The UAE has firmly placed itself as a global destination for sports events, with the country’s sports industry poised to log in steady growth over the next few years, new research has shown.
According to a recent PwC survey, strong government support and growing commercial maturity have contributed to raising the Middle East’s profile within sports in recent years. Experts have noted that the sports industry in the Middle East region is expected to grow faster than anywhere else in the world over the next three to five years. PwC’s survey showed that in stark contrast to the global sports market, respondents expect the Middle East sports market to grow by 8.7 per cent over the next three to five years.
According to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), the Middle East and Africa region is also seen as the world’s fastest-growing sports tourism destination. Growing populations across key cities, a growing middle class, and improved marketing of events are seen as key drivers of this growth. Globally, sports tourism is worth an estimated $600 billion, according to the WTO. In locations such as Dubai, the city itself is seen as a lure, with the sporting event often identified as a nice ‘add-on’ to the planned visit.
The PwC survey noted that the Middle East governments’ efforts to diversify their economies mean that ambitious plans are being set in motion for the sports industry. GCC member states including Saudi Arabia and the UAE have spent more than $65 billion on sports development.
“The sports sector is an integral part of our society and economy, and we are always looking for excellence and innovation in this sector, in accordance with the model of excellence and innovation established by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai,” said Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council.
The UAE has been home to a growing list of international events in recent years ranging from the annual Formula One Grands Prix in Abu Dhabi to the Dubai Desert Classic Dubai and Duty Free Tennis Championship in Dubai. Other events that have set the country on the global sports map include the recent Ultimate Fighting Championship events at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, and the Girlgamer eSports Festival at the Meydan Grandstand in Dubai.
According to Deloitte, sports, which have been part of the fabric of Dubai for more than 40 years, lead to $670 million of economic impact with an economic footprint of more than $1.7 billion a year. Compared to its international competitors, Dubai performs well in terms of regular annual events, thanks largely to its global series of events in golf, rugby, and tennis. While the city has a relatively small number of venues compared with the other benchmark cities, the close proximity of Dubai’s venues to each other, the ease of access to/from all areas of the city, and its excellent airport and accommodation offerings afford Dubai a significant advantage.
PwC’s research also showed that while the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the industry, immersive and interactive technologies have played a crucial role in compensating for diminished visual and social experiences. Middle East respondents also voiced their optimism, with 63 per cent saying that they expect the sports market overall to fully recover by 2022, which is far more optimistic than the global respondents of 42 per cent.
E-sports has emerged as a clear winner in the region, where most of the population is young and Internet-savvy. Saudi Arabia ranks among the top 20 countries for games revenue at $716 million, with the UAE generating $313 million, and Egypt $287 million. Unsurprisingly, the consumption of e-sports literally exploded at the heart of the Covid-19 lockdown, tripling the number of hours watched. Action, fantasy, and shooter genres all experienced a 50 per cent growth. PwC’s survey respondents ranked e-sports first equal with football in potential for revenue growth.
“The lockdown has maximised the value of sports through digital transformation to engage audiences and keep fans connected. Hence, this opened up opportunities to attract more audiences, business partners and revenue streams. In this increasingly digital landscape, sports leaders will need to prioritise their concrete initiatives to invest and innovate; to make the most of the changes and anticipated growth during this exciting period of transformation,” said Rami Nazer, Global Advisory Government and Public Sector leader at PwC.
Experts further noted that the sports sector in the Middle East should prioritise its concrete initiatives to accelerate change, and that the future of the sector has three key enablers in the years ahead. These are digital transformation and the creation of digital assets, the growth of e-sports and ability of sports federations to capitalise on their popularity, and the transformational power of women’s sports within society.
Ayesha bin Kalli, Innovation project manager at the Government of Dubai Media Office, noted that there is an appetite for more high-profile sporting events in the region. “Supporting the emergence of what will soon become a booming market in the Middle East is a natural fit for Dubai, as the emirate’s reputation for identifying new opportunities demonstrates.”
Events to be staged at the DWTC, comprising diverse sectors including construction, energy, technology, beauty, food, healthcare, environment and automotive, will mark the emirate’s post-pandemic economic recovery