Liese Abili has worked on the supplier side and events side of the sports industry. To him, “it doesn’t matter what side you are on, each has its own contribution to the table.”
Abili’s hoping to make his own contribution to Florida’s sports industry as the new director of sports development at the Florida Sports Foundation
, a newly created position.
“This role has me in a position where I have the privilege not only to work with most cities and destinations across Florida, but also national events rights holders,” he says. “There was a need to have someone dedicated to support, manage and enhance the relationship between the foundation and its regional industry partners—the traditional convention and visitors bureaus and DMOs (destination marketing organizations) and sports councils.”
The sports industry in Florida has a $57 billion economic impact annually and draws 60 million out of state visitors every year, he says.
Sports in His Blood
Abili, a native of Cameroon, has been around sports most of his life. He played volleyball and took part in various national championships, earning a gold medal. Then he went on to play volleyball for his local university where he also obtained an undergraduate law degree as well as a degree in political science.
While in college, he took part in four National All-Cameroon Higher Institution Games, where he won both a gold and a bronze medal. Abili was also a two-time captain for his team and was called up for the junior nationals’ team twice. He played club volleyball for the Bamenda Volleyball Club.
“I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot,” he says.
He was not only a beach volleyball pro, he also created his own beach volleyball events in Cameroon. He’s lived and worked in cities like Johannesburg, Hong Kong and Shanghai, as well as countries like the Philippines and Russia.
“Every destination is unique in its own way,” Abili says, when asked his favorite city. “I could say I have a friend in almost every country in the world.”
At the foundation, that may come in handy. Abili will market Florida as an international sports destination as well, hoping to generate international events in the state. “If it is winter in Europe, we can bring that event to Florida,” he says.
That’s not to say he won’t work to enhance Florida’s already burgeoning domestic sports industry.
“We are already very fortunate that in Florida, we have hosted a variety of events—amateur sports, adult amateur, college sports, youth amateur, professional sports,” Abili says.
Big Events Ahead
Florida has numerous professional franchises, including those in the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.
“We’re not only looking to maintain those types of events but grow them and bring in newer types of sports,” he says.
For example, Florida is on track to host Super Bowl LIV in Miami in 2019, Super Bowl LV in Tampa
in 2020, the College Football Championship playoffs in 2021 and the 2021 National Senior Games
, he points out.
The United States is also on track to host 2026 World Cup games, with Miami a strong contender as a host city.
“There are some other sports we want to bring into the state, like amateur and professional beach volleyball, international rugby events, and handball,” Abili says. “There's beach handball, as well as indoor handball. There is also beach tennis. We want to explore sports for our beaches.”
Pickleball facilities are also coming up now, he adds.
“A lot of sports commissions and cities are building their own facilities to create and generate their own events,” Abili says. “We will see more destinations building sports events based on the size of their market. That is one big trend we are seeing as a whole, not just in Florida. You also have public-private partnerships creating something that benefits everyone in the sports tourism world.”
In Florida, many regional sports commissions are also joining together to host much bigger events, he adds. The foundation can help provide grants to offset the costs of bringing those larger events into the state, he notes.
“I should be able to assist our Florida sports commissions better,” Abili says. “Florida has taken the lead in the sports industry and I get to support this industry’s commissions to increase [the number of events] next year.”