Who Made It, Who Didn’t – and Why? World Cup 2026 | Sports Destination Management

Who Made It, Who Didn’t – and Why? World Cup 2026

Jun 17, 2022 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The sweet 16 for FIFA’s 2026 World Cup is set but for some cities, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

The long-awaited big reveal of the host destinations came last Thursday evening. Watch parties and live updates on social media were the order of the day but many in the industry were left wondering why some cities were given hosting honors and some were given the boot (not the golden kind).

FIFA’s decision making was complicated, and plenty don’t understand it. Here is FIFA’s 500-plus page Bid Book for the event, listing every city, every venue and every potential host hotel.

The big winners, and the matches that were proposed they would host, include the following:

Western Destinations

Vancouver, British Columbia: BC Place

               Expected to host: Round of 16

Seattle, Washington: Lumen Field

               Expected to host: Quarterfinal, third-place game

San Francisco, California: Levi's Stadium

               Expected to host: Semifinal

Los Angeles, California: SoFi Stadium

               Expected to host: Unknown at this time

Guadalajara, Mexico: Estadio Akron

               Expected to host: Round of 16

FIFA Announcement World Cup 2026
FIFA President Gianni Infantino explains the site selection process for the 2026 World Cup

Central and Midwest Destinations

Kansas City, Missouri: Arrowhead Stadium

               Expected to host: Quarterfinal, third-round game

Atlanta, Georgia: Mercedes-Benz Stadium

               Expected to host: Semifinal

Dallas, Texas: AT&T Stadium (Arlington)

               Expected to host: Semifinal, final

Houston, Texas (NRG Stadium)

               Expected to host: Quarterfinal, third-place match

Monterrey, Mexico: Estadio BBVA

               Expected to host: Round of 16

Mexico City, Mexico: Estadio Azteca

               Expected to host: Opening match

Eastern Destinations

Toronto, Ontario, Canada: BMO Field

               Expected to host: Round of 16

Boston, Massachusetts: Gillette Stadium

               Expected to host: Semifinal

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Lincoln Financial Field;

               Expected to host: Quarterfinal, third-place game

Miami, Florida: Hard Rock Stadium

               Expected to host: Quarterfinal

New York/New Jersey: MetLife Stadium

               Expected to host: Opening game, final

Wild celebrations followed the announcements in all the chosen cities. For a complete breakdown of the winning cities, their venues, and what they have hosted, click here. It’s ESPN’s incredibly comprehensive listing and it’s, well, amazing.

Tickets are expected to go on sale in 2025. The tournament will likely begin Thursday, June 11, 2026, unless organizers push for an earlier start date to avoid extreme heat. (Half of the 16 host cities regularly experience June temperatures in the 90s, and only three of those eight stadiums have roofs). It is possible that climate-proof venues could be candidates for afternoon games, while games at outdoor grounds kick off in the evening.

But amidst the celebration and parties, there were dark moments for other cities – all of whom had campaigned actively, waited out a pandemic, participated in host site visits and waved the banner for their destinations, only to be devastated on Thursday night.

NBC News pointed out that the U.S. selections included none of the nine stadiums used at the 1994 World Cup. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and Orlando’s Camping World Stadium were the only ones remaining in contention, and their bids were passed over in the final round.

Within minutes of the announcement, theories ran rampant as to why those cities missed out. Here are some of those, from those who took the high road, to those whose bids had problems, to those who took a swipe at FIFA.

FIFA Strikes a Sour Note in Music City

Yahoo! Sports believed that “Nashville's hopes were torpedoed by uncertainty around the future of its NFL stadium.”

More specifically, The Tennessean stated that according to Tennessee Titans CEO Burke Nihill, about 75 percent of the conversation with FIFA about hosting the 2026 World Cup at Nissan Stadium regarded the field itself. It turns out uncertainty around the stadium surface led to the World Cup bid's demise.

"We answered all of their questions and we felt strong that the stadium wasn't going to be an issue and I guess we'll never know," Nihill told reporters.

The venue had been in a state of disrepair, with officials noting they were just “patching holes” until a new one could be built.

Plus, noted an editorial in the same publication, “Just as Nissan Stadium was being portrayed publicly as a venue destined for the scrap heap – and understandably, given what the Titans are trying to accomplish – the city had to continue to sell FIFA on bringing the world’s biggest sporting event in 2026 to a place the Titans clearly don’t want to play in past about 2025. Had FIFA selected Nashville, it would have been settling to play in a Nissan Stadium that had a rapidly approaching date with the wrecking ball. And that was never going to happen no matter how badly we wanted it.”

Cincinnati Gets Stood Up for Big Dance

Was it something Christian Pulisic said that led to Cincy not making the cut? Well, it probably wasn’t 100 percent his fault, but the city isn’t happy with the USMNT captain, who made disparaging comments after a USA/Morocco match in the city failed to fill the stands. (According to Sporting News, the announced attendance was 19,512, lower than the stadium’s capacity of 26,000).

