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CEO Leadership Forums: In the Game

Panels Discuss How Businesses Can Plan for World Cup 2026

Major sports events held in Orlando present unique opportunities for local businesses to capitalize on all of the activity surrounding them. But what do those businesses need to do to get themselves ready?
Two expert panels considered that question during a networking event in November hosted by CEO Leadership Forums, a peer roundtable organization based in Central Florida. It’s a question people have been asking since Orlando was announced as one of 17 cities vying for 10 or 11 spots in the United States to host 2026 FIFA World Cup soccer games. The U.S. is part of a North American host site along with Canada and Mexico, and official host cities are expected to be announced this year.
Panel 2, from left: moderator Diane Sears, Jeff Condello, Erik Weiner, Chris Coghlan and Julie Holmes

Valencia College Partnership

Held in the lobby of City National Bank in downtown Orlando, the event included presentation of a check for $26,020.26, a play on the 2026 theme, from CEO Leadership Forums by founder Geoffrey Gallo, a partner with GrennanFender CPA firm. The presentation to Valencia College President Dr. Kathleen Plinske and the topic of the event gave attendees a chance to consider what makes Central Florida special and how each private and public organization fits into the fabric of the community.
Proceeds were part of a three-year $100,000 fund-raising campaign designed to benefit Valencia students participating in associate and baccalaureate degree programs. The group also fosters student internships with Central Florida’s small business community.
“This meets the commitment we made to the college in 2017 to provide financial assistance and employment opportunities to Orlando’s aspiring talent pool,” Gallo said. “We have the strong support of our sponsor companies, which has made this type of gift an annual occurrence.”
Valencia and other educational institutions rely on collaboration with the private sector to produce the talent output necessary to prepare the region for economic growth, Plinske said. “Organizations such as CEO Leadership Forums, local government, and large and small businesses have been the impetus for educational institutions like Valencia to deliver talent where it is needed most.”
That mission becomes even more critical with the potential of World Cup 2026.

Orlando Sports Ecosystem

The first panel included community leaders who discussed how large businesses and government agencies work together on plans for Orlando to host an event as large as World Cup soccer, which attracts billions of fans from all over the globe in person and via broadcast.
Moderator Gary Cohen led the conversation with panelists Jason Siegel, CEO of the Greater Orlando Sports Commission(GO Sports); Caesar Lopez, chief administrative officer for Orlando City Soccer; Joanie Schirm, chair of the host committee when Orlando was a World Cup host in 1994; and Christine Kefauver, senior vice president for corporate development with Brightline.
“We try to be the glue at the center of the sports ecosystem here in our community and make sure all of our stakeholders are collaborating,” Siegel said of GO Sports.“Organizers have had to consider everything from human rights to environmental sustainability and other non-sports-related issues in presenting Orlando as a perfect place for World Cup Soccer. But it also has a reputation as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. We’re blessed. We have 125,000 hotel rooms and 75 million people visiting our community annually.”
Panel 1, from left: Joanie Schirm, Caesar Lopez, Christine Kefauver and Jason Siegel

Host City Orlando 1994

Moderator Cohen said he has lived in Orlando since 1983 and remembers Orlando being seen as a longshot to host the 1994 games.
However, the city pulled it off well, said Schirm, who spoke from experience. She started getting involved in 1988 —long before cell phones, the internet and the formation of GO Sports. The community had to mobilize around everything from hotel accommodations to traffic control to law enforcement.
She remembers a visit FIFA made in October 1991 to the Citrus Bowl, where the games eventually would be held. Walt Disney World representatives, with the blessing of company President Dick Nunis, told the committee, “Whatever it is you want, do it.”
“That support allowed us to put our best foot forward,” Schirm said. The FIFA visitors were impressed, she said, but oddly enough, the locals were not —at least not at first. “We had real trouble, frankly, selling World Cup here in Orlando. People didn’t know what it was. At that moment, it was harder to sell here than it was to the world.”
But when Orlando was chosen in March 1992, the whole community rallied behind what Schirm called “a ragtag group” of volunteers who had been spearheading the World Cup bid.

