Things we learned in Miami

Things we learned in Miami
As the year draws to a close, we want to take this opportunity to look back at some of the key takeaways from the first Soccerex USA which took place in Miami last month, bringing together the great and the good of the global soccer community for a truly memorable event.

Concacaf, who recently moved into their shiny new offices in Miami, featured prominently at Soccerex USA, bringing the likes of President Victor Montagliani, General Secretary Philippe Moggio, Head of Women’s Football Karina LeBlanc, Chief of Football Officer Manolo Zubiria and Director of Development Jason Roberts who all spoke at the event.

Following a one-to-one interview with Victor Montagliani, the development and growth plans for the future of Concacaf competitions were discussed. In this session, Philippe Moggio and Manolo Zubiria spoke on the impact the restructuring of the Concacaf Gold Cup will have on the tournament, specifically on the competitiveness the new format will encourage. The Gold Cup, typically consisting of 12 nations, will be increased to 16 teams in the 2019 edition of the tournament, split into four groups, with the top two teams from each group qualifying for the knockout stages. Zubiria states that with the new format, “every game will feel like the final”, and all teams will need to put out their best team for every game, which is likely to produce the highest possible standard of football from the Concacaf nations. In 2019, for the first time ever, the Gold Cup will be hosted in Costa Rica and a country to be decided in the Caribbean, as well as the US, to make the competition more accessible to fans from the entirety of the region.

One of the event’s headline sessions saw senior members from Concacaf’s two most dominant footballing nations, USA and Mexico, come together. MLS Commissioner Don Garber, and President of the Mexican Football Federation Yon De Luisa discussed the 2026 United FIFA World Cup, and the unique soccer relationship between the USA and Mexico, and their respective leagues.

Following the session, Garber made headlines as he inadvertently confirmed the appointment of Atlanta United manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, following an aggressive move from the Mexican Football Federation. Garber believes that had Martino not been with Atlanta, and been successful in the MLS, this move may never have happened. Martino recently won the MLS Cup with Atlanta United, who joined the MLS in 2017 and already have one of the largest fanbases in the league. It will be interesting to see if Martino’s success carries over to the Mexican National Team, and whether Atlanta United will continue their fantastic run of form into the Concacaf Champions League and next season. The incredible start made by the new MLS Champions provides a blueprint for success; it will be interesting to see to what extent it is emulated by the new teams entering the league in the next couple of years - FC Cincinnati, Nashville, and Inter Miami CF, who were all represented at the event.

Jorge Mas, Inter Miami CF’s Co-Founder, spoke in a packed room about the plans and expectations of the franchise. It was explained that the community has rallied behind the club, with 60% of voters in the city of Miami in favour of turning a 73-acre golf course into Miami Freedom Park, which will be the home of the Inter Miami franchise. Jorge Mas discussed the positive impacts the franchise will have on the surrounding areas, and the community that will develop as a result.

Though Inter Miami will not be joining the MLS until the 2020 season, the buzz and the appetite for football has already grown in the area, which is being looked upon as an ideal destination to host a LaLiga match in the US. At Soccerex USA, Charlie Stillitano and Daniel Sillman of Relevent Sports discussed their partnership with LaLiga that includes a mandate to hold a LaLiga match in the US. With a large Latin-American, Spanish speaking contingent, Miami would undoubtedly be the perfect city to host a LaLiga fixture in the region.

The idea of playing a European league game in the US could revolutionise the way football fans view domestic football, and could create a snowball effect with other leagues looking to follow suit should this bold move become successful. The globalisation of leagues (a concept that can already be seen in the “Big Four” American sports leagues - NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL) would generate a larger fanbase, increase global recognition and allow clubs and players to better connect with their fans across the world, with LaLiga being the pioneer league to do so in football.

In his presentation at Soccerex USA, LaLiga President Javier Tebas expressed that he is strongly in favour of the potentially ground-breaking project that would see LaLiga matches being played in the United States, and believes it is inevitable, claiming “If it doesn’t happen this year, it will happen next year”. On the day of his presentation, the Miami Herald - the city’s largest daily newspaper - used their front and back cover pages to promote the “Bring the US the Game” campaign, with photos of local fans that support this movement. Tebas also made headlines of his own during his presentation, stating that PSG should be barred from the Champions League over Financial Fair Play breaches.

LaLiga were also involved in an engaging discussion about the growth of the women’s game where their Women’s Football Director Pedro Malabia joined Karina LeBlanc Head of Women’s Football at Concacaf, NWSL Managing Director Amanda Duffy and Mike Golub President of Business, Portland Thorns for one of the headline sessions on the first day. The prominent slot and the packed audience were indicative of the importance of the women’s game within the programme and this was just one of a number of discussions that centered around women’s football, both in the Americas and worldwide. Another example of this was the discussion hosted by Kate Abdo on FOX’s coverage and commercial strategy for the upcoming 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and the global impact the competition could have on the recognition of women’s football. The 2015 tournament undoubtedly sparked a greater global interest in the women’s game that has been capitalized upon through expanded domestic leagues. If the interest seen at Soccerex USA is anything to go by, next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup will undoubtedly be a catalyst for further growth.

From Concacaf competitions, to the globalisation of the game, the inaugural Soccerex USA undoubtedly set the agenda for the soccer industry in the Americas and signposted the path to its future development. The event itself was widely covered, receiving 550 digital mentions worldwide over 2.8 million coverage views, almost 1,500 social shares and generating a global publicity value of $4.64 million. With year one generating such a big impact, the stage is set for Soccerex USA 2019 where we will see the outcome of this year’s takeaways, while new themes and impacts announce themselves.

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