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United Bid Won the Right to Host 2026 World Cup — But What's Next?

27 Jun, 2018

By: Michael Popke
In Light of Decision, Bid Cities Scramble to Put their Best Foot Forward – Despite the Fact that a Final Decision Won’t Come Until at Least 2021

Canada, Mexico and the USA were awarded the 2026 FIFA World Cup two weeks ago, beating out Morocco with a joint bid that garnered 134 votes compared to Morocco’s 65. Eleven FIFA member nations did not cast a vote, including the countries on the ballot.

About 2,900 days remain, and with the tournament field expanding to 48 teams in 2026, there’s plenty of work to be done — including the designation of venues. Sixty of the tournament’s 80 games will played in the United States, with Canada and Mexico splitting host duties for the other 20. The World Cup final will be played at MetLife Stadium, according to the United Bid, with a total of 16 cities in the running to host games — 10 in the United States and three each in the other two countries.

A total of 23 cities (17 in the U.S. and three each in Mexico and Canada) are listed on the bid. The U.S. list will be pared down to 10 by officials. And in the hours after FIFA’s announcement, leaders from cities in the running started making their cases. NBCNews.com collected a few of them:

  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti: “Los Angeles is the world’s greatest sports town — and it embodies the spirit of diversity, inclusion and international cooperation that the World Cup represents.”

  • Nashville Mayor David Briley: “[The city] will be ready to host the world’s best soccer players and fans eight years from now.”

  • Kansas City (Missouri) Mayor Sly James: “Once they get here, I think the city will sell itself.”

FIFA told voters that all of the proposed cities offer top-notch stadiums, hotels and other facilities, NBCNews.com reports. Selection of cities, however, isn’t expected to happen until at least 2021 — and possibly not until after the 2022 World Cup, according to U.S. and international soccer authorities.

“We’re blessed with 23 really world-class facilities [and] stadiums, some iconic, some brand-new, cutting-edge and everything in between,” said Carlos Cordeiro, newly-elected president of U.S. Soccer. “I think it will be a very difficult decision that we will all have to make, the three of us in conjunction with FIFA, when we have to determine the final 16.”

The fact that there may be a three- or even four-year wait, however, hasn’t stopped the pundits from making their prognostications. An excellent facility is one factor but the supporting infrastructure – meaning a widespread mass transit system that can move crowds efficiently – will be critically important as well. As with all tournaments, officials also will be looking for cities with adequate lodging, parking, restaurants and other amenities, all convenient to the venues.

With those ideas in mind, ESPN has already placed its own bets on 10 U.S. cities, noting the following points:

  • “Atlanta: The emergence of MLS side Atlanta United has given more credence to the idea that the ATL is a soccer city. The recently opened Mercedes-Benz Stadium (home of the 2018 MLS All-Star Game) and its climate-controlled environs for more than 70,000 fans likely make Atlanta one of the top choices on FIFA's list, and it's a proposed semifinal venue.

  • Boston: Technically, the matches will be held in Foxborough at the 66,000-capacity Gillette Stadium, but the opportunity to serve the Boston area, one of the locales used at the 1994 World Cup, will be one that FIFA won't want to pass up.

  • Dallas: AT&T Stadium, aka JerryWorld (for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones), figures to be one of the venues chosen given that it is indoors. Dallas' proximity to Mexico could also help mitigate what will be long travel distances. It has the capacity for 100,000 fans and is another proposed semifinal venue.

  • Los Angeles: The second-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. is a no-brainer to be on FIFA's list. The only question is whether FIFA goes with playing games at the Rose Bowl (site of the 1994 final) or the soon-to-be-completed Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park, which is slated to open in 2020 and can expand to accommodate over 100,000.

  • Kansas City: With Chicago out of the running, a city in the country's heartland will be needed, and the Kansas City Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium fits the bill.

  • Miami: It seems likely that FIFA will choose either Miami or Orlando but not both. FIFA can't go wrong with either Florida locale, but Miami's reputation as the more glamorous city could see it get the nod.

  • Seattle: The Pacific Northwest has a deep passion for the sport, with the Seattle Sounders leading the way in MLS attendance for many years until Atlanta beat it out last season. CenturyLink Field holds 72,000.

  • San Francisco: Levi's Stadium, which is actually down the road from San Francisco proper in Santa Clara, has already hosted several high-profile matches, including four at the Copa America Centenario in 2016.

  • Washington, DC: The nation's capital figures to be in the mix for optics if nothing else. But Washington's candidacy runs deeper, with the area possessing an extensive history of support for the game, and FedExField offering a capable stadium with 82,000 seats.”

(The article also selected Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto in Canada; and Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara in Mexico – no surprises there since the bid offered only three cities in each of those countries.)

The last time the men’s World Cup came to the United States was 1994 — the best attended, and one of the most profitable, in tournament history. Officials estimate overall profits were $1.45 billion, with almost $620 million going to Los Angeles, where the final was played in nearby Pasadena. Back then, the tournament featured only 24 teams and 52 matches. The 2026 economic impact could be much larger.

Hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup could generate more than $5 billion in short-term economic activity, including supporting approximately 40,000 jobs and more than $1 billion in incremental worker earnings across North America, according to a study done by The Boston Consulting Group. The study, touted by U.S. Soccer, also estimates that individual host cities could expect to see between $160 million and $620 million in incremental economic activity. That translates to a net benefit of approximately $90 to $480 million per city after accounting for potential public costs.

“United 2026 offers existing modern stadia with experienced management teams in each of our proposed host cities, and existing modern accommodation and integrated transport systems throughout our host cities,” John Kristick, executive director of the United Bid Committee, said at the time the study was released. “Our legacy is already in the ground, working, not on the drawing board, giving our host cities and FIFA a level of certainty not seen in previous FIFA World Cups and allowing us to focus hosting the best event for the prosperity of FIFA.”

The United Bid’s victory also casts doubt about whether a single country will host a World Cup after this year’s tournament in Russia. Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, might team with other Middle Eastern countries, according to reports, and Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay are putting together a bid for the 2030 event. And don’t forget that South Korea and Japan jointly staged the World Cup in 2002.

“With a World Cup you need a large number of international-standard stadiums and it is a huge financial burden,” Sean Hamil, lecturer at Birkbeck College’s Sports Business Centre in London, told BBC.com. “So pooling resources in terms of stadiums to help spread that load would appear logical.”

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