TAMPA — Chuck Sykes didn't grow up playing soccer. His sports passions were football, baseball and basketball.
But when the World Cup, soccer's quadrennial extravaganza, was held last in 2006 in Germany, conversations with his employees there helped him understand the importance of the sport — and the World Cup in particular — to people.
"I would have the guys calling me, and you could hear the crowd," said Sykes, the president and chief executive of Sykes Enterprises. "They would say "It's just unbelievable." They were meeting people from all over the world and everybody was there in the spirit of competition and fun. They were so pumped up."
That's what popped into his head when he was asked to spearhead the bay area's bid to host World Cup games in 2018 or 2022. Sykes will be joined by other business and civic leaders, including HSN CEO Mindy Grossman and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan.
The U.S. has 27 possible cities — including Tampa, Orlando, Miami and Jacksonville — from which to choose. Tampa will make a presentation in New York on Nov. 11. Later the U.S. will choose its top 18 cities. FIFA, soccer's governing body, is expected to award the 2018 and 2022 tournaments by December 2010. Five years before the cup, the U.S. list would pare down to a final 12 to 14. The economic impact for each city is projected to be $400 million.
"We're going to emphasize the track record we have in this community," Sykes said, referring to Super Bowls and other mega events. "I just can't imagine that's not going to be a big criteria as they look at your ability to pull off something like this, so we're going to get that message across."
Aside from his local cachet, Sykes brings international recognition. The firm founded by his father just agreed to purchase another outsourcing firm, ICT Group Inc. That deal will put the company, with $1.2 billion in revenue, in 23 countries with more than 50,000 employees.
"I have to meet with a lot of dignitaries around the world," he said. "You never know what insights that will give you, but the experience of traveling and working around the world in different cultures, sometimes it gives you an insight others might not have."
Said Farrukh Quraishi, a former member of the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team who ran the Orlando site for the 1994 World Cup: "I don't think there's a better person to head up our bid committee than Chuck Sykes. … He's so widely respected in the business community, and what's really important in an effort like this is having somebody who can galvanize all different sectors of the community to support it, and Chuck is that kind of person."
Members of the bid committee have been pulled from across the region. Sykes, 46, said its first job is to demonstrate the area's support by collecting signatures on an online petition at www.GoUSBid.com/TampaBay.
"We really need to start conveying to them that our people around here are excited about and support it."
Even if they didn't grow up playing it.