The Saudi Pro League must be one of the biggest football stories in the world right now. With the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) buying 75% of the biggest four clubs in the country, the league’s new cash injection could make it a big player on the football stage.
According to the Straits Times, the league’s chief operating officer Carlo Nohra’s goal for the division is for it to “improve its ranking in the world leagues to become one of the top-10, if not the top-five leagues in the world in terms of a combination of player quality, revenue and viewership.”
It’s certainly a heady target, especially because it’s arguably some way from being considered in the top 10, let alone five, currently.
That said, there are many metrics that show just how rapidly the league is growing, meaning it could become a powerhouse over the coming years.
So, take a look at the league’s progress towards its goals, and whether it could become a major element in modern world football.
Many top players have moved to the league already this summer
With player quality a high priority of the league’s organisers, it’s evident that the Saudi Pro League has already taken significant steps in raising the bar for the calibre of players it’s now able to attract.
After Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United terminated the forward’s contract by mutual consent, the last place anyone might have expected the Portugal legend to go was Saudi Arabia. Yet that is exactly where Ronaldo ended up, signing for Al-Nassr in December 2022.
Ronaldo enjoyed a strong first season at his new club, scoring 14 goals in 16 appearances and helping his new side to finish second in the table.
Now, after a busy transfer window just eight months after this landmark move, an impressive number of top players will call the league home in the 2023/24 season.
Saudi Pro League clubs have managed to attract:
- Karim Benzema from Real Madrid
- Chelsea trio N’Golo Kante, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Edouard Mendy
- Ruben Neves from Wolves.
Not only will these players be appearing in the league next year, but Liverpool’s legendary Champions League-winning captain Steven Gerrard has also taken a manager’s job there. Next season, he’ll lead Al-Ettifaq, the side that finished seventh in the league last year.
With these talents flooding into the league, it could lead to a notable increase in the quality of football – and could pave the way for even more players to make their move in the coming years.
Viewer figures for the league are increasing
Viewership is also a concern for the league’s organisers – and one that they’re succeeding in increasing, by all accounts.
According to Transfermarkt, more than 2 million people attended Saudi Pro League matches in the 2022/23 season, with an average of around 10,200 spectators at each game. Al-Ittihad led the way here, attracting an average 40,450 fans to their matches each week.
That compares to the 2021/22 season, where matches attracted 1.2 million spectators. That means there was a 66% increase in this season alone.
Go back 10 years and only 431,592 spectators attended matches in the 2012/13 season. That represents an increase of more than 360% in the space of a decade.
Meanwhile, Firstsportz reports that Saudi Arabian football’s viewership has increased by more than seven times since Ronaldo made his move to Al-Nassr.
With the number of world-renowned players entering the league this season, this increase suggests that viewership could become even greater next year.
The Chinese Super League might present a cautionary tale
While the rapid progress of the Saudi Pro League is impressive, it might be worth thinking about the Chinese Super League (CSL) as a cautionary tale.
In the mid-2010s, the CSL experienced a similar sort of rapid expansion. Money poured in and some prolific players made their move over, including:
- Former Chelsea midfielders Oscar and Ramires
- Brazilian forward Hulk
- Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini
- Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo – who incidentally now plies his trade in the Saudi Pro League.
Yet, since this period, there has been significantly less interest in the division. Fewer high-profile players have moved in recent seasons, and you’d be hard pressed to make any argument that says the CSL is currently in the top five leagues.
So, while the Saudi Pro League might be top of the agenda now, sustaining this progress could be a bigger challenge.
There’s still some way to go before the league is level
Right now, the Saudi Pro League is certainly in a state of growth that’s impossible to ignore. But even so, there may still be some way to go before it’s considered in the top five leagues in the world.
Firstly, it’s worth thinking about what the top five leagues are currently, based on player quality, viewership, and revenue.
By these metrics, the top five would surely be, in no particular order:
1. English Premier League
2. La Liga in Spain
3. French Ligue 1
4. Serie A in Italy
5. German Bundesliga
These leagues have long been established as the most competitive, with the biggest clubs capable of attracting the best players.
As a result, while the Saudi Pro League has made significant progress in a short space of time, there could still be some way to go before it’s able to overtake one of these giants and become one of the top five leagues in the world.
Get in touch
If you’d like professional help managing your money, please do get in touch with us.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01204 602909 to speak to us today.