports and Events Management practice, told Arab News.
“Assuming there is significant interest from the private sector and robust bidding, and there are many reasons to believe this will indeed be the case, we can anticipate that the private-sector bidders, having performed rigorous due diligence, will feel confident they can increase brand values and commercialize the associated assets to increase and diversify revenues.”
The key to making a success of any privatized clubs is to increase commercial revenue, specifically through merchandise and sponsorship. And once again World Cup qualification is predicted to help any plans the new club owners and their commercial teams may have. The model the owners would seek to copy is likely to be, as you would expect, that used by the big European clubs such as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
“The primary revenue-driver (will be) brand value, which should be maintained, enhanced and leveraged through multiple channels including ticket revenues, merchandise sales, broadcast revenues and club sponsorship, etc.” Bainbridge said.
“Subsequent to a privatization, we can anticipate that new owners may bring private-sector expertise to support their strategic investment in and development of the assets.”
Dowley added: “The growth of Saudi football club brands will depend on levels of investment and quality of brand management. Savvy owners will look to industry and market specialists to develop their brands in order to maximize financial return.”


Saudi Arabia ‘has a case’ in complaint over World Cup ‘politicization’ by Qatar’s BeIN

Updated 21 June 2018
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Saudi Arabia ‘has a case’ in complaint over World Cup ‘politicization’ by Qatar’s BeIN

  • Broadcast of political messages in coverage forbidden, analyst confirms.
  • Saudi football federation urges FIFA to sanction the Doha-owned channel.

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has a justified case in complaining to FIFA over the “politicization” of the World Cup by the Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports, a prominent TV analyst has said.
A flurry of comments by hosts and pundits aired on BeIN’s Arabic station prompted the Saudi Arabian Football Federation to complain to FIFA this week, saying the broadcaster was using the football tournament to spread political messages aimed at insulting Saudi Arabia and its leaders.
In its complaint, the federation called on FIFA to take severe sanctions against the Qatari channel and to abolish the rights granted to the network.
One BeIN commentator accused Saudi Arabia of “selling out the Palestinian cause,” while a Doha-based international footballer invited on the channel was allowed to call for an end to the year-long boycott of Qatar by neighbors Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain.
Constantinos Papavassilopoulos, principal TV research analyst at IHS Markit Technology, said that politicized coverage was expressly forbidden by world football’s governing body as well as the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).
“FIFA and UEFA forbid the transmission of political messages during football matches for which they control the rights. It’s not only comments by the broadcasters — but even banners; everything (political) is forbidden,” the analyst told Arab News.
“So messages about Palestine, about political things, are not allowed.”
Papavassilopoulos said that if there is evidence of such cases, authorities in the Kingdom would be justified in taking the matter to FIFA.
“If there are video clips that show BeIN media personnel speaking against Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia has a case,” he said.
But whether FIFA will take any action against BeIN is another matter. Papavassilopoulos pointed to the fact that BeIN is a valued client of FIFA — it bought the rights to host the World Cup across the Middle East and North Africa — and that Qatar plans to host the tournament in 2022.
“BeIN media is a very good client for FIFA. And don’t forget that Qatar is the country that will host the 2022 World Cup,” he said. “It’s going to be very very hard for FIFA to impose penalties on BeIN media knowing that Qatar will hold the next World Cup.”
Some of the biggest names in Arab sport have signed a petition to protest against BeIN’s politicization of World Cup coverage, urging FIFA President Gianni Infantino to investigate the coverage.
FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Arab News.