In the Battle for the World Cup Final, Who is Willing to Sacrifice More? | Sports Destination Management

In the Battle for the World Cup Final, Who is Willing to Sacrifice More?

Pursuit of Soccer's Biggest Prize Has Some Facilities Stepping Up Their Game, Others Stepping Aside
Jan 20, 2024 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

First, it was the hope that the United bid of Canada, Mexico and the USA would win the 2026 World Cup.

Then came the hope among cities that they would be called upon to host games.

Now, we’re getting down to the real nitty-gritty: the battle to host the final. And no step, it seems is too drastic, with venue owners battling not just to win that game but not to come in second to anyone else.

The Associated Press reports that MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey has taken unveiled a plan to remove 1,740 seats to widen the field for World Cup matches. (The rationale: Football fields are narrower than soccer fields in general, and with the sideline setbacks are taken into account, the dimensions of an international-level playing area absolutely require a new figuration.)

A second competitor for the final is AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Late last summer, the Dallas Cowboys announced $350 million in upgrades Wednesday that are set to keep the 14-year-old stadium modern ahead of hosting World Cup games. None of those upgrades had to do with the size of the field, nor did they change the seating configurations. In fall of 2023, FIFA noted that AT&T’s surface would need to be converted from synthetic turf to natural grass if the city wanted to host the final.

Other stadiums may be lobbying to host the final, or to host semifinal games; however, AT&T and MetLife are getting the bulk of the attention – and putting forward a significant amount of money for updates and renovations.

Front Office Sports adds: "As the anticipation for FIFA’s decision mounts, both markets continue to do everything they can to tip the scales. Dallas is leaning into an unprecedented multi-venue, festival proposal that would incorporate the neighboring Texas Rangers ballparks, both past and present, in addition to AT&T Stadium. The battle for the World Cup Final also involves many of the sports industry’s most prominent figures, including Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and FC Dallas president Dan Hunt."

FOS was blunt about it: “Half of the NFL’s 30 stadiums have artificial playing surfaces, and seven of them will host matches during the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Ahead of the tournament, grass must be installed at those venues in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New Jersey, and Seattle. Canadian stadiums in Vancouver and Toronto will also have to install grass.”

In battle to host World Cup Final, no sacrifice is to greatWhile some believe those stadiums will keep their grass surface after World Cup play is over, the decision will be made by the owners of those venues. Among the factors that will sway the decisions are the cost of maintaining grass and the feasibility of doing so, given the weather and play conditions. Additionally, if the field typically hosts any action other than NFL play, the additional wear and tear may prove too much for a grass surface, prompting a switch back to synthetic, or to hybrid turf, a mixture of natural and synthetic grass. (Another choice: Whether to replace the seats that were removed.)

When it comes to field size and surface (as well as a number of other points), FIFA holds all the cards but that doesn’t mean everyone is willing to play. In fact, SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California was chosen by FIFA to host games; however, in late October, officials noted that owner Stan Kroenke reportedly said, “For what it is going to cost me, best skip it.” (By the way, Kroenke had a number of reasons; they are recounted in the linked article.)

But this isn’t just a SoFi thing. The Orange County Register notes, “Kroenke isn’t the only stadium operator on this continent resisting FIFA’s ideal of income distribution (which translates to Most For Me, Scraps For Thee). The organization apparently got used to Qatar’s willingness to pay for darned near everything leading up to the 2022 World Cup and wasn’t ready for the pushback here.”

As reporters at The Athletic stated, “In Qatar, the perception among many observers was that the gulf state craved the prestige and privilege of hosting a tournament, with the state bearing the costs of a project estimated to have cost over $200bn. Now, however, FIFA is negotiating with local cities and businessmen who are seeking to run sustainable operations and fighting a harder bargain.”

Since FIFA has made absolutely zero in the way of announcements regarding either replacing SoFi Stadium or placing the final in any stadium, period, it appears all destinations are in a holding pattern.

The big question, and the one constantly being asked, of course is when. When will FIFA announce the exact schedule of play for the World Cup.

NBC in DFW points out that “For the 1994 tournament, FIFA announced sites of specific games in June 1992, awarding the final to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.”

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