Miami risks losing its chance to serve as a World Cup city over the soccer tournament’s demands for contractual protections at Miami International Airport — including a provision that any disputes be resolved by arbitration in Zurich, Switzerland.
A memo from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Miami-Dade could be disqualified as a potential World Cup city in 2026 if the county doesn’t sign the contract required by FIFA, the Swiss-based parent organization behind the global soccer tournament.
The dispute revolves around FIFA requirements that MIA cover unexpected expenses tied to the airport accommodating World Cup travelers and promoting the event, including special advertising deals within the county-owned facility and setting up hospitality areas. Should any of those requirements result in conflicts between Miami-Dade and FIFA, county officials would need to head to Zurich, home to the FIFA headquarters, and resolve them in arbitration procedures governed by Swiss law, according to Gimenez’s memo.
“The County has clearly expressed to all involved that such requirements are not acceptable,” Gimenez wrote in the memo released this week.
Securing the games would bring one of the most popular sporting events in the world — with a television audience in the billions — to Miami, a city where David Beckham hopes to finally establish a successful pro soccer team. The county expects about 400,000 people to visit Miami-Dade for World Cup.
Gimenez called the proposed agreement from FIFA “open-ended” in terms of the costs MIA might have to incur during the World Cup tournament and noted the contract itself would be “governed and interpreted under Swiss law and any disputes arising under the Airport Agreement are subject to binding arbitration to be held in Zurich, Switzerland, pursuant to the Swiss Rules of International Arbitration.”
Gimenez wants county commissioners to approve signing the airport agreement, but with additional terms drafted by Miami-Dade lawyers designed to limit the county’s exposure to surprise costs and disputes with FIFA. Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the item Tuesday.
John Kristick, executive director of the United Bid Committee, the group pursuing the World Cup bid on behalf of the United States, Mexico and Canada, issued a statement saying the airport agreements were new but also required.
“This is the first time FIFA has issued an airport agreement as part of the bidding process and the requirements are such that we are not able to deviate from the agreements as provided,” Kristick said. “We are working with all the candidate host cities to find a solution that allows for the necessary approvals on this agreement and we will continue to throughout this process.”
The statement noted that 32 cities in North America have already agreed to serve as hosts, though as few as 12 may ultimately be picked to actually host World Cup games. That could leave cities agreeing to FIFA’s terms without reservations in a much better position to make the final cut over contenders like Miami-Dade.
In his memo, Gimenez highlighted the costs facing Miami-Dade should it secure a World Cup hosting slot. As a month-long event, the World Cup brings with it significantly higher costs than the Super Bowl, the largest sporting event to call Miami home so far.
Providing extra staff and other VIP accommodations for the Super Bowl typically costs MIA about $55,000. For World Cup, the airport tab is estimated to be at least $275,000. But that’s a rounding error compared to the overall cost to Miami-Dade in police escorts, security, staff time, and shuttles for games required by World Cup organizers. In 2010, the last time the Miami Dolphins played host to the Super Bowl in Miami Gardens, Miami-Dade estimated extra costs amounted to about $3 million. For the World Cup, it expects the tab to be at least $15 million.
World Cup games would be held at the Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium, and Miami-Dade would pay the team $3 million if it hosted a World Cup semi-final game under a 2014 deal that rewards the franchise for recruiting large events after owner Stephen Ross financed a reported $500 million renovation.
Gimenez said the United Bid Committee has already warned Miami-Dade that demanding modifications could knock Miami out of contention as other U.S. cities bid to host the month-long soccer event that would unfold throughout the continent.
“It is important to note that the [United Bid Committee] UBC has indicated that the placement of any conditions may result in a lower bid evaluation or potentially disqualify Miami-Dade as a Host City,” Gimenez wrote.
He said of the 25 U.S. cities under consideration, some have already agreed to accept similar airport agreements as presented by FIFA. But about half are following Miami-Dade’s course and are either rejecting the airport agreement altogether or demanding modifications.
It’s unclear how significant the dispute might be. Should the North American bid be selected this summer, host cities probably would not be named until 2020. Bid organizers are privately urging jurisdictions like Miami-Dade to include their objections in revised agreements, allowing both sides the ability to compromise once FIFA picks between North America’s and Morocco’s 2026 bids this summer.
In his memo, Gimenez wrote his administration had a “desire to discuss acceptable terms for all parties.”