"To be honest, for whatever reason, I'm not super happy with the amount of Americans here,” said Pulisic after the match; “however that works out, if I'm being completely honest. But thanks to the ones who did come, the support is always great from them. It's nice to be back in America and playing again."

Those comments immediately took the bloom off the 3-0 win for the USA and caused a significant amount of chatter on social media. SpectrumNews1 noted that as a result, the announcement on Thursday didn’t come as an enormous surprise:

“I had a bit of a doubt after the USA-Morocco friendly and the comments Christian Pulisic had afterward thought that kind of cast some doubt,” Chris Atwell, a Cincinnati-based U.S. soccer fan, said. “In the end, we just got a little surprised Kansas City got a bid for one of those. I guess I’m hitting the road.”

Jeff Berding, co-CEO of FC Cincinnati and a member of the local organizing committee for the World Cup, told reporters, “This isn’t the last the world will see from Cincinnati on the international soccer stage.”

A Baltimore/DC Joint Bid Fails

Yahoo! Sports had perhaps the most telling headline: “FIFA Snubs Washington D.C., selects 16 North American Cities to Host 2026 World Cup.” It marks only the third time in the World Cup’s history that a primary host nation’s capital city will not host games.

The city of Baltimore and the District of Columbia had merged their bids in the spring of 2022 following feedback received from FIFA when its officials toured FedEx Field, the much-complained-about home turf for the Washington Commanders. In response, DC and Baltimore pitched a plan to play games at M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the Baltimore Ravens, while hosting festivities and VIP events in Washington.

And when that pitch fell short, officials made no bones about the fact that they thought the nation’s capital and its neighboring city had been unfairly shortchanged.

Terry Hasseltine, the executive director of the Maryland Sports Commission, which oversaw Baltimore’s campaign, expressed disappointment to Baltimore Sun reporters (the following four paragraphs come directly from that article):

“Extremely disappointed that FIFA did not see through the fog and through the dark that Baltimore, Maryland, in combination with Washington, D.C., was a one-two punch that deserved to host a World Cup in 2026,” Hasseltine said.

Gov. Larry Hogan, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott were among those expected to attend a watch party at M&T Thursday, and Hasseltine’s overt disappointment indicated that he expected it to be a joyous night.

Instead, the tone of the press conference was almost one of dismay.

“I’m really disappointed in FIFA today for the decision. I’m really disappointed in U.S. Soccer for allowing the decision to happen today,” Hasseltine said. “You and I, everybody in this room knows that there had to be something behind the scenes that we just don’t know. And I’m not going to sit here today and tell you I know what that was, but I can tell you that something doesn’t pass the sniff test.”

“DC is the number-one-ranked television market for English Premier League Soccer,” EventsDC exec Max Brown said. “So I don’t know what the hell FIFA was looking at when they made that decision.”

But apparently, all is not lost – at least not for DC. According to WTOP News, Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief competitions and events officer, said in a news conference that the governing body plans to engage with cities that failed to host matches, to see about other opportunities. And then he was asked about whether the nation’s capital could host festivities.

“Yes,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said, interrupting Smith.

Infantino’s response was immediately tweeted out by D.C. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio.

Rocky Mountain High City Sees FIFA Rejection as Low Blow

When Denver failed to make the cut, Colorado Public Radio took it as just another in a long succession of continued episodes of passing over the city.

“Denver’s snub continues a pattern of Colorado being excluded from U.S.-hosted World Cups,” the article noted. “Of the three World Cups hosted in the U.S., including two Women’s World Cups, none have featured Colorado cities as a host.”

The fact that Denver’s longstanding football rival, Kansas City, was chosen seemed to be adding insult to injury. Denver, one of the top markets in the country for soccer consumption, ranking sixth in overall viewership for the most recent World Cup, according to the bid committee. It has more than 100,000 children and adults engaged in competitive and/or recreational soccer as well.

“I'm so disappointed,” Robin Fraser, who is head coach of the Colorado Rapids, told CPR reporters. “And I feel like it would've been an ideal place, and I look at some of the other cities and I would say no disrespect to the other cities, but Denver is one of the greatest cities in this country, I think. And to not have the opportunity to have a World Cup come here, I think is incredibly disappointing.”

Fraser added that he was unsure why a place like Kansas City was chosen but Denver was not. 

“I just think there's no comparison,” Fraser said. “I think if you look at cities in this region, Kansas City being one of them … it's actually mind boggling to me that Kansas City was chosen over Denver.”

Orlando’s Bid Falls Short

Maybe it was because Miami was already in the running. Maybe it was because Atlanta wasn’t all that far off.

Maybe, maybe, maybe. All officials in Orlando know is that they are disappointed their bid – which they’d kept front and center in the public eye for several years – has been denied.

Many want to know why. Obviously, it’s not for lack of local interest in the sport, said Spectrum News 13. Camping World Stadium, the official bid venue, had hosted soccer matches during the 1994 FIFA World Cup, 1996 Summer Olympics and 2016 Copa America Centenario. Since the 1994 World Cup, Orlando has grown considerably in population and in its soccer fan base.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer took the high road, noting in a public statement, “Although I am disappointed, I am proud of our city’s collaboration during the competitive bid process. Forty-seven U.S. cities were interested in hosting matches and Orlando was one of 17 finalists. Our city’s vibrancy, commitment to inclusion and ability to work together was evident during the process and I know Orlando remains positioned to host premier soccer events in the future.”

