UAE Pro League touch dizzy heights of success



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Waleed on Coliseum MENA Image: Waleed on Coliseum MENA & MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

Waleed Ibrahim Al Hosani took over as the head honcho of UAE Pro League – the top professional football league in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – in the year 2016 and since then he has added a lot of value to the company. He has also been successful in ensuring that the financial health of the company is robust.

He knows the art of maximizing revenue and started his career in the year 1998 at the Finance Administration Department of Abu Dhabi Police and prior to taking up his present role the top shot worked in senior positions at top firms in UAE.
 

UAE Pro League

The UAE Pro League, known for sponsorship reasons as the ADNOC Pro League, is the top professional football league in the United Arab Emirates. The first team to win the title was Al Orouba, whilst Al Ain has the record with 13 league titles to their name.

The UAE Pro League looks after the professional league of UAE football competitions. It helps the clubs achieve their goals, and work to increase the fan base in the UAE and abroad. In early 2019, the UAE Pro League sought new independence from the UAE FA to better serve the needs of its 14 member clubs, to enable the sport to scale new heights.

Waleed Ibrahim Al Hosani, CEO, UAE Pro League, shared exclusive details with ‘Coliseum’ on how the League put its best foot forward for fans’ and players’ safety when COVID-19 struck and shattered the world in March 2020 and how the League continued to script a success story despite the pandemic putting up stumbling blocks.
 

Growing fan base

He shot off by stating that keeping fans entertained, engaged and earning their loyalty is an art. The UAE Pro League is pulling out all stops to grow its fan base locally and internationally.
 

Fan development project

Stated Waleed Ibrahim Al Hosani, “Our fan engagement program was launched in the season 1920. It was one of the most ambitious and biggest fan engagement programs in the UAE history and its sport. We have allocated huge resources to be seen, heard and talked about in the country. We have made big campaigns, events, shows – we went to schools, we went to communities and we went to main national events. Basically, we were everywhere.”

He added, “Our main target is to engage with all segments of fans in the sports industry in United Arab Emirates (UAE).”

In a pre-COVID world, the UAE Pro League formulated policies on how to increase attendance in the stadium and fans were also rewarded for their loyalty like “gifting them cars” because boasting a loyal and huge fan base does matter.
 

COVID clobber

He lamented that the pandemic storm “Affected us severely like it did the rest of the world. We were forced to cancel all matchups as well as various activities. However, the UAE as a country managed to steer through the storm brilliantly. We sent out a message loud and clear – nothing matters more to us than the safety and well-being of our players as well as our fans.”
 

Health protocol

Informed Al Hosani, “Once COVID struck, we immediately formulated a health protocol with the help of the local authorities and matches became a closed-door affair keeping in mind the greater safety of fans.”
 

Shout-out

He made a special mention of the local authorities and clubs and stated that it was due to their unstinted efforts that 50,000 coronavirus tests were conducted in the first two months.
 

Fans count

Al Hosani pointed out that fans are the raison d’être of stadiums and vice-versa – “The fans’ chants is what enlivens the ambience in stadia and is a huge motivating factor for the players. The supporters create that atmosphere in the stadia and this has a great bearing on the commercial aspect too. So, once the pandemic put everything off-kilter, we immediately started brainstorming ideas to keep our fans, sponsors and partners engaged.”
 

COVID protocols

The UAE Pro League laid down strict coronavirus protocols in place so as to ensure “The safe return of players and gradually the fans – from PCR testing, sanitizing, all the way to the Green Zone, we implemented everything within our capacity to ensure that our competitions were held without a hitch.”

He proudly stated that the UAE Pro League completed the season without “Postponing, canceling or rescheduling any game in the past season and with the minimal spread of the virus.”
 

Through thick and thin

The CEO informed that though the commercial impact due to the pandemic was “severe on us and our partners” however, due to the League’s sturdy relationships with the sponsors, both parties started crafting strategies on how to come out of the COVID storm and how they can grow together as one entity.

He added, “We decided to give our sponsors more value on their investments and commercial branding in the stadia, direct engagement on our social media platforms and our sponsors and partners stood by us through thick and thin and vice-versa and this paid off.”
 

Gamechanger

For the UAE Pro League, the TV production part during the pandemic proved to be a “gamechanger” as he put in, “We realized that people preferred to stay indoors during the pandemic and decided to provide more meaningful content to the TV audience, make it more personal and attractive. To make that happen, we decided to go in for virtual reality (VR) and virtual cheering because there were no fans in the stadium. We fed the chants of our local fans and created virtual effects to give a genuine feel to the TV viewers. We also put in sound effect and this proved to be a great morale booster for the players as they felt they were playing amid fans in the stands.”

The UAE Pro League also fed the Augmented Reality (AR) element into TV production and this helped the League to be back from almost the brink and start growing again.
 

Coffers jingling

Exulted Al Hosani, “Post-COVID, we managed to sign the biggest sponsorship deal for the League title with a strategic partner like ADNOC worth 80 million dirham per season. We also managed to ink two prestigious strategic partnership deals with Emirates Palace and Rixos Hotel and it was added to our sponsorship fleet this season. This led to a value increase of 43 percent. The revenue growth which now stands at 265 million per season.”
 

Social media footprints

The UAE Pro League also brought a 360 degree change in its social media contents during the pandemic, even when matches were not being played – “We kept everything very interactive and kept the fans engaged and entertained with one- on-one interaction with the players.”
 

Striking a chord

The UAE Pro League also saw 20 percent increases in its TV viewership and reached 20 million viewership exclusive of the digital footprints.

He stated, “Now we are back at 80 percent capacity and fans are coming back slowly and safely to cheer for their respective teams and enjoy the game. We are still aiming for more growth in all areas and we keep providing amazing services and events to our fans.”
 

Lessons Learned

  • Fans’ requirements keep changing and they always expect crème de la crème facilities;
  • To provide fans an exalted experience, decision-making will have to be fast;
  • Include fans in the decision-making process and read the fans’ minds to know exactly what they want;
  • Confidence-building measures should be initiated with fans and partners for sustainable survival; and
  • Behavior change management is crucial for dynamic organisation as well.

 

A window to the future

Wrapping up, he stated that the objective of the UAE Pro League is to focus on enhancing and uplifting the competitions of the League. Once that is done, it will immediately lead to an increase in fans’ figures and this in turn will lead to the cash registers jingling – “Once the revenues increase, it will help in the growth of the clubs and they can bring into their fold the cream of crop players, enhance their stature at the global level and the cycle goes on.”

The UAE Pro League development projects will focus on the commercial value and on the League and thus proving sporting outcome of UAE football and this will be discussed with the clubs in “the near future”.

The UAE Pro League knows very well the fans’ psyche and also knows that the way to their hearts is by providing plush facilities and rolling out the red carpet for the supporters.

Undoubtedly, the League is on a roll today as it is full of out-of-the-box ideas for fans and has a very amiable disposition not only towards supporters but also for its partners and sponsors which saw it steer to safety even during the COVID-19 storm which has otherwise dealt the world of sports its biggest blow ever.

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