With Active Participation of A Group of International and Technical Experts and Media Professionals
Three Main Discussion Points: Squad Sizes, Foreign Players Quota and League Format
Abdulla Al Jneibi: Teamwork and Adapting the Most Successful Global Experiences are Our Way to Develop Local Competitions
The UAE Pro League organized on Sunday the UAE League Development Forum at Rixos Premium JBR, Dubai with the participation of global experts, technical and experienced decision-makers tasked with developing sporting competitions and football, as well as, representatives of professional clubs, and Pro League stakeholders.
The inaugural "UAE PL Development Forum" is the first of its kind and the most comprehensive in terms of initiatives, discussions and visions, which came after four months of preparations, visits, and field studies on ground with the participation of global companies and think tanks, which worked with the Pro League's teams to identify the most critical challenges facing the Pro League's competitions, not only at the technical level but also at all levels related to professionalism, in terms of marketing, fans and commercial aspects, as well as others factors strengthening competition at various local Pro League competitions.
The Forum began with the speech from His Excellency Abdulla Naser Al Jneibi, UAE Pro League Chairman and Vice-President of the UAE Football Association, in which he welcomed the distinguished attendees at the first-ever forum that aims to drive Emirati football forwards towards broader horizons, aspiring to achieve successes and regional, continental, and global achievements.
"Today, we are pleased to inaugurate this forum with the participation of the professional clubs, and in the presence of an elite group of global technical, administrative, and development visionaries, in addition to a number of highly-experienced media professionals, who have valuable insights, and are always our partners in success," Al Jneibi said.
He added, "We seek to work together in this first-ever forum in the history of our professional football, leading to the best practices, the application of the approaches, and work steps stemming from the global experiences, in order to bring about development in various aspects related to football and all professional tournaments; whether at the technical, marketing or competitive level.
The Pro League Chairman noted that this could only be achieved through adopting a teamwork strategy, accessing the most successful global experiences, and developing our local competitions, which will be to the benefit of all stakeholders.
The Chairman’s speech was followed by the presentation of TFG International, Pro League’s partners in the forum and one of the most experienced international think tanks in the development of many European competitions, leading to enormous experience in the development of professionalism and competitions and everything related to them, including developing marketing, commercial and technical matters.
The presentation titled "Development of UAE Pro League Competitions" addressed three main aspects: squad sizes, foreign player quota, and league format, with the aim of exploring new fields, including technical and commercial aspects, as well as fans attraction and engagement.
TFG’s presentation focused on the league format with the aim of increasing competitiveness between clubs, attracting fans by working on improving competitiveness and raising revenues, which will reflect positively on boosting viewership ratings, sponsorships, and competition revenues for the UAE Pro League and clubs.
The first aspect of the UAE PL Development Forum discussed the squad sizes. Squads currently have 36 players, only 26 of whom play more than 10% of available minutes compared to 25 players in the squad of the major European Leagues.
The session discussed the possibility of reducing the clubs' squads to 25 players with a view of increasing the opportunities for young players, contributing to the development of players and the national team.
The change is expected to give opportunities for players who currently play less than 10% of matches to move to other clubs to increase their playing time.
Foreign players' quota
The forum's second aspect focused on the number of foreign players, as the current rules allow the registration of 4 foreign professional players, unlike other Asian leagues (KSA = 7, Qatar = 3+1+1, Japan = 5).
They reviewed the AFC project to amend the number of foreign players participating in the UEFA Champions League to become 5 + 1 starting from 2023.
The second aspect also discussed increasing the foreign players' quota to 5 players in addition to 3 players from the resident player and UAE-born player categories to maintain the national project for these categories.
A maximum of 6 players are allowed to participate inside the stadium from foreigners and other categories at the same time to not affect the opportunities of Emirati players.
Attendees’ input emphasised the benefits of this aspect in added flexibility to the best practices in foreign player selection and working with the clubs towards improving results in the AFC Champions League, which is a primary objective of the league, and strengthening the competition to attract fans, boost viewership and maximize revenues.
The third aspect of the UAE PL Development Forum dealt with the league format, with the current number of clubs (14) deemed too high compared to the UAE’s population and match attendances.
The current number of clubs is found to negatively impacts competitive balance, with a significant gap between the top and bottom of the league creating uneven matches and weakening the league’s technical level.
The study outcomes, which were showcased during the discussion, highlighted the limited interest in the league from non-Emirati fans, low attendances, and viewership, declining performance in the AFC Champions League, as well as an unexciting title race.
The discussions in the League format point suggested 4 competition restructuring options, including reducing the league clubs to 12 teams, a playoff stage that would attract more fans and increase excitement in the title race, increasing the number of league games and competitive games.
The joint discussion also reviewed the positive outcomes of the participation of 12 teams in the Pro League, which is an appropriate number compared to the size of the UAE football market, which is expected to improve the quality of the league to increase its commercial value, better prepare Emirati teams to compete in the AFC Champions League and maximise media rights value.