Fernando Fiore (60) is a pioneer, although he will not admit it, he is. Fiore broke the mold in the late 1990’s when he took over Univision’s Sunday Sports program Titulares Deportivo and revolutionized it with a two-hour mega sports bonanza designed not only for the diehard fan but for fans who just enjoy a good time, Republica Deportiva.
Fast forward 20 years later and Fiore now works with Inter Miami, he is still on television, and is helping the city of Miami to boost its chances to be a host city of the 2026 World Cup to be held in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
With 8 World Cups under his belt and an energy and charisma that doesn’t seem to have gone down one bit, Bolavip sat down with Fiore to discuss many topics, most importantly the growth of soccer in the United States.
Miami and their FIFA World Cup 2026 prospects
Bolavip: Let’s start out by discussing the prospects of Miami becoming a host city for the World Cup in 2026. Is it a hard sell?
Fernando Fiore: … Well, it’s not as easy as one would think. Miami was not a host city for the 94 World Cup, and when it comes to FIFA anything can happen… in 94 due to stadium issues surrounding the other sports, Miami was not chosen as a host city then. One would think that for major events like these things get worked out, but in 94 that did not happen, and Orlando was named as the host city from Florida. So, nothing is guaranteed… Looking ahead we have a World Cup in 2026 that is not only good for the United States but good for the region as well…
B: So how does one become a host city? What is the process of becoming a host city for the next World Cup?
FF: What basically happens is that there is an open request that is made for those cities that want to be host cities. Every city and state have branches of government that put together their petition and it gets elevated to the proper authorities. In the case of Florida and Miami we have the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB) that puts together the city's pitch to become a host city and elevate it to the U.S. Soccer Federation.
B: So where is the city's pitch at the moment?
FF: Well, there are a few major cities like Chicago who decided to pull out, for whatever reason… The GMCVB and two delegates had virtual conferences with FIFA pertaining to the stadium, city services, and accommodations. Now because of the pandemic a lot of things have been put on hold, and sometime in July, FIFA delegates will come to Miami to visit the area… in between what were the virtual conferences and the future July FIFA visits, Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez has announced that a liaison, an advertising agency, has been hired to help the city maintain its visibility all over the world to push the candidacy forward. So, to go back to your original question about Miami being a hard sell, you can’t fall asleep at the wheel. You always have to market yourself.
B: And I am assuming that Inter Miami is also working in this process, correct?
FF: Well, what happens right there, Miami is not only interested in being a host city for the World Cup, but also Miami is pushing hard to be a sort of center for the national teams to train… You have to think about the fact that there will at least need to be 48 training grounds for the national teams, Miami has those training facilities and that is where the new training ground for Inter Miami comes into play. Which is a top-notch training center in Fort Lauderdale. Aside from that Miami also wants to be the media hub center for all the journalists from around the world… so you need a city that can host and accommodate the media from all around the world. Miami has all these accommodations and assets... and throw in MLS, Inter Miami, and David Beckham that can provide that extra media push to get more notoriety.
Inter Miami’s first MLS season and their next steps
B: Speaking of Inter Miami, their first season had its growing pains, it was a first season where the team did not make the expected splash that they wanted. What led to that? Was it playing in a pandemic?
FF: The excuse of the pandemic seems like an easy excuse, but one can’t deny that it affected the entire league, not just Inter Miami. Nonetheless it is a valid excuse or reason especially considering that the team was just starting to gel… there were players that were playing together for the first time and the pandemic interrupted what would have been a normal process of adaptation...
B: David Beckham’s participation was also limited by the pandemic, no?
FF: Of course, David Beckham’s involvement with the team was hit by the pandemic as he had to stay with his family in England. So, what happened? He was not able to be as involved as he would like... The pandemic exploded in March and that effected everything from the start. Doing preseason and MLS is Back tournament training via Zoom, it may not seem like a big deal for teams that have been together for 3 or 4 years, but for a new team that had been together for only a few weeks, it was detrimental to the team and the players getting to know each other… (During the course of the season) A lot of players came from Europe and needed time to get to know the team like Blaise Matuidi and Gonzalo Higuaín, or there were many young players who were playing abroad for the first time. It complicated things. MLS gets criticized for not signing young players, which has changed, and Inter Miami goes and signs two players like Julián Carranza and Matías Pellegrini and they need time to gel and adapt to a new country. Nonetheless the team was able to claw its way into the playoffs, and we were eliminated quickly as well.
