SOURCE: Arab News
Time: March 22, 2018
LONDON: So far, it has been all about meeting Donald Trump and other political bigwigs. But there is much more on the agenda for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in his first official visit to the US.
In his seven-city tour of America, the prince is also meeting corporate CEOs with a view to striking deals with companies dealing in renewable energy, high tech, sport, tourism and, perhaps most importantly, entertainment.
When it comes to the entertainment industry, Saudi Arabia is virtually a blank page. There are no cinemas or concert halls or amusement parks — yet. The message from the crown prince is that Saudi Arabia is not only open for business, it is open for fun too, with a large young generation — his generation — crying out for entertainment on their own doorstep, that does not entail a drive or flight to neighboring Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates.
Six Flags, the world’s largest amusement park company, with 20 sites in the US, Canada and Mexico, is to build its first property outside the American continent in Saudi Arabia. The company announced last June that it had begun talks with the Saudi government and it was subsequently reported that the first of three initial amusement parks was set to open in 2020, with Riyadh the most likely location.
That turned out to be overstating the situation but the project is certainly not dead.
Sandra Daniels, vice president of corporate communications at Six Flags head office in Grand Prarie, Texas, told Arab News, “We do not have a formal agreement to build a park in Saudi Arabia yet; however, Six Flags is excited to be in discussions to do so and to be part of an important cultural movement, along with other western brands, in support of the Vision 2030 commitment to bring world-class entertainment experiences to Saudi Arabian families.”
Executive chairman Jim Reid-Anderson said the parks were likely — but not guaranteed — to be owned by the Saudi government, adding that there was “great support” for the project.
Saudi audiences will not have to wait that long for the Greatest Royal Rumble wrestling extravaganza, which WWE is staging on April 27 at the 70,000-capacity King Abdullah stadium in Jeddah. The entertainment conglomerate, which is based in Stamford, Connecticut, is shipping out 50 of its WWE “Superstars” and promising “a spectacle of historic proportions.”
WWE prefers a six-month lead-in time period but the agreement to stage this event was signed only at the beginning of March, leaving only six weeks of promotion time. Nonetheless, confidence is still high that tickets will sell out after they go on sale on March 31.
Saudi Arabia and its sports-mad young audiences clearly offer an unprecedented opportunity for WWE to build a new fanbase almost from scratch. WWE has already made one foray into the country, testing the waters with an event 18 months ago in Riyadh, earning a “great reaction.”
Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon said the forthcoming April event is part of a 10-year partnership with the Saudi General Sports Authority supporting Vision 2030, a clear indication that WWE sees Saudi Arabia as a long-term prospect.
According to Britain’s The Sun newspaper, there were comments on Twitter about WWE because the line-up for the Jeddah show does not include any female fighters.
WWE stresses that while its shows are “inclusive and progressive” they always “respect local values and customs.”
Cinema chains and leisure conglomerates are falling over themselves to gain a foothold in a market that is not only almost completely new but also affluent.
Saudis currently spend $22 billion a year on entertainment and tourism outside the country. The government wants at least 25 percent of that sum to be spent at home.
AMC Entertainment, based in Leawood, Kansas, have announced an agreement with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to “explore opportunities” within the Kingdom and IPic Entertainment of Boca Raton, Florida have struck a partnership with the BAS Global Investments Company, a Saudi company, to develop cinemas and restaurants throughout the country, with the aim of opening in 30 locations within a decade.