New era for Roshn Saudi League with more fans and more goals resulting in growth, engagement and entertainment worldwide

Update New era for Roshn Saudi League with more fans and more goals resulting in growth, engagement and entertainment worldwide
Al-Hilal’s Brazilian forward Neymar during the Saudi Pro League football match between Al-Hilal and Al-Riyadh at Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium in Riyadh on Sept.15. (AFP)
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Updated 23 September 2023
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New era for Roshn Saudi League with more fans and more goals resulting in growth, engagement and entertainment worldwide

New era for Roshn Saudi League with more fans and more goals resulting in growth, engagement and entertainment worldwide
  • 26.3 percent more goals each week from younger squads help increase live matchday attendance by 25 percent in first six weeks of the season
  • 94 leading international players secured in registration window through new centralized approach to transfers and governance

RIYADH: In a new era for the Roshn Saudi League — Saudi Pro League — there has been considerable impact following the first month of the new 2023/24 season.

The introduction of world-class international talent to the league has resulted in significant engagement across local and international fans, increases in match-day attendance — as well as a rise in broadcasting revenue and digital growth.

After the six rounds of fixtures already completed ahead of the international break, attendance figures show a total of 440,003 across the stadiums, with a 25 percent increase on last year’s attendances for the same period, a study by the Saudi Pro League has revealed.

There is real evidence of growth on the pitch this season, with marquee signings such as Neymar, Karim Benzema, Roberto Firmino and many more in a highly competitive league alongside five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo.

With 94 overseas signings made this season through the newly launched Player Acquisition Center of Excellence, there are now 152 players from 47 different countries forming 29.1 percent of the player pool in the SPL. The new signings are integrating with Saudi Arabia national team players, including the successful Under-23 squad who won the 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup.

This forms part of the SPL and Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s strategy to foster and develop local young talent alongside the best international players, as part of a drive to increase competitiveness on and off the pitch while ensuring a sustainable future.

The average age of players so far this season has been reduced by two years, falling from an average of 29-years-old to 27-years-old, across international and domestic players.

Results such as Al-Hilal’s thrilling 4-3 victory at Al-Ittihad, after trailing 3-1 in the Saudi El Clasico, also offer compelling evidence of an exciting product showcased globally. This was further reinforced by a goals average that has increased by 26.3 percent to 27.1 per week for the first six weeks of the fixtures, compared to 17 goals per week for the same period last term.

Saudi Pro League Director of Football Michael Emenalo said: “The Saudi Pro League has undergone a rapid and unprecedented transformation this season, where we have seen 94 players bought from around the world providing a centralized approach to governance, transfers, squad mapping and player care. It’s also allowed us to help to create clear developmental pathways for Saudi youth while also giving them immediate playing opportunities.”

On-the-pitch success has also aided off-the-pitch growth and the league’s ambitions across commercial, broadcast and digital channels.

There has been significant interest from local, regional and global brands, which will see the number of sponsors grow by about 75 percent this season, which would result in the SPL becoming the globe’s third most profitable league in sponsorship revenue.

Around the world, sports fans have engaged with the new season thanks to the network of international broadcast deals through 38 broadcasters. The league has deals across 140 territories with matches shown live on DAZN in multiple markets — Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany and the UK — as well as major European broadcasters including Canal+ (France), Sport TV (Portugal), La 7 (Italy), Marca.com (Spain) and Cosmote (Greece).

These high-profile broadcast deals have caused a big increase in engagement with football fans around the world, and also increased league revenue by 650 percent, evidence of the SPL’s successful transformation strategy to grow revenue for league and clubs while increasing the commercial value of the league and attracting investors.

The leading international top 10 players across social media have combined connections of 1.5 billion — with 40 percent of that audience aged between 18-24 as the league reaches younger, more global, audiences.

