Spanish football club Real Madrid is the most popular team in the UAE, according to a new survey.
Polling of 1,006 individuals conducted by SMG Insight for marketing agency CSM Sport and Entertainment showed Real Madrid fans accounted for 35 per cent of all football fans in the UAE.
Spanish rival FC Barcelona and England’s Liverpool and Manchester United followed the club in terms of popularity.
In contrast, only 13 per cent of UAE football fans supported the most popular local team Al Ain, with even smaller percentages following Egypt’s Al Ahly, Shabab-Al Ahli Dubai, Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad, and Al Wahda.
CSM said the survey showed “domestic club football still has to go in the UAE in attracting a large and loyal fan base”.
The most popular competition among fans in the country was the the FIFA World Cup, engaged with by 47 per cent of fans.
The FIFA Club World Cup, being held by the UAE in December, followed with 38 per cent and then the UEFA Champions League (35 per cent), English Premier League (32 per cent) and Spain’s La Liga (25 per cent).
The Arabian Gulf League was most popular in the Middle East and North Africa region with 19 per cent. The AFC Asian Cup (18 per cent), AFC Champions League (18 per cent) and the GCC Champions League (17 per cent) came next on the regional list.
Overall, 85 per cent of fans in the country watched international competitions, 74 per cent European football, 73 per cent international matches in the MENA region and 71 per cent international matches in MENA compared to only 68 per cent that watch MENA domestic football.
“As the UAE heads into its second consecutive year of hosting the FIFA Club World Cup, quickly followed by the AFC Asian Cup in January 2019, the future for the sport certainly looks healthy,” said Ben Faber, regional director of CSM Sport & Entertainment.
“But there nevertheless remains a lot of work to do to ensure that the domestic game can compete more evenly for local share of voice with international football, and this is the key challenge for the sport over the coming decade.”
Fans in the country were found to engage the most with football on social media (55 per cent), followed by TV (50 per cent) and online streaming (40 per cent). Nearly four in 10 (38 per cent) followed football websites, 37 per cent read newspapers, 32 per cent used mobile streaming and 25 per cent through appss.
In contrast, only 16 per cent actually attended games suggesting a challenge for long-term growth, CSM said.