Lionel Messi isn’t the only football powerhouse heading to Miami.
FIFA, the governing body for global football, is negotiating to lease as much as 60,000 square-foot (5,574 square metres) in upscale Coral Gables, a city in the Miami-Dade county, according to a person with knowledge of the plans.
The Zurich-based organisation, one of the world’s most powerful sports bodies, is bolstering its presence ahead of the 2026 World Cup when Miami and 15 cities across the US, Mexico and Canada host games. It’s likely to then make Miami its long-term US base after the tournament, providing proximity to sponsors and offering a gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean.
Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s highly-connected president, is expected to relocate to Miami in the run-up to the event, just as he did in Doha before Qatar, a separate person with knowledge of the matter said.
Infantino, who was re-elected as FIFA president unopposed in March, helped grow FIFA’s revenues to US$7.5 billion in the last World Cup cycle. FIFA predicts it will generate US$11 billion during the 2023-2026 period as it expands the World Cup to a 48-team format.
A FIFA spokesperson declined to comment.
FIFA’s arrival in Florida is likely to coincide with one of the sport's biggest names.
Messi, who last year inspired Argentina’s World Cup success and enjoyed a glittering club career mostly with Barcelona, is now close to inking a deal with Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami.
Reports of Messi’s imminent transfer, which is being assisted by a multi-million dollar proposal involving Apple Inc and Adidas AG, has already sent ticket prices soaring and there’s anticipation it will transform the profile of the sport in the city and the US.
Miami has long been a refuge for political upheaval in the region and Hispanics and Latinos represent roughly 70 percent of Miami-Dade county’s population. But Inter Miami, co-owned by David Beckham, has struggled to draw big crowds and currently sits in last place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference.
There are currently no star players at the club and the team plays in the tiny DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.
Florida though is a sports mecca for teams and owners with two major league baseball franchises, three NFL teams, two NBA squads and two NHL hockey teams, second only to California. And a group fronted by Beckham is planning a 25,000-seat stadium for Inter Miami on the site of a municipal golf course.
It’s not the the first time Miami and FIFA crossed paths. CONCACAF, the regional federation that manages football across the Americas, is headquartered in the city and was embroiled in the corruption scandal that engulfed the organisation about eight years ago.
The case exposed sprawling allegations of fraud, which led to the ouster of Sepp Blatter as president after 17 years in the role. FIFA introduced a series of reform measures in the wake of the scandal, including bringing in more outside directors and Infantino has vowed to add more transparency.
by Katia Porzecanski, Felipe Marques & Hugo Miller, Bloomberg