Sports, which were recently limited to stadiums and arenas as mere means of entertainment, have developed into an economic driving force that contributes to creating numerous opportunities for developing national revenues, stimulating investments, and growing labor markets and employment. The symbiotic relationship between sports and the economy has led European countries – for decades – to be interested in the sports economy as an economic and social engine, and has recently aroused the investment appetite of the Gulf countries, which seek, with their future aspirations, to enhance economic diversification policies and support the growth of their non-oil sectors.
Growing market prospects
The economic size of global sports has become somewhat exciting, and is taking the breath away of the financial community. A study prepared by the European Union to analyze economic activities related to sports 10 years ago revealed that the share of sports in the total value added may reach 2 percent of the gross product, with multiplier effects that may amount to 3 percent in sectors such as entertainment, culture, education, hotels and restaurants, in addition to relative growth in employment rates, in addition to sports being an engine for enhancing rapprochement and economic growth in the member states of the Union.
According to recent statistics issued by Research and Markets, the global sports market is expected to grow to more than half a trillion dollars this year (2023), and reach $624 billion in 2027 according to conservative scenario expectations. These figures include the costs and revenues of producing and organizing sports activities, and direct revenues from sources such as broadcast rights, sponsorship, tickets, products, sales of sports equipment, training centers, and others. There are no accurate statistics regarding the extended ecological impact of this industry on other sectors, such as hospitality, retail, and tourism. This is evidence of the increasing role of this industry in modern societies, in which the sports industry has become thriving and attracting large investments as a “machine” of financial revenues that no one can Ignore it.
Numbers reveal facts.
Let us examine more statistics that confirm that the sports industry has become a strategic economic sector, and that sports has gone beyond being just a game and fans. Let us take football as an example here, as it is the game that is supported by more than 3.5 billion people around the world, and with a player base of up to 250 million. Registered player in at least 200 countries. Global football has an exciting global market size estimated at approximately $36 billion in 2021, with expectations to rise to approximately $45 billion by 2025.
According to a report issued by Deliot (2023), the combined revenues of the top 20 football clubs in the 2021/2022 season exceeded about 10 billion euros, compared to about 8 billion euros in the previous season. Add to this the stimulating potential of consumer markets in various sectors, from goods and clothing to entertainment, food and tourism.
Job sector and entrepreneurship opportunities
If we analyze a little deeper, we will find that the analogical relationship between sports and the economy can provide a large number of job opportunities across its value chain, in addition to stimulating entrepreneurial projects, from sports academies and training facilities to sports goods and products and service or commodity digital platforms. According to the National Golf Foundation report in the United States, golf had a direct economic impact worth about $102 billion on the national economy in 2022, and if the indirect and secondary impacts of golf are taken into account, the total could rise to more than $226 billion.
What must be recognized is that the global fan base for sports and tournaments creates consumer markets for various products and services, supports local businesses, and drives new trade and investment paths that drive economic growth.
It is estimated that the FIFA World Cup will contribute about $17 billion to the Qatari economy in 2022, and create 470,000 job opportunities. Despite the debate about the value of the projects it implemented, which exceeded $220 billion, the other narrative confirms that these projects are considered – within future agendas and plans – an economic window waiting to be activated.
At the national level, local leagues also have a significant economic impact, and the English Premier League may be a good example here, as it contributed about 7.6 billion pounds to the British economy in the 2019-2020 season, and created about 100,000 jobs.
Gulf investment scene
A report published by PwC, in 2021, stated that the Gulf countries collectively invested more than $65 billion to develop their sports sector, with the expectation that rapid growth rates in these countries will continue. Gulf investments were not only focused on building modern stadiums and attracting international athletes, but also included pushing sports tournaments in the region onto the global stage and promoting them in the international media as attractive areas for tourism and living.
The pioneering path of the UAE
The United Arab Emirates, as usual, was a pioneer in realizing the transformative power of sports investment, which was evident from its establishment of 24 sports federations that succeeded in organizing many local, regional and international tournaments. Statistics for 2021 indicate that the sports sector contributed about $2.4 billion to Dubai’s economy, and provided more than 110,000 job opportunities, representing 4 percent of the total labor market in the emirate.
The paradigm shift of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is seeking to amplify its sports investments, especially in football. “Vision 2030”, which is the national strategic roadmap, emphasizes the importance of developing a sustainable sports sector by privatizing sports clubs and improving administrative and financial governance. Some reports indicate that the Kingdom aims to place its football league among the top 10 leagues in the world, and raise the revenues of the Saudi Professional League from 450 million riyals to more than 1.8 billion riyals annually, in addition to raising the market value of the Saudi Professional League from three billion riyals. To more than eight billion riyals.
Integrating sports, tourism and economics
Research conducted by Syracuse University confirms how the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can integrate sports investments to achieve broader economic diversification goals. In addition to the sports renaissance, this investment strategy has stimulated a parallel tourism renaissance by attracting international soccer clubs and teams to training camps. In these two countries, not only as a sports policy, but also to promote economic goals and long-term comprehensive development.
Public policy proposals and investments
As countries look for ways to support their economies, the sports sector is emerging as a sector full of untapped potential in the Arab region, and policymakers and investors can benefit from this potential by adopting visionary strategies that ensure sustainable growth in this growing sector. Government policies are centered here as a pivotal link and an enabling factor that cannot be overlooked in this context.
National strategies should give priority to infrastructure development investments for sports facilities and complexes, and this should coincide with building partnerships between the public and private sectors and civil society associations to stimulate private investment to finance and accelerate sports projects. These strategies must also focus on creating favorable legislative and regulatory environments for investors, to establish projects that serve the goals of stimulating national economic growth, and with them the scope of partnerships can be extended to activate and develop sports tourism, which serves the goals of hosting international events, stimulates tourism promotion, and supports the local business community. It creates job opportunities, represents the soft power with which a positive image can be built in the global arena, and represents a supportive platform for developing partnerships and alliances with common economic interests.
Although it is important for national policies to include youth engagement and investment in physical education and sports science programs to develop local talent on the one hand, what is more important is to enhance community participation, promote national identity, and consolidate moral values and principles and positive citizenship.
Technological applications can improve event management and marketing, enhance communication channels and viewing experiences, and create new sources of revenue from digital platforms and interactive experiences. Educational curricula can also represent an enabling means to support the development of cognitive and technological capabilities and professional competence in the sector.
Last but not least, it is important to focus on sustainability initiatives in sports projects, formulate environmentally friendly policies in establishments and facilities, and reduce environmental impact through responsible practices and stewardship of resources, especially if we take into account the huge production and consumption base in the sector.
In short: the sports economy must be seen as an effective tool for achieving development goals and enhancing values and social participation, with which it is possible to form the mental image of countries and their cultures, consolidate concepts, and communicate with an international public base that may not be possible through other means. Here, it can be used as a means to establish the language of peace, tolerance and cultural understanding, and as a platform for cooperation and convergence between peoples. Arab countries have an opportunity to harness the economic and social power of the sports industry, not only as a source of commercial revenues, but also as a means of inspiration, competitiveness and soft power.