International and European competitions still dominate fan interest in the UAE, but domestic football is on the rise according to results of a new nationwide survey from SMG Insight and CSM Sport & Entertainment.
The results point to a positive future for football development and sponsorship in the region. According to the survey, hosting international tournaments was the top factor in developing regional football, followed by improving the quality of local leagues and providing better stadium facilities.
The research highlighted that the FIFA Club World Cup, which is being hosted in the UAE this December, is the second most popular international competition. The FIFA World Cup was found to be the most popular competition amongst fans in the UAE engaging 47% of fans, with the FIFA Club World Cup second with 38%. The UEFA Champions League, English Premier League and Spanish La Liga, followed with 35%, 32% and 25% of football fans respectively.
A key finding from the survey was that there was a significant opportunity for brands, with 7 in 10 fans feeling positive about brands that sponsor the FIFA World Cup.
At a club level, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Liverpool and Manchester United are unsurprisingly the most popular European clubs. Notably Real Madrid’s fans accounted for 35% of all football fans in the UAE base.
The rise of Egyptian star Mohamed Salah has been a major contribution to Liverpool’s popularity in the UAE and the Middle East in general. Manchester City’s popularity in the UAE is attributed to the club being Abu Dhabi-owned and the establishment of club outposts in the capital such as City Football Schools.
Speaking on how the results of the survey reflect the UAE’s football fan base, Frank Saez, managing director and founder of SMG Insight said: “UAE is a melting pot of cultures and its interest in football shows its multicultural identity with both international and domestic football finding space to co-exist.
“With a vibrant mix of both men and women excited about the game and with major events such as the FIFA Club World Cup, The AFC Asian Cup and the 2022 FIFA World Cup coming to the region, MENA domestic football will only continue to progress.
“This is a great time for brands to seriously consider further involvement in domestic leagues and with domestic clubs.”
Ben Faber, regional director of CSM Sport & Entertainment who jointly commissioned the study believes: “The insights from this study show that football in the Middle East, and particularly in the UAE, has been bolstered in recent years from the internationalisation of the game.
“Investment in the hosting of major tournaments and sponsorships by regional brands of international club sides, have all had a significant impact on the growth of an engaged fan base, and therefore greater commercial value on offer to sponsors.
“As the UAE heads into its second consecutive year of hosting the FIFA Club World Cup, quickly followed by the AFC Asian Cup in January 2019, the future for the sport certainly looks healthy.”
The study was conducted earlier this year, with 1006 individuals from across the UAE taking part. The results detail the demographics, interests and insights of football fans and give insight into the common themes that lie within the UAE football market.