The Sports Entrepreneurs Podcast by Marcus Luer

Paul Berger, “Middle East Sports Stories”

April 19, 2021

Paul Berger is a true Middle East insider, having been based in Dubai, UAE for nearly three decades and done it all from advertising, motorsports, helping to build the Dubai Autodrome to now running EMEA for the Arena Group, one of the leading temporary event structures groups in the world for sports, music, exhibitions to cultural events.   

 

Key Highlights

  1. Paul’s early days in Advertising in the UK and his route to Dubai. BBDO took him to Dubai. 
  2. From Advertising to Karting – setting up his first business (Leisure Karting) in Dubai – great stories (races in Oman, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi)
  3. Dubai Autodrome & Business Park -  how it all started and where it is now (www.dubaiautodrome.ae)
    1. Clive Bowen of Apex Circuit Design, designed the track (www.apexcircuitdesign.com)
    2. What worked and didn’t work and what is happening on the track now
  4. Next Entrepreneurial venture – Sports Marketing Global – focused on motorsports & brands from the Middle East  (partnered with Chris Akers – who was managing F1 Driver, Robert Kubica at the time)
  5. Working with McLaren (Ekrem Sami), first deal with Emirates in motorsports (and how amazing visuals did the trick)
  6. Abu Dhabi NDA & F1 story -  how the deal came about and contract was signed 
  7. Harlequin Marquees – brother in law business – new challenge – bringing it together with Arena Group, UK (a company with 260 year history – started in 1761)
  8. Arena’s first acquisition outside the UK, big growth since then through acquisition and Public Listing in the UK
  9. Paul’s role as CEO across EMEA – expansion across the region – 350 staff across Asia/Middle East, offices in Malaysia, Korea, Hong Kong, etc
  10. Arena America, Europe/UK, Middle East/Asia key regions– his region became the biggest and most profitable division (pre-Covid 2019) – hugely successful year (Anthony Joshua fight in Saudi) 
  11. The Arena Business – temporary Event Architecture – from tents to modular buildings, interiors, hospitality, etc 
  12. And then Covid happened and how that effected the Business and how Arena reacted to it – pivot business away from events, where could the equipment be used (temporary hospitals, etc)
  13. Saudi family was keen to invest, raised money to make it through Covid – prior to that he was in the process of taking the company private again with US PE group (management buy-out)
  14. Looking into the future, when is the event business coming back – his views on 2021 (transitional year) and 2022-23 – two year process to come back to 2019 numbers
  15. Sports in the Middle East – big growth over the last few decades and where is the growth in the future – Dubai was the initial driver, Abu Dhabi the last decade, last few years Saudi Arabia 
  16. Mostly driven by large scale events, from Boxing, F1, UFC, WWE, Tennis, Golf, etc – some top Venues now like Coca-Cola Arena (20k seater) in Dubai
  17. How to operate in the region – need to have a presence on the ground in the key markets, have local experts and strategic partners

 

About Paul Berger

Paul Berger has been working in the Middle East and Asia since 1993. He started his career in Dubai with the OMNICOM Group, as a lead Account Director on Emirates Airline, Pepsi Cola and General Motors. In 1997, Paul moved into the sports event management sector, by launching the first leisure motor sport tracks in the region. Indoor Karting, Outdoor Karting, the Dubai Autodrome FIA Circuit and local motor racing championships.

In 2009, he became CEO of Harlequin and subsequently sold the company to the Arena Group. In 2010, he became CEO of the Middle East and Asia Division for the Arena Group, launching the company in Singapore and Malaysia. Paul has subsequently expanded the division to Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Korea and now Japan. Paul is also the President of the International Live Events Association in the Middle East.

 

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