RIYADH: Amidst an electrifying atmosphere, the 2023-24 season of the Roshn Saudi League roared into life last Friday, igniting a fervor unparalleled in its history.
After recruiting one of the most followed footballers in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, last season, the Saudi League took huge strides by further recruiting an abundance of international talent.
The Roshn Saudi League has experienced a significant overhaul, characterized by the introduction of high-profile players and an overall transformation that has garnered global attention. As Saudi cricket seeks to expand its horizons and enhance its global standing, it can draw valuable insights from the successful changes implemented in football.
It is an undeniable truth that cricket in Saudi Arabia pales in comparison to the soaring popularity of football. However, the Kingdom is home to over 6 million expats who hail from cricketing nations. Furthermore, cricket has had a long tradition within the Kingdom with some local cricketing bodies being in existence for over thirty years. Capitalizing on the current sports frenzy in Saudi Arabia, Saudi cricket stands poised to seize the moment and deliver a much-needed, exemplary product that surpasses all expectations.
Saudi cricket has already made headlines around the world when the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation teased a proposed franchise-based cricket league, which the Guardian called “(potentially) the world’s most lucrative Twenty20 tournament.”
ICC Chairman Greg Barclay was also asked about the proposed league and said: “Given their advance into sport more generally, cricket would work quite well for Saudi Arabia. They’re pretty keen to invest in sport and given their regional presence, cricket would seem a pretty obvious one to pursue.”
The Roshn Saudi League's decision to bring in high-profile foreign players has had a significant impact on elevating the league’s profile and attracting a global audience.
Currently, the league is being broadcast in over 170 countries. Saudi cricket can learn from this approach by actively exploring opportunities to recruit international talent to play in a competitive local environment. The introduction of renowned cricket players from around the world would not only enhance the quality of matches but also generate greater interest and excitement among global fans. Saudi Arabia’s strategic location could also help in attracting international players and audiences to a Saudi Cricket League.
The country’s central location between Europe and Asia makes it an ideal location for a cricket league, with easy access for players and fans from both continents.
Infrastructure development is a critical aspect of any sport’s growth, and Saudi cricket can draw inspiration from the Roshn Saudi League’s investment in state-of-the-art stadiums and training facilities. To facilitate the growth of sport in the Kingdom, the Public Investment Fund established SRJ Sports Investments on Aug. 6, 2023, a sports investment company aiming to accelerate the development of the sports sector in Saudi Arabia and the broader Middle East and North Africa region.
This strategic move signifies a strong commitment to sports, including cricket, and provides opportunities for investment in infrastructure, player development, and marketing initiatives. The establishment of SRJ Sports Investments can serve as a catalyst for the growth and expansion of Saudi cricket, enabling the SACF to tap into the expertise and resources required to propel it to new heights. The availability of top-notch infrastructure would not only enhance the playing experience but also position Saudi Arabia as an attractive destination for hosting domestic and international cricket tournaments.
Marketing and promotion also play a crucial role in building a fan base and generating interest in any sport. The Roshn Saudi League’s successful marketing strategies can serve as a blueprint for Saudi cricket. Leveraging digital platforms, social media, and strategic collaborations with influencers and media outlets can significantly enhance the visibility of Saudi cricket, both domestically and internationally. By effectively marketing Saudi cricket, showcasing its unique offerings, and engaging with fans, the SACF can create a strong and passionate community of supporters, driving increased participation and interest in the sport.
In non-cricketing nations, where the sport may be relatively unfamiliar to the general population, effective marketing becomes essential to pique interest, generate awareness, and build a fan base. The US and Canada have made significant strides in this regard, employing comprehensive marketing campaigns for their respective leagues; that showcased the excitement, athleticism, and entertainment value of T20 cricket.
Replicating the transformation witnessed in the Roshn Saudi League within Saudi cricket is a complex process that requires time and strategic planning.
While it is challenging to provide an exact timeline, it is reasonable to expect significant progress within the next few years, if the SACF continues its initiatives on cricket. The blueprint given by the Roshn Saudi League allows for the implementation of key initiatives such as foreign player recruitment, infrastructure development, marketing campaigns, and partnerships, all of which will also contribute to the growth and maturation of Saudi cricket.