UAE tipped for win off the pitch with 2019 Asian Cup

07 January 2019 3 min. read

The UAE is set for a significant windfall as the host nation of the Asian Football Confederation’s 2019 Asian Cup, with the expanded 24-team competition kicking off over the weekend.

The on-field action is underway in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup – Asia’s flagship footballing tournament held only once every four years, with host nation the UAE barely holding off Bahrain for a 1-1 draw in the competition opener. Yet, off-field, the home-nation can expect a significant win, with the UAE welcoming visiting football fans, the teams and their entourages from across Asia and the Middle East over the space of four weeks.

“They're going to need hotels, they're going to need food, but they're also going to spend money,” Deloitte’s UK-based Sports Business Group director Timothy Bridge told local media agency The National, highlighting the direct impact as the most evident area of economic benefit. But the UAE can also expect longer-term benefits. “Hosting a tournament such as the Asian Cup provides a platform for the future economic but also wider social impact.”

While Bridge points to the potential to host larger future global sporting events  as one example, with greater operational experience, infrastructural improvements and a raised international sports-hosting profile derived from the current event, there is also the international exposure in general, with soccer-mad fans expected to tune in from all across Asia. When the UAE last held the Asian Cup in 1996, the sport had only just commenced its barnstorming charge to the East.UAE tipped for win off the pitch with 2019 Asia CupNow, according to some estimates, there are more than a billion ardent soccer fans in Asia – with a still rapidly growing base of up to 600 million or so in China and India alone, both of which have qualified for this year’s expanded tournament – India for the first time. They'll feature alongside Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, countries which together boast a combined population of roughly 280 million and weren’t among the 16 teams fighting it out during the last event in 2015.

Such numbers then make it difficult to quantify the UAE’s potential longer-term economic returns as a host, for example through future tourism and foreign investment. Boston Consulting Group has projected a potential boost to North American economy activity from hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup to be in the ball-park of $5 billion. That’s direct activity. Russia meanwhile is estimated to have invested $15 billion on infrastructure for last year’s event. The sums tell the story of longer-term thinking.

A more reliable guide for the UAE’s potential shorter-term benefits can be perhaps obtained through a pair of Ernst & Young studies. For the last Asian Cup hosted in Australia, EY pegged the total nation-wide direct expenditure at AU$81 million – more than half of that from international tourists – boosting Australia’s GDP by about $7.3 million. The 2019 tournament will feature an additional 19 games over five extra days, in a more accessible and compact location; the distance from Shanghai to Dubai is shorter than that of Shanghai to Sydney.

Meanwhile, EY has forecast the economic impact of this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan at a value add of £1.5 billion to the local GDP, with £700 million in direct expenditure courtesy of an expected 400,000 visitors over the space of six weeks. And while the director of the Local Organising Committee Aref Al Awani has been cagey on precise visitor estimates for the 2019 Asia Cup, he’s been quick to point out the potential – noting the large local expat population and 2 billion people who live within a four hour flight of the UAE.