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Over the last two seasons, the Saudi Pro League made significant waves in the football world with heavyweights like Al Hilal, Al Nassr, and Al Ittihad splurging on top talents with the backing of the PIF (Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund). Signing Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema, Neymar, Mane, Kante, Otavio, Mahrez, Bono to name a few. With ambitious plans to be one of the top five best football leagues in the world and signaling a concerted effort to position the Saudi Pro League as a global powerhouse by 2030.

Ronaldo’s remarks on the superior quality of the Saudi Pro League compared to the Ligue 1 and MLS have stirred controversy among the fans and media.

“The Saudi league is better than MLS”

“To be honest I think the Saudi League is not worse than French league, in my opinion. In French league I think you have two, three teams with a good level.”

But is the Saudi Pro League better than Major League Soccer? The Sports Journal alongside sports AI company, Sponsorlytix, conducted a comprehensive analysis of the two leagues by compiling extensive data on six key metrics for both the leagues combined with other factors and parameters.

Former Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand recently suggested that the Saudi Pro League surpasses Major League Soccer (MLS), particularly highlighting Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Al-Nassr compared to Lionel Messi’s transfer to Inter Miami. Ferdinand criticized the disparity in perception by the media between these moves.

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Riyadh Season organized a pre-season tour (Riyadh Super Cup 2024) featuring friendly matches between Inter Miami and two top teams from the Saudi Pro League: Al Hilal and Al Nassr. The games were highly anticipated by fans, serving as a litmus test to gauge Cristiano Ronaldo’s claims that the SPL outshines the MLS.

In the opening match, Inter Miami faced off against Al Hilal, currently topping the league table. In a thrilling encounter, Inter Miami displayed resilience by rallying from a two-goal deficit, only to fall short in a 4-3 defeat. The second match, eagerly awaited and billed as the “last dance” between familiar rivals Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, saw Ronaldo sidelined due to injury and Messi benched, making a brief appearance in the final minutes. In this showdown, Al Nassr, representing the SPL, delivered a resounding 6-0 victory over Inter Miami.

While social media buzzed with declarations affirming Ronaldo’s assertion, we take a  deeper look to analyse the data to ascertain the true measure of league superiority.

Source: Sponsorlytix

TV Broadcast and Viewership

Television broadcast viewership serves as a critical conduit for leagues to reach wider audiences and amplify their global footprint. Football reigns supreme in Saudi Arabia, unchallenged by competing sports like in the United States, resulting in greater attention in the league.

Saudi Pro League secured broadcasting deals with local and regional networks, ensuring widespread coverage and enhancing the league’s visibility on the global stage. The MLS Cup 2023 Final had over 815,000 viewers on FOX; they had 1.6 million viewers in 2022 and 1.1 million in 2021, and regular season matches typically draw hundreds of thousands of viewers.

Source: Sponsorlytix

The big game between Al Nassr and Al Hilal on December 1st, 2023, had a global audience of 3.5 million viewers across all broadcasters, marking a 43% increase in concurrent live viewers due to star attractions like Cristiano Ronaldo, Mane, Bono, etc

Moreover, the scheduling and timing of matches favor the Saudi Pro League, with games typically aligning with prime viewing hours for global audiences, unlike the late-night kick-offs often seen in MLS matches.

The Saudi Pro League (SPL) has inked lucrative broadcast agreements spanning over 130 territories for the 2023/24 season, marking a significant expansion into key global markets.

These arrangements coincide with a surge in global interest in the Roshn Saudi League, emphasizing its growing significance on the international football stage. Noteworthy among the deals is a groundbreaking collaboration with DAZN across multiple territories, including Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, and the UK, alongside significant partnerships with Canal+ (France), Sport TV (Portugal), La 7 (Italy), (Spain), and Cosmote (Greece), among others.

Saudi Pro League and Major League Soccer Broadcasters

Saudi Pro League Major League Soccer
A1 Bulgaria / Max Sport (Bulgaria) Apple TV+ (Worldwide)
Azam (East Africa) FS1 (North America)
Azteca (Central America & Mexico) Fox Deportes (Americas)
Bilibili (China) TSN (Canada)
Canal+ (France & French overseas territories)
Cosmote (Greece)
DAZN (UK, Germany, Austria, Canada, Belgium)
GOAT (Brazil)
Kball (China)
La 7 (Italy)
Marca (Spain)
Migu (China)
Network Ten (Australia)
Prima Sports (Romania)
Saudi Sports Channel (Saudi Arabia)
Setanta (Commonwealth of Independent States, Baltics & Ukraine)
Sony/culver (Indian Sub-continent)
SPO TV (South East Asia, Korea & Japan)
Sport TV (Portugal)
Sporty TV (Nigeria & Ghana)
StartTimes (Sub-Saharan Africa incl. South Africa)
Supersport (Albania & Kosovo)
Tencent (China)
ZAP (Angola & Mozambique)
Zhibo8 (China)

