Saudi sovereign wealth fund invests in US mixed martial arts league

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August 30, 2023
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund announced on an investment in US mixed martial arts (MMA) on Wednesday, in yet another move by the kingdom to establish itself as a major player in global sports.
SRJ Sports Investments, which is wholly owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, made the agreement with the US-based Professional Fighters League (PFL). SRJ Sports Investments will acquire a minority ownership stake in the league as well as invest in new league for the region called PFL MENA to debut in 2024. They will also work together to host “mega events” in Saudi Arabia, according to a press release.
While the financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, the Financial Times reported that the Saudi investment amounts to $100 million.
SRJ Sports Investments was unveiled earlier this month and the deal with the Professional Fighters League is its first, according to Agence France-Presse.
PFL is a competitor to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the dominant MMA competition in the world. Unlike the UFC, the Professional Fighters League follows a season format similar to team sports leagues.
Why it matters: The Public Investment Fund’s PFL deal is a continuation of Saudi Arabia’s aggressive sports strategy. The fund’s LIV Golf league is currently in its second season and is working out the details of its merger with the PGA Tour.
In soccer, the Saudi Pro League continues to sign more star players. Earlier this month, the Saudi club Al-Hilal lured Brazilian superstar Neymar from the Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo signed with rival Al-Nassr in December and French star Karim Benzema joined Al-Ittihad in June.
Saudi Arabia is investing in sports as part of its economic diversification strategy to reduce dependence on oil. The investments have been criticized by some observers due to the kingdom’s human rights record, perhaps most vocally in the context of LIV Golf. In July, the US Senate held a hearing on LIV’s deal with the PGA.
Other Gulf states are pursuing sports strategies of their own. In June, news broke that Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund bought a stake in the Washington Wizards basketball team.
Earlier this month, the state-backed Qatar Sports Investments acquired the World Padel Tour. Padel is a racket sport similar to tennis. Qatari royal Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Than is also seeking to buy the Manchester United soccer team in the United Kingdom for more than $9 billion.
The United Arab Emirates is also investing more in sports, including MMA. Abu Dhabi began hosting the UFC’s “Fight Island” events in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when restrictions made holding such events difficult. In October, the UAE capital city will host the highly touted world lightweight championship between Russia’s Islam Makhachev and Brazilian Charles Oliveira.
Know more: The emergence of the Saudi Pro League as a major force in global soccer will have significant implications for Qatar and the UAE’s investments in soccer, Samuel Wendel wrote in a Trend Report for Al-Monitor PRO this month.

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