Saudi Arabia has been seen as virtually untouchable from a public relations perspective for years. Evidence of ties to 9/11 plotters and war crimes in Yemen have been sparsely reported in Western media, which has tended to have a very upbeat spin on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
That didn’t come cheap, however. Saudi Arabia spends tens of millions of dollars annually on influence campaigns in the US alone. As the outrage grows over the disappearance and probable murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, however, those dearly bought gains could be drying up.
Among the biggest PR coups on 2018 was the WWE “Greatest Royal Rumble” in Jeddah. Estimated to have cost the kingdom tens of millions of dollars, the wrestling event was broadcast internationally, with the WWE repeatedly playing pre-made packages portraying the kingdom as a “progressive” place with modern values.
Not that this went off without a hitch. The overuse of the video packages had many mocking the fairly transparent propaganda. One top wrestler was denied entry because his parents are of Syrian descent. The hype around letting women drive in Saudi Arabia was greatly undercut by them refusing to allow any women to wrestle at the show.
The second of the series of pricey WWE shows is scheduled for November 2, in Riyadh. The backlash against Saudi Arabia, however, and the rising US-Saudi tensions have raised reports that this show may be cancelled outright.
The WWE hasn’t confirmed or denied that, saying only that they are “monitoring the situation.” Industry reports suggest that there are contractual issues to be resolved. Either way, the show is likely to dramatically tone back the propaganda packages.