While attendance and viewing figures are on the rise, there is further evidence of an increased interest in the Roshn Saudi League across younger audiences, with an organic growth of 1.5 million new social media followers across platforms including Instagram, Facebook, TikTok Snapchat and X, and data showing more than 150 million video views so far this season across all platforms.

Highlighting the international appeal of Saudi football, a newly launched official English Instagram account has attracted more than 200,000 followers in just a number of weeks, while Brazil, KSA, Morocco and Egypt have the highest number of followers per country.

Carlo Nohra, chief operating officer of the Saudi Pro League, said: “This is an exciting time for fans of football in Saudi, we are witnessing something very special. The combination of international stars and young Saudi talent is generating genuine excitement on and off the pitch, and also raising standards to the highest possible level among our own player pool in Saudi.

“The raised levels of interest in the Roshn Saudi League, both by football fans in the Kingdom and around the world, and in terms of the unprecedented number of potential global sponsorship opportunities, are clear evidence that the strategy is starting to work.

“We have a more competitive product, on and off the pitch, and we are moving to the next level in both areas, in line with our strategy. The next phase for us on this wonderful journey will be building infrastructure and developing the league further off the pitch, while ensuring we have a world-class product that engages and excites on the pitch,” he said.


Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad

Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad
Updated 23 February 2024
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Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad

Al-Hilal book Asian Champions League quarter-final clash with Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad
  • After a scare when they fell behind to Sepahan of Iran, Al-Hilal rallied to win the game 3-1 and go through 6-2 on aggregate
  • With Al-Nassr winning on Wednesday and Al-Ittihad successful earlier on Thursday, Saudi Arabia has three teams in the last eight of the competition

Al-Hilal defeated Sepahan of Iran 6-2 on aggregate on Thursday to book a mouth-watering Asian Champions League quarter-final tie against Saudi Pro League rivals Al-Ittihad.

After winning the first leg 3-1 away from home last week, the four-time winners of the competition survived a scare in the second leg before comfortably clinching victory by the same scoreline.

This was a bit harsh on the visitors, who played their part in an entertaining and open clash during which both sides created plenty of chances. In the end, however, as Neymar watched from the stands, the Saudis progressed comfortably, helped along the way when Sepahan were reduced to 10 men while ahead in the second half.

Salem Al-Dawsari, making his 400th appearance for the club, got the equalizer in the 76th minute, after Farshad Ahmadzadeh put the visitors in front nine minutes after the break. With just seven minutes left on the clock, Ruben Neves came up with a spectacular strike that gave Al-Hilal the lead, and there was still time for Aleksandar Mitrovic to add a third.

In the end, it was a more comfortable result for Al-Hilal than looked likely in the 54th minute, when Ali Aarabi swung over a cross from the left and Ramin Rezaeian headed the ball back across the face of goal for Ahmadzadeh to bundle home from close range.

The sparked plenty of nerves among the home fans in the Kingdom Arena but they were able to breathe a little easier when, with 19 minutes remaining, the visitors were reduced to 10 men. Siavash Yazadni brought down Malcom as the Brazilian was running through on goal and, after a check with the video assistant referee, he was shown a straight red card.

Al-Hilal quickly took advantage of the one-man advantage when, five minutes later, Ali Al-Bulaihi found Al-Dawsari outside the area and the winger turned to beat two defenders, then stroked the ball home. At that point, the home fans could rest easy in the knowledge that their team were as good as through to the last eight.

It was a fine goal by Al-Dawsari but just six minutes later, Neves pulled something even more special out of the hat. The ball fell to the Portuguese star outside the area, he chested it down and volleyed home a curling shot that flew into the top corner.

In the final moments of added time, Mitrovic scored a goal that might not live as long in the memory but showed his killer instinct as he swept home a smart pass from Malcom to make it 3-1.

With Al-Nassr winning on Wednesday and Al-Ittihad successful earlier on Thursday, Saudi Arabia has three teams in the last eight of the competition. The showdown between Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal is the quarter-final tie that many fans, inside and outside the country, will be most looking forward to. The first leg is scheduled for March 5.


Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal
Updated 22 February 2024
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Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal
  • The Jeddah giants leave it late but progress after a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Navbahor of Uzbekistan

Saudi Pro League side Al-Ittihad squeezed into the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on Thursday thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Navbahor of Uzbekistan, following a goalless draw in the first leg last week.

The Jeddah giants recovered from a Karim Bemzema own goal midway through the first half to take control of the game, level the score and eventually go through thanks to a late Navbahor own goal. It was no less than the Saudis deserved as they made most of the running and created the bulk of the chances.

Fabinho had the earliest opportunity to open the scoring but the former Liverpool midfielder fired just over the bar from outside the box.

The opening goal came from a familiar source but not in the way fans expected. The home crowd was silenced in the 25th minute when Jamshid Iskanderov floated over a free-kick from the right, and former Real Madrid star Benzema met it on the edge of the six-yard box to send a powerful header into his own net past a startled Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

The goal came out of nothing, against the run of play, but Al-Ittihad quickly regrouped, refocused their efforts and continued to dominate the game.

Benzema redeemed himself on the stroke of half-time, nodding down a corner to the near post where Abderrazak Hamdallah was waiting to sweep the ball home from close range.

The second half unfolded in much the same fashion, with Al-Ittihad enjoying most of the possession and creating more of the chances. Midway through the period, however, they were reminded of Navbahor’s goal threat when Filip Ivankovic fired just wide from the right side of the area.

With 15 minutes remaining, Benzema had the ball in the net, the correct one this time, when he fired home after some good work from Ahmed Hegazy. After a lengthy intervention, however, the video assistant referee ruled it out.

This only delayed the celebrations of the home fans, though, as three minutes from time the Tigers took a decisive lead, thanks to another own goal.

Substitute Saleh Al-Amri’s corner from the right failed to clear the first man but, in swinging a boot, Toma Tabatadze sliced his attempted clearance and the ball looped over the keeper into the far corner of the net.

Navbahor did their utmost to get back on level terms but time was against them and it was not to be. As a result, Al-Ittihad, back-to-back winners of the competition in 2004 and 2005, remain in the hunt for a third continental crown.


Saudi Arabia continue fine form with ICC World Cup Challenge League win over Kuwait

Saudi Arabia continue fine form with ICC World Cup Challenge League win over Kuwait
Updated 22 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia continue fine form with ICC World Cup Challenge League win over Kuwait

Saudi Arabia continue fine form with ICC World Cup Challenge League win over Kuwait
  • The 50-over competition serves as a preliminary qualifier for the World Cup
  • The Greens went into the opening Group B match full of confidence, having recently won the 20-over ACC Challenger Cup in Thailand

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s cricketers beat Gulf rivals Kuwait on Thursday in the ICC Cricket World Cup Challenge League play-off in Kuala Lumpur.
The 50-over competition serves as a preliminary qualifier for the World Cup, which is to be held in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia in 2027.
The Greens went into the opening Group B match full of confidence, having recently won the 20-over ACC Challenger Cup in Thailand as well as a quadrangular T20 series in Bangkok against the hosts, Maldives and Bhutan.

Saudi Arabia posted a solid total of 231 all over off the back of valuable contributions from Kashif Siddique, who scored 71 runs, star batter Abdul Waheed (40) and captain Hisham Shaikh (40).
Mohamed Shafeeq was best with the ball for Kuwait, finishing his innings with three wickets for 37 runs from his six overs.
In response, Kuwait’s batting line-up had little to offer in the face of efficient bowling from the Saudi attack.
Kuwaiti captain Mohammad Aslam showed some mettle and grit by batting for a 57-run half-century from 84 balls, but he was the only one to offer any resistance as Kuwait were bowled out for just 134 runs, some 97 runs short of the Saudi total.
Usman Najeeb was the pick of the Saudi bowlers as he picked up three wickets and conceded only 23 runs, while Ishtiaq Ahmad and skipper Shaikh claimed two wickets apiece.
In their next Group B encounter, Saudi Arabia face an Italian side riding high after beating one-time World Cup participants Bermuda by a commanding 157 runs.


