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Saudi Arabia’s soccer spending spree slows

Saudi Arabia's splashy spending on big-name foreign players has slowed considerably as Saudi Pro League attendance sags and rumors are swirling that top stars want out of the kingdom.
Yasser Bakhsh/Getty Images

It has been a quiet winter for soccer in Saudi Arabia — a stark reversal from just a couple months ago, when the kingdom was the talk of the sports world after the Saudi Pro League splashed out over $1 billion in 2023, raiding big-name players from Europe’s top clubs.

Saudi Arabia’s winter transfer window closed on Jan. 30 with the SPL racking up just $25 million in transfer fees, according to Transfermarkt. That sum was devoted to a single incoming player, Renan Lodi, who joined Riyadh’s Al-Hilal from Marseille. Riyadh's spending ranked 12th globally at a whopping 98% decline from the summer transfer window, during which it ranked second behind the mighty Premier League, which spent $3 billion. 

That said, the winter transfer window is significantly shorter than its summer counterpart and traditionally slower. Still, as of Jan. 20, winter transfer spending by the Premier League had also fallen about 92% compared the prior winter. ESPN chalks it up in part to Europe’s financial fair play rules, which the SPL notably doesn’t have to abide by, making it an ideal match for European clubs trying to shed large, unwanted contracts. 

That shift makes the spending pullback by Saudi clubs more noteworthy, as many had expected the kingdom would continue to aggressively recruit foreign stars amid government-backed efforts to develop the SPL into a top ten league globally. League attendance has also been underwhelming despite an influx of high wattage players. As of Jan. 29, the average crowd size for SPL clubs this season was 8,345, according to Transfermarkt. Last season, that number stood at 10,197, while the year before that it was 8,247.

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