B: What is the team doing to prepare for a better second season?
FF: This year it’s a whole different story, when you change the coach, the sporting director, trade and bring in new players, and now have a new coach in Phil Neville and with the involvement of Beckham day in and day out, the team has a new breath of fresh air… we all hope that Inter Miami has that jump in quality that they need.
B: Why is there this perception in the US fan still that they want the league to get younger and travel the unknown, yet complain when Inter Miami does not sign the biggest names in the game (Messi and Ronaldo), two of which are over 30?
FF: Simple, because it’s human nature, especially in a soccer fan, they will never conform. They want a team that is young, but has the best players in the World, a team that plays pretty soccer and scores a ton of goals and wins championships... Inter Miami wants the perfect balance, a blend of top players with young ones, a sunny day come game time, but you can’t have it all… One thing Inter Miami understands is that it generates a lot of expectation, if you ask someone in France about Nashville, they might not even know there is an MLS team there, with all due respect. If you ask someone in Nigeria if they know that David Beckham has a team in Miami, they will say “how can that team not be the league champions? It’s David Beckham’s team.”... Inter Miami is known for all the expectations it has gained through the type of players the team wants to sign and David Beckham. Since we started the rumors have been Messi, Suarez, Cavani, Falcao and there is a blend of star power and marketing… Before soccer was just for the diehard fan… now the game has a lot of marketing, generating rumors, expectations, and brand.
B: Why do you think the Gonzalo Higuaín signing was so under the radar?
FF: Simple, when he came Gonzalo was not able to score 3,4, goals in the games he played in. He scored that lovely free kick but couldn’t finish some of the chances that were played to him. I think this year if (Gonzalo Higuaín) scores 15, 20 goals then people will take notice of his quality.
(Editor's note: Gonzalo Higuaín is the highest paid player in the MLS)
B: David Beckham said in an interview that the youth academy is the future of MLS and Inter Miami, how is Inter Miami working in their youth academy? How key is it to have a well put together youth academy?
FF: In this era there is a huge problem in regard to youth development in the United States. On the one hand (MLS teams) are giving youth players more playing time and are bringing players up to the senior side. In Dallas for example the youth set up and idea behind youth players is incredible, a system established by my dear friend who passed away Fernando Clavijo… I understand all the work that Inter Miami is putting into their youth ranks, from player identification, signing them, and giving them all the tools needed to become top professionals. We also have the USL side which gives players playing time.
B: And then with all this hard work the USMNT U-23 does not qualify to the Olympics, what does that say about youth development?
FF: Then the USMNT has all these great youth players in Europe like Dest, Pulisic, Reyna, and McKennie but on the same day the U-23 can’t qualify to the Olympics in CONCACAF, it generates a lot of negative buzz around the fans. Here we are with players in the best teams in the world and our Olympic squad can’t qualify from CONCACAF? It starts a huge debate as to who we point the finger too, the Federation, the MLS, the academies, and we all know about the FIFA rules that limits players in competing in Olympic qualifying, but we really don’t know how much effort there was really made to get the best players possible, so that U-23 could have had at least three players from that top group. The television pundits, the group I belong to, will have their own ideas, attack certain people, have their own solutions, and have optimism that this will get better or pessimism that we have not qualified for 4 of the last 5 Olympic games… Soccer in the United States is going through a tough spell where the USMNT did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and despite having this golden generation of players in Europe many of them within the age group of the Olympic roster here we are again not qualifying to another important tournament.
The expectations around the USMNT
B: There is indeed a big expectation around the USMNT’s Golden Generation and what this team could do in the World Cup. What is the real expectation for this USMNT?