Milan and Benfica book spots in Europa League last 16

Milan and Benfica book spots in Europa League last 16
Updated 22 February 2024
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Milan and Benfica book spots in Europa League last 16

Milan and Benfica book spots in Europa League last 16
  • Benjamin Bourigeaud scored a hat-trick for Rennes, including a pair of penalties
  • Benfica also saw off French opposition as a 0-0 draw away to Toulouse

PARIS: AC Milan overcame a spirited Rennes 5-3 on aggregate despite a 3-2 loss in Thursday’s second leg to reach the Europa League last 16, where they will be joined by fellow former European champions Benfica.
Benjamin Bourigeaud scored a hat-trick for Rennes, including a pair of penalties, but goals from Luka Jovic and Rafael Leao ensured Milan were never really in danger of blowing a 3-0 lead from the first leg.
Benfica also saw off French opposition as a 0-0 draw away to Toulouse was enough to send the Portuguese side through following their 2-1 victory in last week’s first leg in Lisbon.
Marseille host Shakhtar Donetsk later in Jean-Louis Gasset’s first match at the helm following the exit of Gennaro Gattuso. The tie is level at 2-2 after the opening match in Hamburg.
Last season’s runners-up Roma take on Feyenoord in the Italian capital after a 1-1 draw in the first leg.
Sporting Lisbon are 3-1 up on Swiss champions Young Boys going into the return fixture, while Galatasaray have a 3-2 edge over Sparta Prague.
The draw for the last 16 will be made at UEFA headquarters in Nyon on Friday.


Kompany driven by family history as Burnley battle drop

Kompany driven by family history as Burnley battle drop
Updated 22 February 2024
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Kompany driven by family history as Burnley battle drop

Kompany driven by family history as Burnley battle drop
  • The Clarets are on course for relegation after a 5-0 hammering at home to Arsenal left them in 19th place
  • Offering an emotional account of his inner drive, Kompany said on Thursday: “It’s a deep answer, it’s about where you come from”

LONDON: Burnley boss Vincent Kompany has revealed his father’s experiences as a political refugee give him the drive and determination to lead the club’s fight for Premier League survival.
The Clarets are on course for relegation after a 5-0 hammering at home to Arsenal left them in 19th place with just three wins this season, but Kompany’s resolve has roots far beyond the football pitch.
Explaining his hunger to succeed, the former Manchester City captain cited his father Pierre, who fled what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo for Belgium as a dissident in 1975 having protested against the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko.
He put his son on the path to a glittering sporting career and later became Belgium’s first black mayor.
Offering an emotional account of his inner drive, Kompany said on Thursday: “It’s a deep answer, it’s about where you come from.
“Where I come from is my dad, who was a political refugee. He had to flee a country not just at war, but as a dictatorship where he was getting whipped in his twenties because he was against the regime over there.
“It’s fleeing from one part of the country to the other, it’s losing family members, it’s everything you’ve experienced. It’s where I come from.
“You say where does the drive and desire come from? I have so many reasons to have that fire in me every single day. So many reasons why I can’t ever do less.
“It’s bigger than one result, or a bad month, or anything like that.”
Kompany, whose side face fellow strugglers Crystal Palace on Saturday, also pushed back against the notion that this season’s struggles were a new experience for someone more accustomed to lifting silverware than fighting the drop.
“That’s the bulk of the known experiences, yeah. But a gambler never tells you about his losses, right?” he said.
“That (a serial winner) is what you see, but my experiences feel different. I do feel I’ve had to overcome and do a lot to get where I was.”