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Country Profile: Saudi Arabia

The world’s leading promoters & the 55 top markets they operate in.
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The desire for people to go and see live events in Saudi Arabia is stronger than anything I’ve seen in 35 years in the industry,” Iain Campbell, ASM Global EVP of the MENA region told the Global Arena Guide earlier this year. “With all the venues planned for Saudi Arabia, and potentially three in Riyadh alone, there could be a tour circuit of this country alone.”

There is indeed great interest in the opening up of this once-closed country, despite the kingdom’s record of human rights abuses. A huge number of new venues is being built by the state, and the country is seeking to attract and host live entertainment, which proves very popular among its young population – 63% of Saudis are under 30. Among venues being built is the 20,000-seat Jeddah Arena, which is due for completion in December 2025, and the 25,000-capacity Al-Awwal Park, which was renamed Mrsool Park in 2020.

“The Saudi market is an incredible story of how the country has gone from having no entertainment at all to now featuring live entertainment and music events for almost any type of activity; city and calendar celebrations; one of the biggest music festivals in the world; hosting the premier of a locally produced Phantom of the Opera and more,” says Thomas Ovesen, CEO of UAE-based All Things Live.

“The Saudi market is an incredible story of how the country has gone from having no entertainment at all to now featuring live entertainment and music events for almost any type of activity.”

“The exciting part of this development is that it is still in motion, so we are only still getting to terms with how we service, collaborate, and benefit from this new market. As most of the Saudi show programming and bookings are done by or for government stakeholders, it’s yet to be seen how we will eventually be able to do business there and take risks on our own events based on a conventional market scenario.

“On top of the extraordinary focus on and investment in entertainment programming, the market is also proving to be a great source of local talent.

Purpose-built facilities are being invested in, so we will soon see the programming of those new assets adding to the volume of events and entertainment in Saudi Arabia, meaning ticketing might finally become a feasible business in the region because of this development.

“Of course, there are challenges, including that some artists are still hesitant to play this market; very short timelines on many entertainment projects and bookings; and the perception – sometimes with reason – of unlimited budgets driving fee expectations up on the artist side. But on balance, the inclusion of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East live events and entertainment market is a great opportunity for our business.”

Ovesen predicts the market will soon catch up with other territories in the region but says before that there needs to be major work on event and live show legislation; new purpose- built venues need to be onboarded and programmed; market rates need to settle at feasible levels; and the hubs of many regional industry players need to get established.

Ovesen says the Saudi market is “young, affluent, and very engaged, so pretty much anything will perform well right now.”

Ovesen says the Saudi market is “young, affluent, and very engaged, so pretty much anything will perform well right now.” He says that contemporary music, K-pop, and EDM are especially popular. And while the population is young, there’s also good business for mature audience offerings in smaller capacity venues and premium priced tickets. Also in the country is Abu Dhabi- headquartered Ethara, which was formed earlier this year with the coming together of longstanding UAE state-owned promoter Flash Entertainment and Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management.

“We are anticipating further interest and arrival to the region for major live events, shows, and performances following the recent successes in the UAE and Saudi,” says Ethara chief venues officer, Brint Jackson. “With this, it is important that we continue to strengthen the region’s infrastructure and capabilities to host international events, thus leading to further interest from international brands to enter the space. The coming years will be focused on expansion and growth, but we need to keep versatility firmly in mind with this to allow for new opportunities as well.”

Finally, MDLBEAST promotes Soundstorm festival in Riyadh (with Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Wizkid and more due in 2023), XP Music Futures music conference, and FOWG rooftop concerts.

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