Messi vs. Ronaldo: Superlative PR for the Saudis

To crown the Saudi Arabian football advertising days, there will be what is likely the final showdown between the football greats Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Paris Saint-Germain, led by the Argentinian world champion, will face an all-star team of players from Ronaldo’s new employers Al-Nassr and rival Al-Hilal at the King Fahd Stadium of the wealthy and contested desert state. This Thursday’s match (6:00 p.m. CET) marks Ronaldo’s first game since his move to Saudi Arabia, and could be the last of many years of worldwide attention-grabbing duel between the 37-year-old Portuguese and the 35-year-old Argentine.

The two have met 36 times in their careers, mostly in important games, and the 37th time is all about prestige, PR, and a lot of money. PSG will receive a little more than ten million euros for the trip to Saudi Arabia, after the second away defeat in a row in Ligue 1. It remains to be seen how sensible the trip with the flight at night, arrival early Wednesday morning, show training in Qatar on the same day, the game on Thursday and the return journey to Paris is from a fitness point of view.

In addition to Messi and Ronaldo, other names in the Paris world selection such as Neymar and Kylian Mbappé should almost fade anyway. The fact that Messi, as the advertising face of a tourism campaign, also has a business connection to Saudi Arabia, the country that inflicted the only defeat on him and the Argentines in the opening game at the World Cup, makes the reunion of the multiple world footballers even more remarkable.

To get in the mood, Saudi Arabia had secured nothing less than the Spanish (Sunday) and Italian (Wednesday) Supercup at König Fahd Stadium between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid as well as AC and Inter Milan. The Portuguese sports newspaper “A Bola” also recalled the last duel between Messi and Ronaldo. Ronaldo had won 3-0 with Juventus at FC Barcelona with Messi in the group stage in December 2020 – also thanks to Ronaldo’s two penalty goals.

The demand for tickets for the Riyadh Season Cup was huge, with two million inquiries. Around 70,000 fans only have room in the King Fahd Stadium. One who will also be there is said to have bought his special ticket at a charity auction, paying 10 million riyals – the equivalent of around 2.5 million euros.

The reunion of Messi and Ronaldo is more than just a football match. It has become a global spectacle that has been talked about for years, and the Saudis are taking full advantage of this. Not only is it a great PR opportunity for the country, but it could also be a sign of what’s to come. The two footballers have been linked to a potential bid for the 2030 World Cup in South America, with Argentina and Uruguay as well as Paraguay and Chile as candidates. Regardless of the outcome of the match, it’s sure to be an unforgettable event.