Cristiano Ronaldo only needed 1 year to change the culture of watching football in Saudi Arabia

When Ronaldo successfully took two penalty kicks last Tuesday, he began a familiar celebration: running towards the corner flag, pointing at himself, slowing down, jumping up and doing the move. spin in mid-air, then swing your arms down and outward as you land, shouting “Siiiiiiuuuu”.

Ronaldo of Arabia has the platform to bring changes - but will he use it?

The crowd shouted at him, which was completely unusual because this was the home ground of Al Ittihad, one of Al Nassr’s most formidable opponents. People crave to see Ronaldo play, and not just in Riyadh. 6 of the 9 away matches he played in the Saudi Pro League last season attracted the largest attendance of home fans.

One of Al Nassr’s away matches this season, against Al Fayha, had only 5,400 spectators at the stadium. But you should know, Al Fayha regularly plays in front of crowds of only a few hundred people. Many clubs also accept moving home matches to larger stadiums of other clubs to try to meet the need to “see” Ronaldo.

WATCH: CR7 wields a sword! Cristiano Ronaldo joins in Saudi Founding Day  celebrations at Al-Nassr's stadium | English Saudi Arabia

Al Nassr’s results have not necessarily improved since Ronaldo’s arrival, but the club’s role and status have increased sharply. During the early months of last season, they regularly attracted audiences of less than 15,000 people. This season their average audience is 20,308.


But even though Al Awwal Stadium only has 25,000 spectators, there are still tickets available for most of Al Nassr’s home matches. A few days before the home match against Al Ettifaq, their last match before the winter break, tickets were sold at prices ranging from 35 SAR (£7.30) in seats behind the goal to 650 SAR ( 135 pounds) on both sides of the stands, and 1,500 SAR (313 pounds) for the most expensive VIP area.

They are still selling half-season tickets for the final eight matches of the campaign, with prices ranging from SAR 4,020 (£838) in the general seat lot to SAR 17,258 (£3,596) in the VIP lot. Not only in the stadiums, the real difference that Al Nassr in particular, and the whole tournament in general, feels is Ronaldo’s huge number of fans on social networks.

On December 29, 2022, the day before the deal was announced, Al Nassr had just over 823,000 followers on the official Instagram account. Within four days, that number had increased to 7.8 million. A year later, it was 22.4 million. That’s more than all but five Premier League clubs – and almost as much as Tottenham Hotspur (16.5m), Aston Villa (3.7m) and Newcastle (2.6m) combined.


It is also significantly more than Al Hilal (10.1 million) and Al Ittihad (4.1 million). These clubs have enjoyed huge increases in social media following over the past 12 months, but this may be indirectly related to Ronaldo’s arrival in Saudi Arabia.

Al Hilal’s big jump (from 4.5 million to 8.7 million) came in August after the signings of Yassine Bounou, Aleksandar Mitrovic and especially Neymar. Al Ittihad’s following increased from 1.5 million to 3 million in June, when they agreed to sign Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and other stars.

As for the tournament, despite always attracting passionate interest in the region, the global media rights market before Ronaldo’s arrival was almost non-existent. But now, the tournament announced it will broadcast internationally with 38 television stations in 140 territories.

It is also expected to become the world’s third most profitable football tournament in terms of sponsorship revenue. All of that is due to the “Ronaldo effect” that has convinced many other big names to follow in his footsteps to Saudi.

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