Skift Take

With Ronaldo, Messi and LeBron James, Saudi Arabia is proving it can sway anyone to come visit. In its latest display in sports tourism power, the kingdom shows James around one of its cherished tourism projects.

LeBron James is in Saudi Arabia. First came the shaky videos on Twitter, then a government-approved video at The Saudi Basketball Federation, and now, he has been photographed admiring one of the kingdom’s many tourism projects: Diriyah Gate.

“A sporting legend lands in #Diriyah,” tweeted the project’s official account. “It was a pleasure hosting basketball star and #NBA’s all-time leading scorer, LeBron James, at #DiriyahCompany. Our CMO, Kiran Haslam, presented the Diriyah project master plan and our vision to create a global sports hub in the Kingdom.”

Haslam himself wrote on LinkedIn: “It was a real pleasure to host LeBron James here in Diriyah, The City Of Earth. LeBron continues to inspire people from all walks of life through his incredible sporting career, and his time with us was indeed special. It was nice to get a very humble call from my awesome PA who informed me that my “very tall guest” had arrived.”

In May 2023, footballer Lionel Messi shared his own pics from Diriyah Gate. Marked as a paid partnership with Visit Saudi, the post has garnered around 17 million likes and more than 78,000 comments.

This post was one of many as part of obligations in partnership with Saudi Tourism, according to a report in the New York Times — a deal that could bring in $25 million over three years for him.

At the time of writing, the post about James has little reaction. Diriyah’s Twitter has just under 4,000 followers and the post with James has two likes.

James has not yet posted about the trip to the kingdom on his own social media platforms, where he has more than a hundred million followers.

Saudi Super-Charges Sports Tourism

The Saudi government is using sports as a key part of its strategy to boost the country’s image and increase tourism. Saudi Arabia has hosted several major sporting events in recent years, including its first-ever Formula One Grand Prix race in Jeddah in 2021 and the heavyweight boxing championship match between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk the following year in the same city.

Christiano Ronaldo remains a Saudi resident, player for the Al-Nassr team, and a showcase of Saudi’s bold sports industry sector ambitions.

Saudi officials have said one of the goals of Vision 2030 is to establish the country as a regional hub for prominent sporting events. A report from accounting firm Ernst & Young found that the value of the sporting events industry in Saudi Arabia is expected to rise from $2.1 billion to roughly $3.3 billion by next year.

Skift has reached out to Diriyah.


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Tags: Saudi Tourism, Tourism news

Photo credit: (L-R) Kiran Jay Haslam, CMO of Diriyah and LeBron James.

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