FF: It’s a golden generation in regard to Americans in the top clubs in the world. Results will be the metric; results can hit you on the head and hard. With all the players we have mentioned (Pulisic, Zack Steffen, Reyna, Adams, Dest) yes, they are playing in top clubs and it seems like the future is bright, but it’s only bright if you qualify to the Olympics, play three or four really good games, get to the semifinals. The National team qualifies for an important youth competition, does well, those players sign for top clubs. Those players do well at their clubs, come World Cup qualifying the team qualifies with a strong base, playing well, generating a buzz, and beating the competition (CONCACAF)... We should be able to beat these teams (CONCACAF) with all the infrastructure that this country has. But then when the Olympic team doesn’t qualify what does that show? That we are in fact not doing all that building, all that work with this infrastructure.
B: Is it still get out of the group phase at the World Cup? Is U.S. Soccer drinking its own Kool-Aid a bit about where this team really is at?
FF: What we are left with is all the eggs in one basket with the senior team. Now it is “no no wait until the senior team takes the field, we are going to play well, wait until they start qualifying.” We seem to always keep pushing down the road what needs to happen now… What could happen now is a year from now we are saying “Told ya, it’s the senior team that will break the mold” or “Well at least we qualified to the World Cup playing bad” or even worse “We couldn’t do it but really this team is set up for 2026.”... It would have been really great to have a senior team at the Gold Cup and a U-23 at the Olympics it would have boosted U.S. Soccer no question… in the end we are not doing it with these results.
B: What would it mean for soccer in the United States if the team were to fail once again to qualify for a World Cup?
FF: (Thinks hard) I don’t even want to think about that. If for some reason the USMNT were not to qualify for 2022 it would be like crashing into a brick wall. It would be a huge let down, impossible to find excuses, easy to find culprits, and a huge blow for the sport in this country.
Soccer on Television
B: When you started covering the game in the 90’s you could count on one hand how many networks consistently showed soccer in the U.S., today the landscape is quite different, tell me a bit about this, how has the landscape of sports broadcasting changed?
FF: What happened is I saw the influx of money that was being allocated to sports back then. Not just soccer all the sports, sports began to transcend from just being a game and local news coverage from niche to mainstream… I mean when ESPN started it didn’t start out showcasing the biggest sporting events, there was darts coverage on ESPN to fill space… What happened in the last 20 years is the demand has opened up so much for the product that there is television, streaming, social media and all the buzz around the game. There is a super offer and from mainstream we have gotten back down to niche but with a lot of investment. Who would have thought that Paramount+ would buy the rights for Argentine Soccer? Today the fan has a menu to choose from and a platform to obtain what they want for a price.
B: When you started Republica Deportiva it truly broke the mold, in a way you took hold of Titulares Deportivo which was established by Andres Cantor, Norberto Longo, and Jessi Losada and really gave it a twist. How was that, to innovate change?
FF: That question is always hard for me to answer… but I don’t want to have false modesty. I tried to be a pioneer to change the style of communication for sports in the Spanish language in the United States. I respected my colleagues and we started Republica Deportiva in 1999 but I had already worked with Jessi Losada on Titulares Deportivo, and we were this sort of odd couple… we were opposites in style and that reflected in our ratings at the time, am not saying this, but the programming heads would. I respect my colleagues who take this serious tone for sports and the search for the best coverage, stats, and sports is not for laughter it is serious approach… I started with that lighter tone back in 1990… in 1994 I was one of the first to go on camera with a jersey or hat of a national team, and I did it without asking… I always wanted to surprise the audience, and I remember my boss saying “That was great! Do it with another jersey!” I would say “I don’t have more!”... at the time it was not easy to buy a soccer jersey… That was completely unheard of at the time and to do a two-minute segment about which soccer star looked like a Hollywood celebrity was just completely out of left field and unheard of… many of my colleagues would hit me back then with “What are you doing?” but many years later they have told me you started something different…
B: The approach being sports is not just for the diehard fan it’s for everyone who wants to have a good time?
FF: Yes! I see some broadcasts on TV and the two on air talents seem to be covering the game for themselves. Like a contest as who knows more than the other. I always took a view that there are sports fans and those casual fans who come around once in a while and you have to cater to them as well… This led to the massive marketing that these types of sports shows receive from brands to promote their products… Fast forward 20 years from now and now everyone is funny, everyone puts on a jersey, everyone thinks sports is just a ball of fun, and younger people come up to me and say I am a pioneer.