Football clubs, cruise liners and music event promoters are just some of the investments being made by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
The coronavirus pandemic has provided an opportunity for the Saudi crown prince to come to the aid of hard-hit companies as he seeks to repair his damaged international image.
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is on a buying spree as the fallout from the pandemic reverberates globally.
On Monday the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the kingdom’s primary investment arm, bought a 5.7 percent stake in Live Nation, the world’s largest concert and events promoter to the tune of more than half a billion dollars.
The global events industry will likely see revenues decimated this year with little sign of when it will be safe to open again for large gatherings.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Live Nation’s management was not involved in the deal, suggesting that even during a time of crisis the Saudi brand under the presumptive leadership of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) remains troubled.
The murder and dismemberment of Washington Post contributor, Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, at the behest of MBS, have resulted in boycotts and companies distancing themselves the Crown Prince.
In a humiliating blow to MBS’ kingdom, last year one of Hollywood’s biggest talent agencies returned a $400 million investment in protest at the murder of Khashoggi.
MBS's strategy for the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund seems to be twofold. One is to wean the country from its oil dependency by diversifying revenues, and the other important objective is to buy MBS influence and good public relations.
The Saudi PIF has also seemingly closed a deal to buy the UK football club Newcastle United for an estimated $370 million.
Khashoggi's fiance, Hatice Cengiz, has condemned the move as a "PR tool" and an attempt at "sportswashing" MBS's's tarnished image.
"UK authorities and the Premiere League (sic) should not allow someone like Mohamed Bin Salman (sic), who has yet to face any accountability for the murder of my late fiancé, Jamal Khashoggi, to be so involved in sports in the UK," said Cengiz in a statement.
"Doing otherwise will greatly stain the reputation of the Premiere League (sic) and the UK. Mohamed Bin Salman is strategically using international sports to repair his badly damaged reputation after the murder of Jamal."
Earlier this month the Saudi investment arm also bought an 8.2 percent stake in Carnival Corp, a cruise liner with more than 100 ships.
This follows a freefall in business for the cruise liner industry more broadly after several ships around the world become repositories of the coronavirus.
With no end in sight when the entertainment industry will be able to recover, Saudi investments are risky bets.