Cristiano Ronaldo
Nassr's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (R) celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Saudi Pro League football match between Al Nassr and Al Raed Image Credit: AFP

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia's football clubs will not repeat their footballing spending spree this summer, after the Kingdom made plans to reduce losses and build a more sustainable domestic transfer market.

Saudi clubs were allocated a three-year budget last summer by the state's sovereign wealth fund, and there are no plans in place yet to increase this allocation, according to Carlo Nohra, Chief Operating Officer of the Saudi Pro League.

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"The deals were not signed for just one season so it is imperative to the clubs to try to act, they will have to offload players to free up some budget to be able to buy new ones," Nohra said in an interview on the sidelines of the Bloomberg Power Players Jeddah, powered by Asharq.

Teams in the Kingdom spent $875.4 million bringing in foreign players last summer, according to FIFA. Only English clubs, with a tab of $1.98 billion, outspent them during the period.

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Saudi teams spent $875 million on foreign players last summer.

Brazilian star Neymar, Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema and former Liverpool FC captain Jordan Henderson "- who has since been sold to Dutch team Ajax "- all made the move to Saudi Arabia for big money contracts. The signings followed the game-changing arrival of Portuguese icon Cristiano Ronaldo to the SPL in late 2022. Saudi Arabia has attracted foreign coaches, including Steven Gerrard and Roberto Mancini.

The global appeal of foreign stars has helped Saudi Arabia to secure broadcasting deals for its games in more than 130 territories, at rates four times higher than those for the previous season, Bloomberg has reported. Nohra said these same contracts will remain next season.

However, the Saudi league generated transfer receipts of just $15.7 million from player sales last summer.

Despite the acquisition of dozens of top global players, the league is still struggling to bring fans to their stadiums. The average attendance for the 2023-24 season has been just 8,321 so far, down about 10% from the prior season.

Nohra considers the stadium facilities as a "major contributing factor" behind the lack of spectators to the games.

"Making consumer experience a better experience is part of the transformation strategy, but nothing is going to change overnight, especially with the kind of facilities we have at the moment," he said.

Saudi Arabia is building several new stadiums and has been selected to host the AFC Asian cup in 2027. The country is expected to host the 2034 World Cup, which will require it to have at least 14 stadiums with a capacity exceeding 40,000 seats. So far, only two grounds meet this criteria.