Source: Sponsorlytix

Major League Soccer secured a whopping $2.5 billion package deal, with Apple TV+ set to broadcast MLS matches worldwide and also serve as a league sponsor. Comparing this to the last domestic TV deal signed in 2015, which totaled around $720 million, this new deal represents a significant leap forward. Apple will contribute $250 million per year, compared to the previous domestic deal’s $90 million per year.

The MLS Season Pass offers a significant advantage by being accessible worldwide in over 100 countries. Through a collaboration between Apple and MLS, millions across the globe now have streaming access to the league.

Social Media Followers

In an era dominated by digital connectivity, social media platforms have emerged as battlegrounds for leagues to engage with fans, amplify their narratives, and cultivate vibrant communities.

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Source: Sponsorlytix

In terms of media visibility, the Saudi league has garnered significant attention, with high-profile signings keeping it in the spotlight. This contrasts with the MLS, which still trails in worldwide searches and overall interest despite landmark signings like Messi, Suarez and Alba.

The total social media followers of the Saudi Pro League and Major League Soccer collectively highlight the immense global interest and engagement these football leagues garner. With a combined following of 105.86 million across platforms such as X, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitch, the Saudi Pro League commands a significant digital presence, indicative of its widespread appeal among football enthusiasts worldwide.

Similarly, Major League Soccer boasts an impressive total of 81.17 million social media followers, showcasing its substantial digital footprint and influence across various platforms. From captivating content on Instagram to lively discussions on X, MLS clubs and the league itself foster a dynamic online community.

The signings of global football icons such as Cristiano Ronaldo by Al Nassr and Lionel Messi by Inter Miami have caused remarkable surges in Instagram followers for their respective clubs.

Al Nassr witnessed an unprecedented rise from 500,000 to 24.5 million followers within one year following Ronaldo’s arrival, showcasing the powerful impact of such high-profile signings on social media engagement. Similarly, Messi’s signing propelled Inter Miami’s Instagram followers from 4.5 million to 16 million, exemplifying the magnetic allure and star power these iconic players bring to their clubs and leagues, further enhancing their digital presence and fanbase reach.

Source: Sponsorlytix

Corporate Sponsorship & Partnership Revenue

Sponsorship revenue serves as the lifeblood of modern football, providing leagues with financial sustenance to realize their ambitions and fuel growth initiatives. In MLS, landmark partnerships with global brands like Apple, Adidas, Heineken, and Audi have injected substantial capital into the league, underpinning its rapid expansion and institutional development.

Source: Sponsorlytix

Similarly, the Saudi Pro League has attracted lucrative sponsorship deals, albeit with fewer details publicly disclosed, signaling a burgeoning commercial ecosystem and a growing appetite among brands to align with footballing entities. These sponsorship endeavors underscore the symbiotic relationship between football and commerce, heralding a new era of financial prosperity and strategic collaborations within the global footballing fraternity.

MLS secured a landmark sponsorship deal with Adidas worth $700 million over 8 years, among other partnerships with major brands like Heineken and Audi.

The sponsorship landscape of the Saudi Pro League and Major League Soccer illustrates the diverse array of brands invested in these football leagues. The Saudi Pro League boasts partnerships with companies such as Roshn, Visit Saudi, and Pepsi, with a total sponsorship value of $37 million.

Saudi Pro League and Major League Soccer | League Corporate Sponsors & Partners

Saudi Pro League Major League Soccer
Roshn: $5 million Adidas: $87.5 million
Visit Saudi: $3 million Allstate: $7.5 million
Al Inma Bank: $2 million Apple: $25 million
MedGulf: $2 million AT&T: $25 million
SAL: $3 million Audi: $10 million
N.go: $1 million Avant: $2 million
EA Sports: $5 million Bodyarmor: $3 million
Half Million: $1 million Campbell Snacks: $5 million
Adidas: $10 million Captain Morgan: $3 million
Pepsi: $5 million Caterpillar: $5 million
Total -$37m Celsius: $3 million
Coca-Cola: $25 million
Continental: $7.5 million
DoorDash: $5 million
EA Sports: $5 million
Heineken: $25 million
The Home Depot: $7.5 million
IHG Hotels & Resorts: $5 million
JLab: $2 million
Procter & Gamble: $5 million
Sorare: $2 million
Target: $7.5 million
Ticketmaster: $5 million
TikTok: $5 million
University of South Carolina: $3 million
RBC Wealth Management: $5 million
Total – $290.5m

Source: Sponsorlytix

These partnerships not only provide financial support but also contribute to the league’s visibility and growth both domestically and internationally. On the other hand, Major League Soccer secured substantial sponsorship deals with industry giants like Adidas, Apple, and AT&T, totalling an impressive $290.5 million, beating the Saudi Pro League with a wide margin.

