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Economy & Business

Aaron Davidson, Miami Sports Marketing Executive, Charged In FIFA Inquiry

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

More now on one of the American citizens indicted. Aaron Davidson is president of Traffic Sports USA. That's a Miami-based branch of a Brazilian sports marketing conglomerate, and the owner of that company has already pleaded guilty. Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times has written about Aaron Davidson and joins us now. Welcome to the program.

TIM ELFRINK: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: First, tell us about Traffic Sports USA. And what is this company's involvement with FIFA and the world of soccer?

ELFRINK: Well, Traffic Sports USA, as you alluded to, is the American arm of a fairly significant Brazilian company that does marketing, events management and actually owns teams in Brazilian soccer operations. They have reportedly more than a thousand employees involved in Brazil. And the American operation has actually been here for a number of years. It actually set up shop here in South Florida back in 1990 and, from the beginning, was primarily focused on the regional soccer tournaments through the organization known as CONCACAF, which is in charge of North America, the Caribbean and Central America soccer. They essentially, from all the way back in 1990, had the rights to the broadcasts of all the games connected to that organization, except for the U.S. and Mexico. And since then, they've branched out. They've become involved in minor-league soccer - actually owned another a number of franchises locally. But really, their bread and butter has always been television and media rights for these CONCACAF games.

SIEGEL: And according to the Department of Justice, Aaron Davidson, the president of Traffic Sports USA, is one of those people who was not receiving but paying bribes to others. What is he supposed to have done?

ELFRINK: Well, according to prosecutors, these media rights - these increasingly lucrative media rights for CONCACAF games, from the very beginning, were rigged bids to FIFA that were dependent on bribes from the company to various officials. And according to prosecutors, Aaron Davidson, as he moved up the ranks of the company, became increasingly involved with, you know, one of the principal operators who paid these bribes, who engineered these schemes to ensure that they would keep these lucrative media rights for Traffic Sports USA.

SIEGEL: Now, as I mentioned a moment ago, the Brazilian owner of the Traffic group, Jose Hawilla, has already pleaded guilty. What does that mean for Aaron Davidson and the American company?

ELFRINK: Well, certainly based on what prosecutors told us today, it seems like a pretty damning indictment against Mr. Davidson. His - as you mentioned, Jose and the company itself has already entered a guilty plea. He's reportedly agreed to forfeit $150 million connected to this scheme. And prosecutors also claimed to have some tape of Mr. Davidson basically discussing, you know, his knowledge that what they were doing was absolutely illegal under U.S. law, but was sort of the way they'd always done business.

SIEGEL: I can understand how the rights to broadcast of a hemispheric soccer championship would be worth a huge amount of money in Brazil. But is it also worth that much money of the United States that one would pay big bribes to get those rights?

ELFRINK: Well, my understanding is those rights have become increasingly valuable. And, you know, one reason is that games played on other country's soil, even if they involve the U.S. or Mexico, were owned by Traffic Sports USA. So for instance, if the United States were playing a game in Costa Rica or in Honduras, they would be Traffic Sports USA's rights for those games. And particularly on Spanish-language media, in the last 15 years, the value of those rights is really skyrocketed. So you can understand why there was such a desperate bid to hang onto these rights by the companies that had a piece of the action.

SIEGEL: Tim Elfrink, thanks for talking with us today.

ELFRINK: Thanks very much for having me.

SIEGEL: Tim Elfrink, managing editor of the Miami New Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.