As if LIV Golf wasn’t enough, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has now purchased a minority ownership stake in the Professional Fighters League (PFL) through SRJ Sports Investments, a sports-specific fund which is part of the wider focused Public Investment Fund.
The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, central to its Vision 2030 strategy aimed at economic diversification away from oil. Part of this strategy involves investing in global sports enterprises, such as LIV Golf, to not only diversify revenue streams but also to sportswash Saudi Arabia’s global image, boost tourism, and provide local entertainment options.
Saudi Arabia has been accused of “sportswashing,” which is using sports to divert international attention from its contentious political and human rights issues.
The nation has hosted various high-profile sports events and made significant investments in global sports, especially after incidents like the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Critics see these sporting engagements as an attempt to overshadow its human rights record and present a modern, progressive image to the world, while supporters believe it’s part of genuine efforts towards national reform and modernization.
The engagement with LIV Golf, and now the PFL, signifies Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to play a significant role in the global sports sector, even as it sparks debates in traditional sports circles.
“There is no better global investor with industrial-strength capital [than PIF] to help us achieve our global vision,” Donn Davis, PFL co-founder and chairman, said in a phone interview with Yahoo Sports. “With this capital, we now have what we need to realize our vision to start the next chapter, become not just No. 2, but the potential co-leader in MMA.”
SRJ is investing over $100 million into PFL, as per an anonymous source, while the PFL representative chose not to disclose the investment amount. This investment is channeled to the PFL parent company, aiming to kickstart two new initiatives next year: a PFL league for the MENA region and the “Super Fight” pay-per-view segment.
The intention is to bring more star power to PFL, bolster MMA involvement in Saudi Arabia and the MENA area, and sponsor a significant number of PFL PPV events in Saudi Arabia in the near future.
PFL gained prominence recently by partnering with MMA figures like former UFC champion Francis Ngannou and Jake Paul, both of whom will debut in PFL’s 2024 PPV events, along with women’s champion Kayla Harrison.
SRJ aims to boost the sports sector’s growth in Saudi Arabia and the MENA region, focusing on creating international sports IPs, hosting major events, and investing in cutting-edge technologies. Recently, the NBA permitted investments from sovereign wealth funds, with the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) being a pioneer by investing in major U.S. sports, including a stake in Monumental Sports & Entertainment (MSE), owner of teams like the Washington Wizards. QIA is also involved with the MMA platform ONE Championship.
Currently, the PFL’s deal with ESPN, which saw a 30% viewership increase this year, is set to end this year.
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