Quality of Teams & Overall Competitiveness

A league is only as strong as its constituent teams, and both MLS and the Saudi Pro League boast clubs with rich histories and ambitious aspirations. The hallmark of a thriving league lies in its competitiveness, characterized by parity among teams and nail-biting encounters on the field.

MLS epitomizes this ethos, with the MLS Cup playoffs serving as a testament to the league’s unpredictability and drama. Conversely, the Saudi Pro League has witnessed a resurgence in competitiveness, as evidenced by tighter matches and fewer predictable outcomes.

The performances of Saudi Pro League clubs in the AFC Champions League showcase their competitive prowess on the continental stage.

With Al-Hilal leading the charge with four titles and five runners-up finishes, they have consistently demonstrated their dominance in Asian club football. Their victories in 1991, 1999–2000, 2019, and 2021, coupled with their runner-up positions in 1986, 1987, 2014, 2017, and 2022, establish their status as a formidable force in the competition.

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Similarly, Al-Ittihad’s two titles in 2004 and 2005, along with one runners-up finish in 2009, highlight their pedigree and competitiveness in the AFC Champions League. While Al-Ahli, Al-Shabab, and Al-Nassr have yet to clinch the title, their multiple runners-up finishes reflect their consistent presence at the upper echelons of Asian club football.

Source: Sponsorlytix

The strength and competitiveness of Saudi Pro League clubs in the AFC Champions League is evident. Their consistent presence in the latter stages of the tournament, coupled with multiple title wins and runners-up finishes, highlights their ability to compete at the highest level on the continent.

The Concacaf Champions League has served as a stage where Major League Soccer clubs have showcased their mettle in North American club football. The legacy of MLS teams in this competition is underscored by the achievements of illustrious clubs like the LA Galaxy, who clinched the title in 2000 and secured a runner-up spot in 1997. Similarly, D.C. United’s triumph in 1998 was a pivotal moment that cemented MLS’s stature in the tournament. Moreover, the recent victory of the Seattle Sounders FC in 2022 is emblematic of the league’s evolution and competitiveness, with MLS teams consistently vying for top honors on the regional stage.

Despite not securing the title, clubs like Los Angeles FC and Real Salt Lake have made their mark in the Concacaf Champions League, reaching the finals and showcasing the league’s depth and talent. Los Angeles FC finished as runners-up in 2020 and 2023, while Real Salt Lake reached the final in 2011, highlighting MLS clubs’ competitiveness and ability to contend with top teams from across North America.

As per the historical performances in the continental leagues, the data suggests that the Saudi Pro League exhibits a higher level of success and competitiveness compared to Major League Soccer. 

Player Talent & Star Attraction

The allure of star power transcends geographical boundaries, captivating audiences and igniting passions on the footballing stage. In Major League Soccer (MLS), legends such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimović, and Gareth Bale have graced the pitch, mesmerizing fans and raising the bar of excellence. MLS continues to capture global attention with the signings of icons like Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Luis Suarez, and Jordi Alba, who are set to bring their star quality and wealth of experience to Inter Miami, reuniting the famed Barcelona legends and promising a thrilling spectacle on American soil.

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Source: Sponsorlytix

Also, among the stars in MLS are talents like Lorenzo Insigne, Douglas Costa, and Giorgio Chiellini, adding further luster to the league’s galaxy of talents.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Pro League has emerged as a powerhouse, attracting a constellation of global superstars including Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema, Neymar, Mane, Kante, Otavio, Mahrez, and Bono. Steven Gerrard and other top managers are also part of the league’s strategy to improve across all levels: management, star players, young and upcoming talents, youth academies, and so on. This influx signals the league’s burgeoning prestige and its ability to draw marquee names from every corner of the globe.

