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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Saudi Arabia’s Next Big Sports Target: Boxing, With Joint Venture Worth $5B

  • The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia is focusing on boxing as its next large-scale sports target.
  • The latest ambitions intersect with still-incomplete efforts in other sports, as well as human rights issues.
Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Despite still being a long way from fully realizing a bold vision to unify men’s pro golf and top-flight tennis, Saudi Arabian officials are already locking in on their next big sports target: boxing.

The country’s Public Investment Fund—the key backer behind LIV Golf and also a potential merger between the ATP and WTA—is now in discussions with multiple entities in boxing on a possible joint venture to similarly bring greater cohesion to that sport, according to Reuters.

The effort to create a new boxing league reportedly involves major promoters such as Matchroom Boxing and Golden Boy Promotions, and it is designed as a means to bring greater prominence, fan appeal, and revenue to boxing—which has encountered numerous struggles over the past decade, including from the rise of mixed martial arts. The new joint venture could carry a valuation of as much as $5 billion, Reuters reported.

“There is big opportunity in boxing,” Turki al-Sheikh, chair of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, told ESPN earlier this year. “But you must improve the market. You must fix all the problems.”

Even before this latest initiative, Saudi Arabia has hosted several top-tier fights, most recently when Oleksandr Usyk (above) beat Tyson Fury in Riyadh last month to become the first undisputed heavyweight champion in 25 years.

A Larger Strategy

Saudi Arabia’s aggressive moves in sports have taken on multiple dimensions, with some of the activities seen as a means toward establishing greater economic diversity beyond the country’s stronghold in oil, and as a way to help create a new image for the country. But given the widespread criticism Saudi Arabia has received for its record on human rights, these efforts have also been widely viewed as sportswashing.

Key parts of the country’s sports strategy also remain decidedly incomplete. A potential union between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour is still uncertain, more than a year after it was first announced. And the tie-up between the tennis tours, actively discussed for more than six months, is similarly bogged down by a variety of deal points.

In addition to its developing activities in golf and tennis, the Saudi Pro League is also creating seismic waves in men’s pro soccer as a result of top-tier player salaries and transfer fees that only a select few elsewhere in the world can match. 

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