Not long after announcing the highly anticipated fight between Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou as one of the showstoppers of the upcoming Riyadh Season, the head of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) told waiting reporters that the event’s fourth edition would be its biggest yet.

Fury, the current WBC heavyweight champion, will take on former UFC heavyweight champion Ngannou in Riyadh on October 28. The fight will mark Fury’s comeback to the ring since December last year, against a man who holds the record for throwing the “world’s hardest punch”. For Saudi Arabia, the high-profile event will mark the opening of the most ambitious edition of the Riyadh Season.

For Saudi Arabia, which is less than two months away from kicking off the season, the optics of such a fight is exactly what the country is banking on to draw 10-12 million visitors to its annual entertainment money-spinner.

Turki Al Sheikh, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA), who made the announcement of this year’s ambitious target on the sidelines of the press event announcing the fight, also told the channel Ashraq News that one million of those visitors would come from outside the kingdom.

Al Sheikh further added: “The Riyadh Season, in its fourth edition, has achieved 40% of its targeted revenue through sponsorship and some large deals even before it’s started.” He did not divulge specific figures.

For the country, which only recently opened its doors to live entertainment events, the Riyadh Season and its counterparts, have proved to be a revenue earner for Saudi Arabia.

In 2021, Al Sheikh had revealed on X, formerly known as Twitter, that “direct and indirect income” from Riyadh Season 2019 reached SAR 6 billion amid spending of SAR 3.1 billion. The Net income from 2021’s Riyadh Season was set to exceed SAR 2.9 billion. The event for 2020 never took place on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ticketed concerts, free events

The 2023 event kicks off on October 28, with a typical season lasting five months with several free events, along with many ticketed top-billed concerts and live performances with acts such as Imagine Dragons, Amr Diab and K-pop’s Blackpink and BTS staging gigs in the past.

The kingdom has been heavily investing in its entertainment landscape as part of its Vision 2030, with an August report by research and consulting firm Mordor Intelligence estimating the ‘Saudi Arabia Entertainment and Amusement Market’ size will reach $2.31 billion in 2023, and is expected to cross $3.80 billion by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 10.44% during the forecast period.

(Reporting by Bindu Rai, editing by Seban Scaria)