New CONCACAF chief could enhance South Florida’s soccer appeal

A pair of headlines over the past 48 hours suggest that South Florida is solidifying its place as a major international soccer hub: Enrique Sanz, a Colombian-born Miami resident, was named general secretary of CONCACAF, the soccer federation for North and Central America and the Caribbean. And, ticket sales are approaching 50,000 for the July 28 friendly between Chelsea and AC Milan at Sun Life Stadium.

CONCACAF already has an office on South Beach, and holds important meetings here. The selection of Sanz as general secretary could mean the regional headquarters will move to Miami from New York, home of the previous general secretary. It makes geographic sense because Miami is one flight away from most cities in Central America and the Caribbean.

Sanz, 38, has lived in Miami for 13 years and was vice president of Traffic Sports USA, a soccer marketing and event-management agency that does business all over the Americas. They helped run the CONCACAF Gold Cup, CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, and other regional events. His relationships with the region’s federations, expertise in the commercial side of the soccer business, understanding of regional politics and Hispanic background were among the reasons he was appointed by new president Jeffrey Webb.

“I want to be part of the rebuilding of CONCACAF,’’ Sanz said by phone Monday. “We need to figure out how to improve our players and competitions, and how to produce more income so we can make those improvements. We are going to run a more professional, transparent CONCACAF, and I’m very excited about helping lead that process.’’

Sanz replaces interim general secretary Ted Howard, who had been filling the role vacated by Chuck Blazer, who resigned last December after 21 years at the post. Blazer was a whistle-blower in last year’s FIFA voting scandal, which involved former FIFA vice president and CONCACAF president Jack Warner.

Knowing cultures

“I have spent the past seven or eight years managing relationships with the leaders in most of these countries, so I know their potential, their problems, and cultural differences,’’ Sanz said. “Because I was not born in any of the CONCACAF countries, I hope to be viewed as objective and not favoring one country over another.’’

He said it would be “beautiful’’ and “make a lot of sense’’ to move the headquarters to Miami. Sanz said there has been some talk of building or renting an office space that has a soccer training facility attached, although no specific sites have been explored yet.

“It would be ideal if we could host clinics and events for our players, referees, national teams,’’ he said. “If we could find a good space here in Miami, it could become the true center of the sport in our region. Miami has so many Latin Americans, Europeans and Caribbean people who love the sport.’’

Big crowds

Case in point: The big crowd expected for the Chelsea vs. AC Milan match. More than 70,000 fans showed up at Sun Life Stadium last August for Barcelona vs. Chivas, 51,000 watched Colombia vs. Mexico, and 48,000 tickets were sold for the Lionel Messi All-Star game last month. Another exhibition between Argentine club Boca Juniors and Colombian club America de Cali is scheduled for Aug. 16.

“This is the geocenter of the Americas, and if we bring good soccer teams here, people will come watch,’’ Sanz said. “Our job now at CONCACAF is to raise the level of our teams from a global perspective. Mexico and the U.S. have done a very good job, and other countries in the region have great potential if we approach it the right way.’’

Webb said of Sanz: “I am certain that we have found a professional with competence and integrity to implement our road map to reform.’’

Aaron Davidson, vice-president of Traffic and CEO of the NASL, has worked side by side with Sanz for many years. He believes Sanz is the perfect choice to manage CONCACAF.

New ideas

“Enrique has such a great knowledge of the game globally and a real sound understanding of this region,’’ Davidson said. “They could have conducted a worldwide search and not found a better qualified guy for the job.

“It’s going to be fun to see his impact. He knows about selling TV, radio and internet rights. He knows about getting sponsors. He is a very professional guy with new ideas, which is what CONCACAF needs.’’

Sanz officially takes over the position on July 25.