A $450m investment into the live industry shows Saudi Arabia looking to diversify its oil-dependent economy. Stuart Wood investigates
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) made a USD$450m private investment into stocks of Live Nation in May. The PIF is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, and one of the largest in the world – estimated at USD$320bn.
The investment seems to signal that the Saudi government is eyeing up the live industry as a potential target for diversifying its oil-dependent economy. As Covid-19 has led to widespread travel restrictions, the price of oil has plummeted. At one point in April, the value of West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark price for US oil, dropped below zero. That meant it was actually costing oil companies just to store barrels.
This presents an issue for Saudi Arabia, which produces 12% of all the world’s oil. The country has already been making inroads to the live industry since 2017, when the government there established the General Entertainment Authority (GEA). The GEA is an arm of its Vision 2030 project, which aims to promote Saudi Arabia as a regional power in the Middle East.
The GEA staged Saudi Arabia’s first ever performance with a female lead character in January 2018, when it partnered with Time Entertainment and IMG Artists on a dance show called Shadowland. It was also behind the Jeddah World Fest, Saudi Arabia’s first ever music festival, in 2019.
“The GEA was behind Jeddah World Fest, Saudi Arabia’s first ever music festival, in 2019”
Some event industry suppliers in the UK have offices in the Middle East, aiming to capitalise on this building momentum. Arena Group has a base in Dubai, and because of this regional expertise it was approached by the Saudi Arabian General Sports Authority to help it stage one of 2019’s most high-profile sporting events. The Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz ‘clash on the dunes’ in Diriyah required the company to build a 15,000-capacity stadium structure from the ground up.
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