The Public Investment Fund (PIF) is being harnessed to drive economic diversification. In addition to targeted investment in high-priority sectors, the PIF is developing a growing range of giga-projects and subsidiary entities with a focus on entertainment, sport and tourism.
Four of those giga-projects – NEOM (see Innovation chapter), The Red Sea Project, ROSHN and the most recently announced, Diriyah – are integrated developments designed to drive growth across multiple sectors. Diriyah, a $50bn development on the outskirts of the capital Riyadh, will have cultural and lifestyle offerings, including entertainment, dining, shopping, museums and 38 hotels. It will also encompass the historical district of At-Turaif, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Set to be the world’s largest leisure attraction, Qiddiya’s footprint is expected to nearly triple that of Walt Disney World in Florida. Its original master plan was drawn up by Qiddiya Investment Company – one of the aforementioned PIF subsidiaries – and Danish architecture company Bjarke Ingels Group. Once complete, it will house around 300 attractions, including a 320,000-sq-metre Six Flags theme park, a water park, a sport city and multiple natural attractions. Qiddiya Phase One is set to launch in 2023, with the Six Flags park due to launch in October 2024.
In December 2022 Saudi Entertainment Ventures (SEVEN), another PIF subsidiary, outlined its intention to invest $13.3bn to develop 21 entertainment centres across the country. The first had already broken ground in Riyadh’s Al Hamra district at the time of the announcement. Once complete, it is expected to attract 6m visitors annually. SEVEN has signed deals with Warner Bros., Discovery, Clip n Climb, and multinational toy makers Mattel and Hasbro to have a significant presence in the various developments.
In January 2023 the centre in Tabuk, being developed by US-based architectural firm Gensler, also broke ground. It will span 40,000 sq metres and cost around SR1bn ($266.6m). Its offering will include immersive installations and activities developed by the aforementioned brands, a 12-hole indoor golf course, 10-lane bowling alley, a 10-screen cinema, a multipurpose event space, and a range of food and beverage outlets.
In June 2023 Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced a Vision 2030 initiative to privatise Saudi sport clubs, designed to attract investment in the country’s sports industry and infrastructure. Approvals have been issued to transfer a selection of Saudi teams’ ownership to the Kingdom’s leading private and sovereign entities.
This aligns with the Kingdom’s ambitious goal of developing its national football league, the Saudi Pro League, into one of the top-five domestic leagues in the world. A number of high-profile international players have signed on in recent years, including Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, France’s Karim Benzema and Brazil’s Roberto Firmino. The government aims to boost league revenue from SR450m ($120m) in 2022 to more than SR1.8bn ($479.9m) by 2030, while nearly tripling its market value to SR8bn ($2.1bn).
Aramco, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, the Royal Commission for Al Ula and NEOM will each take ownership of one of league’s top clubs. The PIF, for its part, will take 75% ownership of another four, which will become private companies under the PIF umbrella. All eight clubs will be backed by an investment fund, established to bankroll transfer and infrastructure plans.
The Kingdom’s commitment to establish itself as a leader in global sport has also seen the PIF become an investor in US golf’s PGA Tour Enterprises and the majority stakeholder in the English Premier League’s Newcastle United Football Club. With the fund’s intention to invest more than $38bn in the Saudi video gaming and e-sports industry by 2030 – plus additional investment in international games makers, most recently Nintendo – Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the global entertainment industry is slated to see continued diversification and expansion in the years ahead.