Inside decline of Saudi Pro League with attendances plummeting and end of mega-money transfer spree

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FOOTBALL in Saudi Arabia has not gone exactly to plan, with new figures showing an astonishing DECLINE in attendances since last season.

Cristiano Ronaldo‘s arrival in late 2022 after he was released by Manchester United was touted as a watershed moment from Saudi Arabian football.

Cristiano Ronaldo looked set to be a watershed moment for the Saudi Pro League

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Cristiano Ronaldo looked set to be a watershed moment for the Saudi Pro LeagueCredit: Getty
But the recent influx of talent could be set to come to an end this summer

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But the recent influx of talent could be set to come to an end this summerCredit: Getty
Stadium attendances have been in decline this season compared to the year before

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Stadium attendances have been in decline this season compared to the year beforeCredit: Getty

And when a number of major stars joined the footballing icon to the Middle East in the following summer it looked like it would only build from there.

Saudi Arabian clubs spent a whopping £784.2million on importing talent in the summer, thanks in part to four clubs – Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr and Al Hilal – being acquired by The Public Investment Fund who control an 80 per cent stake at Newcastle.

And the global appeal of the stars who headed there, including Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez, Ruben Neves, Neymar, Karim Benzema and Jordan Henderson, helped the Pro League secure a broadcasting deal in more than 130 territories.

However, a continued stream of reports suggesting stars were not content and a visible lack of fans in the stands painted a different picture to the grand dream the league offered.

And this may lead to an end of Saudi football’s huge splurging, causing a blow to clubs who may have been looking to get rid of high profile stars for decent money in the summer.

Indeed, England international and ex-Liverpool star Henderson recently spoke about his regret of making the transfer after returning to Europe with Dutch giants Ajax.

Bloomberg claim the Kingdom are planning to reduce their losses and build a more sustainable domestic transfer market.

And there is now said to be no plans to increase this allocation, according to Chief Operating Officer of the Saudi Pro League, Carlo Nohra.

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He said: “The deals were not signed for just one season so it is imperative to the clubs to try to act, they will have to offload players to free up some budget to be able to buy new ones.”

The report explains how SPL clubs were handed a three-year budget by the state’s sovereign wealth fund.

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It also details how fan attendances have actually FALLEN by ten per cent since last season, with the average attendance in 2023/24 just 8,321.

For reference, that is less than the average crowd attendance drawn by Swindon Town in League Two with 8,470 on average this season.

Stadium facilities have been put down as a “major contributing factor” behind the lack of spectators.

Nohra adds: “Making consumer experience a better experience is part of the transformation strategy, but nothing is going to change overnight, especially with the kind of facilities we have at the moment.”

The country has several new stadiums in the works before it hosts the 2027 Asian Cup.

It is also expected to host the 2034 World Cup, which will require at least 14 stadiums with a capacity exceeding 40,000 – and only two grounds currently meet this criteria.

There has also been fan issues in some games, with Ronaldo’s team-mate being hit with a bottle thrown by a yob as Al-Nassr took on Al-Ahli.

Here's how the attendances looked in October
Here’s how the attendances looked in October



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Inside decline of Saudi Pro League with attendances plummeting and end of mega-money transfer spree

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