No Return of World Cup Action to the Rose Bowl Stadium

Like Orlando’s Camping World Stadium, which also had hosted World Cup action in 1994, Pasadena, California was denied its chance to bring The Beautiful Game back to the city. Instead, SoFi Stadium, a little more than 22 miles away as the LearJet flies, got the nod.

“I join in the disappointment of soccer fans throughout the world,” Victor Gordo, Pasadena’s mayor, told reporters at The Los Angeles Daily News, “who today learned they will be denied the opportunity to witness soccer in the greatest stadium in the Unites States.”

The Rose Bowl Stadium certainly has its history; it also played host to the iconic 1999 Women’s World Cup final in which the U.S. beat China in front of a crowd of more than 90,000. Brandi Chastain’s epic goal in the shootout brought home the win and ignited a passion for soccer among girls nationwide.

Gordo, during FIFA officials’ venue inspection, had pointed out the many nearby attractions that visitors could experience: the Grammy Museum, Sony Pictures and more.

FIFA, he said, bypassed a “gem” that is “hallowed ground for soccer, football and entertainment. I will say that it’s also disappointing that that national historic landmark is not considered while billionaire-owned NFL stadiums get the nod as they are certain to seek public subsidy. That’s unfair and it’s wrong.”

Edmonton Out in the Cold

The capital city of the Canadian province of Alberta was also left behind – a shock to a city once considered a shoo-in for hosting honors.

But according to SportsNet Canada, the reasoning was complicated – and it was political. Montreal dropped out of the bidding war in summer 2021 after the government became concerned about the astronomical costs of hosting; it was in the spring of 2022 that Vancouver declared its candidacy. It then dropped out but was approached by British Columbia native and CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, who began working on persuading the province to renew its bid.

And oh, boy – after that, it really gets, well, weird. The following five paragraphs are direct quotes from the article:

“With rumors swirling about Vancouver wanting back in, the Alberta provincial government took bold action in March when it committed $110 million in public money to the city of Edmonton to help cover the cost of hosting games in 2026. However, the funding was contingent on Edmonton getting to host five of the 10 games that will take place in Canada in 2026, including two matches in the knockout round.

That proved to be a miscalculation that hurt Edmonton’s bid. FIFA is like the mafia — it isn’t used to having cities make demands of it like that. You don't hold them up at knifepoint and try to dictate terms to them, which is essentially what the Alberta government did. The fact that the financial support from the province came with strings attached hurt Edmonton’s chances, even though it won political points.”

Edmonton’s soccer journalist Steve Sandor said after that, it was all a moot point. Already, reports had been seeping out that Edmonton was out of the running, and insiders braced for the blow.

"When you hear that Montagliani had personally gone back to Vancouver and dragged them back into the bidding process, that was the writing on the wall for Edmonton. It was sort of like, you’re a starting player, but now the coach is warming up a substitute to replace you," Sandor told Sportsnet. "There isn’t any bitterness from people in Edmonton directed at Vancouver; there’s bitterness at the process of how Vancouver was brought back in after they backed out. You don’t blame the sub who comes off the bench to take your spot, but you can be angry at the coach for making that change."

What Went Wrong?

While Monday morning quarterbacks (or in this case, maybe Friday morning goalies) are always right, pundits have already been pointing to infrastructure as a key problem with cities that did not make the cut.

Many of the selected cities have efficient mass transit systems that are able to move fans from games to hotels to fan fests to attractions and so forth. Other considerations included easily walkable areas, the presence of local attractions and an appropriate number of hotels in the area, as well as other issues.

Other Cities

From the time the 2026 United Bid was announced, the roster of candidate cities has changed. Chicago, for example, was among many cities citing the high costs, and the fact that FIFA wanted cities to guarantee to underwrite everything – no matter what.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel stood firm in the face of FIFA’s demands.

“The guys from international soccer wanted us to underwrite their sporting event," Emanuel told reporters at NBC News. "I am not going to write a company a blank check that can fleece the taxpayers."

He wasn’t the only one. Minneapolis, Detroit and Phoenix, as well as others, also stepped away. Many cities refused to follow demands to change the type of surface on their fields, to put retractable roofs on stadiums and to make significant cosmetic and structural changes to their venues.

Other Opportunities

But as we saw earlier with the DC example, other cities could still host team base camps and pre-tournament friendlies. Most participating national teams will train at colleges and MLS facilities across the U.S. (For a complete look at those venues, check out FIFA’s Bid Book).

One thing’s for sure – we haven’t heard the last of FIFA 2026. This is only the beginning. Expect selected cities to begin jockeying to host specific matches – and expect cities that didn’t make the cut to begin interfacing with FIFA to learn more about the decision-making process.

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