CEO and Board Member of Al Hilal, talks about diversification, Saudi Arabia’s reputation, and women in sports.
Can you shed some light on the activities of Al Hilal and Al Hilal Investment Company?
Sultan Abdulaziz Al Alsheikh: Al Hilal Sports Club is one of the most well-known clubs in the region and Asia; we have been working successfully for the last six decades. In 2019, we started a new approach, capitalizing on our plan to ensure we can generate and diversify our income and revenues. As a competing club, we need to have high revenues to ensure a consistent cash flow and income. Accordingly, in 2019 we established and founded Al Hilal Investment Company, the first company initiated and founded by a sports club. We are the investment, commercial, and marketing arm of the club, and we look after all its investments and commercial sponsorships. The commercial side of the entity focuses on consolidating and reinforcing our brand, which is extremely valuable, so we want to capitalize on it. On the technical side, we continuously invest in our talent, players, coaches, and management to ensure we are constantly raising the bar and reaching the highest global standards within the industry we are in.
Part of Vision 2030 is to diversify the economy and harness the strengths of the Kingdom. How would you characterize football’s contribution to the diversification of the economy?
Sultan Abdulaziz Al Alsheikh: Sport has truly become one of the major industries in Saudi Arabia; Vision 2030 places great importance on how sport can contribute to the development of the nation in terms of quality of life, public health, and tourism. Sports in general are becoming more ingrained in our culture; football is a popular game in Saudi Arabia, and Al Hilal has quite a fan base. In the last four to five years, the government has focused more on growing the sector and turning it into a real industry. It has restructured the industry, changed the regulations, set up many policies, and even made significant contributions to support clubs and ensure they are able to succeed and represent the nation globally. The biggest goal of Al Hilal Investment Company is to increase and diversify the income of the club; from this perspective, it is clear the impact that sports can have on the economy.
How are you working to position your brand and, at the same time, elevate the reputation of Saudi Arabia regionally and globally?
Sultan Abdulaziz Al Alsheikh: In the last three years, Al Hilal Sports Club has competed in several international leagues, we have played in the Asian Cup three times and won two of them, and we have played in the Club World Cup twice, where we were ranked fourth. After winning the Asian Champions League and playing in the Club World Cup, we gained a great deal of recognition globally not only for our brand but also for Saudi Arabia. The FIFA president in one of his conferences for the FIFA World Cup 2022 was asked by a journalist why Qatar, a Gulf country, was able to host such a huge event. The president, in his response, mentioned Al Hilal as a great example of a Saudi team that has significantly improved in just a few years. When the FIFA president spoke of progress, he clearly mentioned Al Hilal, and we are proud to be a successful ambassador of a growing nation. Now is the right time to establish Al Hilal as a global lifestyle brand. This is the right time to enhance, revisit, and develop our brand. By the end of August, we will announce our new branding, which we have been working on for more than two years to deliver the right message. We want everyone to know Al Hilal has what it takes to be part of the football industry globally. We need to grow our market share, become a lifestyle brand, and establish a footprint in specific markets. We will start in the Gulf and then move on to North Africa, Europe, Asia, and then America. All this is part of our global term strategy in terms of being present in the market and capturing the market share in every single continent.
How do you recruit the right talent and human capital for such a dynamic and competitive organization?
Sultan Abdulaziz Al Alsheikh: Success is all about balance and creating the right mix of management, the technical team, the coach, and the players themselves. Previously, it was difficult to recruit the right players, though in the last five years this has changed, with more and more international players joining local teams. We have many talented players and coaches from all over the world, and we will start a program to promote Al Hilal within their countries. This is a two-pronged initiative that will help us raise awareness and capture market share internationally and, at the same time, build a solid network that will allow us to attract new, competitive resources to the local market. Across the sports sector in the Kingdom, there are various endeavors to improve women’s participation and access to sports.
What is your perspective on this process?
Sultan Abdulaziz Al Alsheikh: Vision 2030 is focused on women and how to enable women in every single sector. Accordingly, Al Hilal is working to enable our women’s team. We have many people and women here taking on more responsibility and senior roles in management. As a part of the economy and society, we have to start enabling and fighting for equality in terms of sports. We recently established our women’s youth academy, part of our seven academies. After having established the women’s football team, we will then form other women’s teams for boxing, volleyball, basketball, and individual sports as well. All this will take some time; however, we are ambitious and part of our DNA is to be a leader. When starting something, you have to be a role model and work hard to ensure its success.
What are the key objectives on your agenda for 2022 ?
Sultan Abdulaziz Al Alsheikh: We are about to start a new season, which runs from August until May. We have a fairly packed agenda. On the technical side, we have to compete in several competitions, including local and international leagues. We are working on recruiting the right talent, people, and players. Commercially speaking, we will announce our new brand identity. We have to ensure that all the components related to our new brand are perfectly aligned, both offline and online.