Saudi Pro League and Major League Soccer | Star Signings Season 21/22 – 23/24

Saudi Pro League Major League Soccer
Cristiano Ronaldo: Free Transfer Lionel Messi: Free Transfer
Anderson Talisca: $8.8 million Sergio Busquets: Free Transfer
David Ospina: $5.3 million Jordi Alba: Free Transfer
Marcelo Brozovic: $19.6 million Luis Suarez: Free Transfer
Alex Telles: Free Transfer Carlos Vela: $5.3 million
Seko Fofana: $27.8 million Leonardo Campana: $2.7 million
Sadio Mane: $30 million Cucho Hernandez: $9 million
Otavio: $65 million Lorenzo Insigne: Free Transfer
Aymeric Laporte: $29.8 million Xherdan Shaqiri: $6.7 million
Karim Benzema: Free Transfer Giorgio Chiellini: Free Transfer
N’Golo Kante: Free Transfer Federico Bernardeschi: Free Transfer
Romarinho: $7.5 million Douglas Costa: $1 million
Jota: $31.7 million Riqui Puig: Free Transfer
Fabinho: $45.6 million
Ruben Neves: $60 million
Moussa Marega: Free Transfer
Kalidou Koulibaly: $20 million
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic: $44.6 million
Malcom: $66.9 million
Neymar: $97.8 million
Aleksandar Mitrovic: $57 million
Ever Banega: $7.3 million
Grzegorz Krychowiak: Free Transfer
Cristian Tello: Free Transfer
Felipe Caicedo: Free Transfer
Edouard Mendy: $20.2 million
Roger Ibanez: $32.6 million
Roberto Firmino: Free Transfer
Riyad Mahrez: $38.6 million
Allan Saint-Maximin: $29.3 million
Gabriel Veiga: $43 million
Frank Kessie: $13.4 million
Romain Saiss: $2.8 million
Gini Wijnaldum: $9.7 million
Moussa Dembele: Free Transfer
Yassine Bounou: $13 million
Habib Diallo: $19.4 million
Jordan Henderson $15.6 million

Source: Sponsorlytix

The Saudi Pro League’s unparalleled roster of international talent underscores its current dominance, with ambitions set on further expansion by targeting top-tier European talents like Mo Salah and others. Currently boasting 38 star players, the Saudi league stands as a formidable force, surpassing MLS’s 13, as it continues its ascent to the summit of global football.

Stadium Infrastructure & Average Attendance

A league’s infrastructure forms the bedrock of its long-term sustainability, encompassing state-of-the-art stadiums, training facilities, and logistical support systems. In MLS, substantial investments exceeding $1 billion have been funneled into stadium infrastructure since its inception, resulting in architectural marvels like Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Redbull Arena.

Conversely, the Saudi Pro League has embarked on a similar trajectory of modernization, with landmark venues such as The Kingdom Arena, King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, Al Nassr’s new stadium to name a few, epitomizing the league’s commitment to fostering a world-class footballing ecosystem.

Many of the world-class footballers who chose to play in Saudi Arabia last summer spoke of joining a “new project.” For them, it wasn’t just about the financial rewards; it was also about embracing the opportunity to introduce football to a new audience and expand its global reach.

Source: Sponsorlytix

At the forefront is Al Hilal, Neymar’s team, drawing an impressive average of 27,148 spectators per home game at the King Fahd International Stadium. Other clubs, like Al Ittihad and Al Ahli, also enjoy strong support from their fans, creating a vibrant atmosphere in stadiums across the league.

Moreover, Cristiano Ronaldo’s addition to Al Nassr has been a significant factor in boosting attendance. Due to his presence, the average attendance increased by an impressive 64%, highlighting the impact that star players can have on the league’s popularity.

Meanwhile, across the pond, Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States has been steadily growing in popularity. With an average attendance of 22,170 in the 2023/24 season, MLS continues to attract fans to stadiums across the country. Superstars like Lionel Messi have made a significant impact on the league, drawing even more attention to the sport in North America.

Saudi Pro League and Major League Soccer | Average Attendance Last 5 Seasons

Season Saudi Pro League Major League Soccer
2023/24 8,184 22,170
2022/23 10,197 20,933
2021/22 8,247 17,038
2020/21 7,852 11,886
2019/20 14,949 21,328

Comparing the average attendance figures over the last five seasons, we see a steady increase in MLS attendance, reaching a peak of 23,424 in the 2019/20 season. On the other hand, the Saudi Pro League has seen fluctuations in attendance, with an average of 8,184 in the 2023/24 season so far, showcasing the different dynamics of football fandom in various regions.

Overall, both leagues play a vital role in promoting the beautiful game and providing entertainment to fans worldwide. As players like Cristiano Ronaldo leave their mark on the Saudi Pro League and Messi dazzles in MLS, football continues to unite communities and inspire future generations of players and supporters.


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