Saudi Arabia ready to splurge on rugby



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Saudi targeting rugby stadium naming rights Image: Leicester Tigers

The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) is reportedly in discussions with four top-flight rugby clubs of United Kingdom over pouring money into the sport. It is claimed that the Premiership sides Gloucester Rugby, Leicester Tigers, Newcastle Falcons, and the Northampton Saints have all been involved in talks that could see the Saudi sovereign wealth fund take control of the stadium naming rights and set up a rugby academy in the Middle East.

‘EXPRESS’ stated that it is claimed that Gloucester were initially seen as a solitary target for the PIF, who own an 80 percent majority stake in the Premier League club Newcastle United F.C. However, the club alone were not seen as attractive enough of a proposition.

Riyadh (Saudi Arabia)-based the Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. It is among the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world with total estimated assets of US$776 billion. It was created in 1971 for the purpose of investing funds on behalf of the Government of Saudi Arabia.

The Gloucester Rugby is a professional rugby union club based in the West Country City of Gloucester, England (UK). They play in Premiership Rugby, England’s top division of rugby, as well as in the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The 16,115-capacity Kingsholm Stadium in Gloucester serves as their home arena.

The Leicester Tigers are a professional rugby union club based in Leicester, England (UK). They play in Premiership Rugby, England’s top division of rugby. The club was founded in 1880 and since 1892 plays its home matches at the 25,849-capacity Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium in Leicester.

The Newcastle Falcons is a rugby union team that play in Premiership Rugby, England’s highest division of rugby union. The club was established in 1877 as the Gosforth Football Club. Around 1882, the club merged with the Northumberland Football Club and briefly assumed their name until 1887. The 10,200-capacity Kingston Park Stadium in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, serves as their residence.

The Northampton Saints is a professional rugby union club from Northampton, England. They play in Premiership Rugby, England’s top division of rugby. They were formed in 1880 as the ‘Northampton St. James’, which gave them the nickname ‘Saints’ from the 1880s. The 15,249-capacity cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens in Northampton, England, serves as their home pitch.

‘EXPRESS’ further stated that to add greater value to a potential deal, Leicester, Newcastle and Northampton were reportedly brought to the negotiating table. Leicester and Northampton are among the best-supported clubs in the sport.

The PIF’s investment could be worth around £60m to the clubs involved, with potential deals valued at seven-figures each. It would be a major agreement for a sport that lost three of its top-flight clubs to bankruptcy in a 10-month period last year.

A figure with knowledge of the talks reportedly stated, “Conversations between the potential future investors in the sport regularly take place. The investors see the headroom for growth in the clubs.”

Discussions are reported to have “slowed” in recent weeks. One of the four clubs is claimed to have established a direct line of contact with the investment group to explore the possibility of individual investment should the joint attempt fail.

The Rugby Football Union’s (RFU’s) rules regarding club ownership state that any change of 10 percent or less does not require a green light from the governing body. That differs from football where the owners’ and directors’ test is in place for all the shareholders.

Twickenham Stadium (UK)-based the Rugby Football Union (RFU) is the national governing body for rugby union in England. It was founded in 1871 and was the sport’s international governing body prior to the formation of what is now known as the World Rugby in 1886.

Discussions have reportedly involved the Saudi investment fund gaining control over the stadium naming rights. A rugby academy could also be set up in Saudi Arabia, boosting the sport’s popularity in the Gulf nation.

Saudi Arabia has invested enormously into sport in recent years. Last July, it was reported that the PIF had invested £4.9 billion into sport since early 2021. The fund purchased an 80 percent stake in the Premier League club Newcastle United F.C. in October 2021.

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