Orlando Host City 2026

Today, the region is in a different place. Lopez with Orlando City Soccer spoke about how the community has embraced the sport in recent years, which led to the city getting major-league men’s and women’s teams, building a new soccer-specific stadium, and hosting large events like CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Florida Cup.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with other cities to bring in marquee events, and there’s nobody who does it better than Orlando,” Lopez says. “We work closely with GO Sports and the sports organizations, our government partners and our private entity partners to do what’s best for our city. We all have a similar North Star.”
Orlando is often referred to as “the soccer capital of the U.S.,” Lopez said, largely because it played host to the MLS “bubble” near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. To keep players and coaches safe, teams played each other in isolation, with no fans, in the MLS Is Back Tournament at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Kefauver of Brightline talked about what it will mean for the region to be connected to South Florida when the company’s expansion brings high-speed trains up the coast to Orlando, where service is set to start in early 2023. The train will enable fans to travel to and from Miami, which is also in the running to be a World Cup host city.
They can hop on a train, grab a cocktail, watch a movie on their mobile device and arrive rested and ready. “Brightline is a transportation system that is built on a foundation of very high customer service,” Kefauver said. It fits in well with Orlando’s philosophy about its civic buildings, including the sports venues, the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center and Orlando International Airport.
“They’re all designed with this front-porch mentality, where everyone is welcome,” Kefauver said. “Brightline is very happy to be a part of that collaboration.”

Orlando’s Business Community

The second panel looked at what events like World Cup 2026 could mean for small and midsize businesses. Panelists included Chris Coghlan, the CEO of Fastening Specialists; Jeff Condello, the CEO of Randall Construction; Julie Holmes, the CEOofJK2 Scenic; and Erik Weiner, the market presidentforCity National Bank.
Coghlan, also a member of the famed2016 Chicago Cubs World Series team, was a frequent traveler during his 10-year professional baseball career. He believes Orlando is uniquely positioned to be a good host. Its diversity of residents and industries leads to diversity of thought, which is a plus.
For small businesses to think about how to jump into the excitement of a lifetime event like World Cup soccer, Weiner recommends they look at the supply chain and where they and their customers fit into it. His clients are excited about the possibilities, he said.
It’s important for small businesses to make sure they have the right professional advisors on their team, including their banker, business attorney and CPA. They also need to have their suppliers lined up and consider capital improvements they might need to make to their facilities to take on a big job as part of World Cup 2026, panelists said.
Small businesses will want to make sure they have access to enough capital to support their plans, Holmes said. The time to apply for a line of credit is before a company needs it. Now is not too soon.
One big cost could be a ramp-up in employees or contractors a small business would need to take on a project as big as something linked to World Cup, the panelists said. Finding workers has been a challenge for everyone in recent months, so planning ahead for the interview and onboarding process is key.
At Randall, Condello’s team is working to create potential future employees for the growing manufacturing company by developing them in-house. He has started the Randall Academy, which brings in high school students to let them work in a real manufacturing plant, where they learn about all aspects of running a business, from accounting to manufacturing to distribution.
It’s important to start now, the panelists told the audience. They had this advice: The relationships you establish today can be critical to helping you take advantage of any opportunity to capitalize on World Cup and other major events. You might think you have time, but if you wait to prepare, you might be too late.
Valencia College accepts a check from CEO Leadership Forums, from left: Valencia College President Kathleen Plinske;Jerrid Kalakay, Valencia professorof business and organizational leadership; Nasser Hedayat, Valencia assistant vice president of career and workforce development; Geoffrey Gallo; Chris Coghlan; Julie Holmes;Diane Sears, editor and publisher of i4 Business;Erik Weiner; Jeff Condello; Cheri Cutter, interim dean of Valencia’s division of business;andMarie Vasquez-Brooks, dean of Valencia’s School of Allied Health

CEO Leadership Forums:

Orlando Group

Lauren Arevalo, Apple One
Tim Bach, Patterson-Bach Communications
Gary Cohen, Nperspective
Paul Dietrich, Swann Hadley
Brian Fatigati, ARX Payment Systems
Casey Fernandez, Hylant Insurance
Doug Foreman,Fringe Benefit Plans
Geoffrey Gallo, Grennan Fender
GlynGriffis, Raymond James
Kevin Grullon, Grennan Fender
Andrew Hebert, South State Bank
Nasser Hedayat, Valencia College
Aimee Collins Hitchner, Swann Hadley
Nicole McMurray, Apple One
Brian Mills, Swann Hadley
Joh Molayem, Acquivest Financial Group
Sean Meder, City National Bank
Steve Quello, CEO Nexus
Roy Richardson, Aurora-Infotech
Russell Slappey, Nperspective
John Tenney, Employernomics
Ray Watson, CEO Nexus
Paul Wilder, Valencia College
Ron Wilkinson, Nperspective

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About the author

Diane Sears

A career journalist, author and advocate for business growth, Diane Sears is the CEO, editor and publisher of i4 Business. She is also the founder and president of DiVerse Media LLC, which has handled content marketing projects including nonfiction books, white papers, executive speeches and scripts since 2000. She is co-founder of the nonprofit Go for the Greens Foundation, which helps connect women-owned and minority-owned business owners with growth opportunities internationally.

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