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Abu Dhabi Santiago Bernabeu: Oiling the wheels of footie

The news that Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company has secured naming rights to Real Madrid’s home ground – turning it into the Abu Dhabi Santiago Bernabeu – represents an interesting branding exercise. Sovereign wealth funds rarely seek brand recognition: usually quite the reverse.

The naming deal is part of a much broader arrangement that will include a Real Madrid theme park being built in the UAE capital. Supposedly the whole deal is worth €500 million over 20 years, although IPIC says it is “bound by contractual covenant not to release details” on the commercial terms. (IPIC also says, in the same statement, that it is “a long-term investor in overseas energy and energy-related assets”; make of that what you will, but it begs the question where Ronaldo, Bale and co fit into a specialist energy portfolio.)

IPIC’s venture puts us in mind of another Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund’s brief engagement with international football, when the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (Adia)’s shareholding in Manchester United reached a level where it had to be disclosed, back in 1998. Clearly, there was nothing wrong with that as an investment, but Adia reportedly exited it because of the unwelcome attention it was bringing, to the point where disgruntled fans would phone up the sovereign wealth fund if their team lost at the weekend.

So, perhaps IPIC can look forward to Monday morning gripes from the Madrid faithful once the signs are up at the Bernabeu? Mercifully for them, Real Madrid loses a hell of a lot less frequently than Man U these days. 

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