By Daniel Shane
Few will be surprised that another sports-branded megaproject has gone down the pan, says Daniel Shane
Quick show of hands: when football juggernaut Real Madrid teamed up with the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah in March last year to build a $1bn island resort, who actually believed this was going to happen?
If ever there was an ill-fit for a branded-mega project this was it. Real Madrid has the Santiago Bernebeu, Christiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Gareth Bale and a cabinet bursting full of the sport’s top accolades. Ras Al-Khaimah, for all its charm, has the Ice Land waterpark and cement factories.
Given that the developer, Luxembourg-based Real Madrid Resort Island, did not secure any funding for the project and never even owned the land on which it was to be built, the news that the attraction has been shelved – or possibly relocated to Abu Dhabi – will come as a revelation to few.
I’m not bashing RAK here either. The emirate has a blossoming tourism industry to rival any in the region, with ambitious projects like the splendid new Waldorf hotel, and is easily the best place in the UAE for loads of outdoor and watersports activities. Just ask the Russians, who seem to flock to the place in their droves.
But given the lack of progress on securing funding, purchasing land rights or appointing contractors, it begs the question how this ever got off the ground in the first place. Even more so considering the UAE’s track record on these sports-branded mega projects, such as Tiger Woods’s Dubai golf resort and Boris Becker Beach Resort (also on RAK’s Marjan Island), which never happened either.
With all of this in mind, I have decided to launch a sports theme park branded with my favourite team, Newcastle United, in Umm Al Quwain. I don’t have the rights to their brand, any land on which to build it, or any cash to fund it. I can get a friend to knock out a couple of nice drawings, probably convince a couple of ex-players to come out of retirement to promote it, and put on a fancy press conference somewhere. It will probably have about as much chance of ever happening as Real Madrid Island ever did.
The problem with all these high profile pies in the sky is that the pliant media in the UAE and beyond roll up to the press conferences, checking with colleagues at other events if the media gifts are up to scratch and even comparing menus for the buffet, they don't take a single note, take the glossy press release from the kit and then fight tooth and nail for the remaining media gifts. They will then use huge lifts from the press kit, including the stock photos, and that is it. Nobody asks a serious question like "where if the money coming from?" or "have you bought the land yet?" and instead the "journalists" fall on the buffet like vultures and off they go. There are the gratuitous posed photos and off the faux developer goes, assured of reams of copy about the fake development. That is the way of the UAE media, with Dubai's being the worst offenders. Sadly, this artificial media coverage cons future investors.