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Find out why the Middle East is of growing importance to the global football market

Wednesday, 14 October 2015 By Alex Thorpe

In this series of feature blogs, the Sports Business Group at Deloitte offers financial commentary on some key issues in the global football industry. The third blog looks at the growing importance of the Middle East region within the international football market.


Global importance

The development of the Middle East region to be of global importance in the sporting landscape has been one of the most striking developments in the sports industry in recent years. A range of stakeholders, particularly those from the Gulf region, have actively sought to ally their brands, interests and ambitions with some of the world’s most famous sporting assets. 

This has been seen most acutely in football where Middle Eastern involvement in the sport, which began with sponsorship,1 has evolved to include club ownership, acquisition of broadcast rights and most notably, the hosting of the world’s largest football event in 2022.

The prominence of Middle East based sponsors in football has changed dramatically. The first high-profile sponsorship began in the 2001/02 season, when UAE’s Emirates Airline became Chelsea’s shirt sponsor. The following decade saw a remarkable increase in both the breadth and size of football partnerships by Gulf-based organisations, to the extent that in 2013/14 five of the top eight revenue generating clubs in the world had Middle East based shirt sponsors.2 Other high profile clubs with Middle East brands adorning their shirts include AC Milan and Hamburger SV, with SL Benfica the latest addition to this growing list.

In late 2014, one of the most significant partnerships yet between a European club and a Middle East partner was announced with Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC) agreeing a long term strategic partnership with Real Madrid.3 This will involve a range of activities to promote both parties’ brands globally, and, perhaps most significantly, it will also enable the redevelopment of the club’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium.


Growth driver

The motivation for Middle East brands, with global ambitions, to partner with clubs that have the reach provided by elite European football, principally through broadcast exposure, is clear. Equally, more recently the importance of sport within the business models of Middle East brands has been further emphasised by their investments in less developed football markets. In the last two years, both Emirates and Etihad Airways have entered the US soccer market with shirt front sponsorships with New York Cosmos and New York City FC, respectively. This is in addition to Etihad’s league wide partnership with Major League Soccer.4

The impact of Middle Eastern ownership continues to be felt, especially through the continued investment in the playing staff and infrastructure of their clubs. For example, since the investment in Paris Saint-Germain by Qatar Sports Investments, the club’s revenues have nearly quintupled, it has secured three Ligue 1 titles and upgraded its Parc des Princes stadium. 5

Similarly, Abu Dhabi United Group’s (ADUG)6 ownership of Manchester City has facilitated recent growth on both a domestic and international level. In 2014, the club opened its state of the art City Football Academy,7 delivering enhanced facilities for both the club and the surrounding community of East Manchester. On an international front, City Football Group was established as an umbrella organisation for ADUG’s investment and has subsequently seen the launch of the New York City FC MLS franchise,8 the acquisition of Melbourne City FC9 and investment into Yokohama F. Marinos of the J.League.10

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Written by

Alex Thorpe

Alex Thorpe

Alex Thorpe is a Senior Manager and joined the Sports Business Group in 2010 having previously worked in the Deloitte Consulting practice in London. During his time in the group, Alex has focused on strategic consulting projects including developing strategic plans for an international cricket governing body as well as assisting with the strategic review of a Champions League football club. Alex has also undertaken fan research and developed ticketing strategies for a number of Premier League football clubs.

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