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SAUDI ARABIA - Sports

Samer Issa-El-Khoury

Managing Partner, STAMiNA Productions & IEK Design & Project Management

Bio

Samer Issa-El-Khoury, an experienced Canadian engineer and businessman, built a name for himself delivering the Formula-E race track in Riyadh in 2018. While STAMiNA continue to evolve the Diriyah venue and offer subsequent editions of the Diriyah E-Prix, Issa-El-Khoury has also taken a pivotal role in developing venues across a broad range of sports in the Middle East and internationally, not least the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, home of the F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in 2021 through a partnership between IEK and a local construction company.

"In my opinion, Saudi Arabia is the biggest market worldwide for entertainment, sports, culture, and tourism."

Samer Issa-El-Khoury, Managing Partner at STAMiNA Productions & IEK Design & Project Management, talks to TBY about working on the Formula E and F1 racetracks in Saudi Arabia.

Can you give us a brief overview about yourself and STAMiNA Productions?

After Saudi Launched Vision 2030, sports, culture, entertainment, and tourism started to gain traction in Saudi Arabia, with the first international event to be staged in Saudi was Formula E in December 2018. We brought that championship to Saudi, and because there were no previous events of that scale, there were no companies able to handle the production. We created a company to cater primarily to that event, as the Kingdom had signed a 10-year contract to host Formula E. The idea was to create a local company, this was behind the establishment of STAMiNA. Along the way, we participated in the production of all kinds of events from the Dakar rally, Extreme E, Formula One, and other iconic projects in NEOM, Diriyah with DGDA, and with the Public Investment Fund. Our latest executed projects in the past quarter were the 2022 IHF World Men’s Handball Championship with the Ministry of Sports, the Grand Prix Revival in Dubai, the CEER event launch (the newly established Saudi electrical car factory), and the year-long ongoing projects with NEOM and with Diriyah Gate Development Authority. Today, STAMiNA exports all the experience it has built in Saudi to deliver projects across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Initially, the trend was to have international companies bring in their expertise to Saudi. Yet with Formula E and the experience of the Stamina team, we were ultimately exporting the Saudi experience to extend support to Formula E in Seoul, Morocco, Jakarta, and Berlin, which makes me particularly proud, being one of the few companies to do so. For Formula E, STAMiNA won the Best Sporting Event of the year award in 2019. In 2021, we won the best light and sound production award show for Dakar 2021. 

Can you elaborate on the construction aspect, as it entails a unique skill set?

Because of my background, education in engineering and career in Saudi since 2005 working in construction, specifically in infrastructure projects building airports across Saudi Arabia, I am an expert in the ecosystem of construction in Saudi. This was crucial during the construction of both the Formula E race track in Diriyah in 2018 and the Formula One racetrack in 2021 in record times in which my project management company (IEK) partnered with a local construction company to successfully build it. With such projects, decisions have to be made on-site. This is basically how a local construction company that teamed up with us was successful in delivering the F1 track in seven months. Our contribution is enabling them to understand how rush projects funding works; how state bureaucracy works between construction departments, events departments, and finance departments; decision-making process within stakeholders and government entities; and an unmatched level of flexibility that is crucial to succeed in Saudi Arabia. 

What is your assessment of these opportunities and how will the industry evolve?

In my opinion, Saudi Arabia is the biggest market worldwide for entertainment, sports, culture, and tourism. We witnessed the World Cup in Qatar and Expo in Dubai in 2022, but on Saudi’s calendar, the events happening are across all industries and ministries and throughout the year. The Quality of Life program, entertainment, sports, culture, and tourism has a budget of billions of dollars per year. The opportunities are massive, but they will only be available to companies established in Saudi Arabia. Formerly, you could be based in Dubai, Europe, or the US, while now the priority goes to local companies. In Saudi Arabia, there is a guarantee of return on investments. There might be some delays but the key is never to stop the project because of a financial matter. We learned to work and build trust over time with our financial partners and suppliers so money is never a bottleneck in those projects. The rules of engagement, in my opinion, will change. The clientele scope is enlarging, and we’re diversifying beyond sporting events because it is clear that the need for production companies goes beyond sports and entertainment.

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