Enrique Sanz, the newly appointed General Secretary of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football (CONCACAF), recently spoke with me about his plans to develop the region into a more powerful soccer presence globally. Sanz succeeds former General Secretary Chuck Blazer, who stepped down after 21 years of service in January amidst scandal and was replaced by Ted Howard on an interim basis.
Under Sanz, there is an expectation of increased transparency and movement towards more competition between CONCACAF nations and South America, governed by CONMEBOL. More competition between the major powers of the Americas could ratchet up competition and profits in the region, which Sanz intends to turn back into CONCACAF development programs, benefiting all of the member federations.
Sanz, Colombian by birth and now a U.S. citizen, has worked with CONCACAF for 15 years managing Traffic Sports’ substantial broadcast rights and before that, founded Media Sports Marketing and Interforever Sports. Sanz also recently partnered with Traffic Sports president Aaron Davidson to develop the North American Soccer League (NASL), now sanctioned as the second division in the United States.
The enormity of Sanz’s responsibilities as CONCACAF General Secretary include managing their broadcast rights, but go way beyond that. Sanz will assume the responsibilities of a CEO and basically oversee everything related to CONCACAF from a political perspective, a sporting perspective and a commercial perspective. That includes the tournament formats, relationships among federations, relationships with the General Secretaries of the five other FIFA confederations and commercial rights between CONCACAF and broadcasters and sponsors.
“Ultimately, there’s no question I’m losing a great friend and a phenomenal colleague,” said Davidson of his former business partner Enrique Sanz. “Together we’ve achieved a lot of success. But again, it’s for that reason that he’s been chosen to go to CONCACAF. I’m as thrilled as I can be that he’s gotten that position.
I know that CONCACAF as whole and the individual federations, the leagues amongst the regions, including the NASL – will benefit from him being in a position of oversight of the entire region, and we’ll see what that means.”
Read my interview with Aaron Davidson about Enrique Sanz’s rise to power in CONCACAF and potential changes in the region.
Continue reading my interview with Enrique Sanz below.
LE: What are your specific goals to achieve in the next four years?
Sanz: What I want to do is really restructure CONCACAF for the next step. We want to develop a lot of programs for soccer for us in the region, ones that basically provide federations, clubs and players the best platforms for them to reach excellence in soccer. We know that excellence in soccer for clubs is to go and win the World Club Championship, for national teams to go to World Cup and go to the Confederations Cup and win that. World Cup qualifiers are something that is run by the confederation and we control certain things on the sporting side of the organization part and we’re working at creating a better platform for things to develop. That’s also including youth under-17, under-20 and women’s.
LE: How would you structure a United Copa America in 2016 and what do you have to do to get that done?
Sanz: A united Copa America has been a subject in the media and in meetings between CONMEBOL and CONCACAF to see if it makes sense to have a united tournament in 2016 as a celebration for a centennial carnival. Conversations are ongoing, nothing final has been reached. We’re looking through the eyes of CONCACAF and saying, ‘How can this tournament help us help the sport in the region? How can we do that? Is it worth it or not getting into this tournament with regards to CONCACAF and how can we keep that conversation going?’
LE: What are the benefits to more cooperation between CONMEBOL and CONCACAF?
Sanz: There are tremendous opportunities here. Not only with CONMEBOL but also with UEFA, FIFA, and all other confederations. Even with their confederation collaborations with federations, FIFA can do a lot of things getting the best plans around the confederation. Sporting-wise, which of the formats are working in one country, what do other federations need in order to develop better players and better teams and how can we find those resources around the world and even in the confederation.
For an example, right now for women’s sport we have U.S. and Canada having a great performance at the Olympics. We need to learn from their programs and try to implement them and help other confederations in the region to implement their programs at that level. We need to push the level of soccer up across the board at the confederation in order to be successful at the international level.
LE: In the future, might we see more structured competition between North and South American nations?
Sanz: We’ll see. We have to analyze options and send them to the executives, congress and see what makes sense for our confederation development-wise and what’s best for our confederation. That’s what we have to see. Right now, CONCACAF needs a lot of resources in development and we need to develop a lot of programs across the region. Our main goal is to develop. If we develop we will grow. If we don’t develop, I don’t think we’ll grow.
LE: What role do broadcast rights and television ratings play in increased cooperation between North and South America?
Sanz: The main point that I see here is that we should create a tournament that means something and also will allow us to develop it. If that is created, broadcasters will jump in with ideas and if executed in the right way it will generate ratings. The initiatives have been prepared from the federations to see what’s best for the confederation.
LE: The potential for TV ratings for U.S. competition with the Caribbean seem considerably less than for competition with, say, Brazil, Argentina or Chile. If U.S. networks were broadcasting those games, they would expect greater return and invest more in production and marketing. How could that increased investment affect the game in the United States and in those South American nations?
Sanz: That’s exactly what we’re looking at. Having a tournament like what you mention would generate additional resources for CONCACAF. Will that develop the game in the region? Those are the questions that we’re looking at. We need to generate additional resources with which programs will be implemented. So everything has to be reinvested in the game to create the right balance. In measurable ratings, we’ll be able to generate better ratings. Gold Cup had tremendous ratings between some of the confederations. You go into World Cup and Copa America, and they have great ratings, but it doesn’t mean that Gold Cup does not perform because it’s been performing very well for the broadcasters here.
LE: What changes are you considering to make CONCACAF Champions League more relevant and encourage leagues to take it more seriously?
Sanz: We’re analyzing different ways. We want to speak with the stakeholders, broadcasters, sponsors, teams and see what they think is needed there and get that process going and then look to how we can improve the Champions League. We’re always looking to improve tournaments – Gold Cup, the pre-Olympics – everything is to be developed.
One of the changes that you’ll see in CONCACAF is actually happening right now. We’re more inclusive. We’re including all of the members that are stakeholders of football in the region in order to help see what we need to do, where do we need to help, and how do we grow.
LE: I’d like to jump to a different issue that’s unique to the United States. How important are youth development transfer fees (training compensation) in successful academies in South America and would their implementation in the U.S. benefit soccer development?
Sanz: In South America, it’s very important to the clubs, training compensation. The whole business of selling players like you see today – you go to Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and you go to the north in Colombia, Ecuador – it’s very important for the financial structure of the clubs. It’s important also in Central America – selling players and getting compensation or just the rights fees for the players. Also, Caribbean, Mexico touches that income lying there also. Mexico also has a very strong economy for their players.
Now the U.S. is a little bit of a different situation, by some regulations with training compensation. What they rely on, as I understand more than they should, is that people pay to play here. When you pay to play, you’re really paying for your own soccer education. In South America or Central America or the Caribbean it works differently with clubs. Those are things that have to be addressed and discussed. A good thing now with this new face of CONCACAF, is you have an executive committee that is very eager to explore and improve and we also have the membership that is constantly in contact with us at CONCACAF to keep improving. Player development is key for the level of soccer and also for economics of the clubs.
LE: What does it take to implement training compensation fees in the U.S.?
Sanz: That is the conversation we’re having with U.S. Soccer to get a better understanding from their perspective and their people’s perspective – what would it take? But I think that’s a worthwhile conversation we need to have with U.S. Soccer – whether they can have training compensation or not and what are the reasons.
There are big developments here in North America with the third division, second division and first division soccer on the male side – there’s a lot of development. A lot of people have interest in the game, which is great and will surely help develop better players for the professional leagues.
Read my interview with Traffic USA president and NASL CEO Aaron Davidson about Enrique Sanz and his new role as CONCACAF General Secretary.
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