FIFA recently conducted the first set of site visits to potential 2026 FIFA World Cup host venues ahead of an expected host announcement in early 2022. To get a better sense of which U.S. markets may ultimately be selected among the 17 candidates, we gathered the GESM troops to get a consensus.
I surveyed the office and had everyone put, in order, the 17 candidates from most likely to least likely to be chosen as host. Each person had the flexibility to come to their own conclusion based on how they view each market and things like location, market size, history of hosting events, and city infrastructure.
See the graphic below for our thoughts.
DISCUSSING WORLD CUP HOSTING OPTIONS
Any surprises from our results? In my opinion, there are three stone cold locks: New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas. After that, it’s arguably a toss up. In political campaign terms, I think there are four questions surrounding key battleground areas that will likely decide how FIFA will trim its list to the final 11 host cities. They are:
Who is left standing in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast?
I think the battle for selection in the Northeast megalopolis aka Acela Corridor will be most interesting. The region from Washington, D.C. up I-95 to Boston is the most-populated region in the country with five major cities whose collective population average is north of 2.36 million. Factor in Toronto as one of Canada’s hosts and you have a very crowded region with all metro areas within a 9-hour driving radius.
Focusing strictly on the U.S., if we take New York and MetLife Stadium out of the equation and consider it a lock, that leaves Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore as options. While the region could essentially host the entire tournament on its own, unfortunately, there’s likely another two slots available among the final 11.
Where does that leave us? From a neutral stand point, Baltimore is the most obvious to trim despite its pedigree as a soccer market. That leaves us with the cradle of liberty in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. While Gillette Stadium is well outside of Boston and currently utilizes a turf field, it’s hard to imagine Bob Kraft not rolling out the red carpet for FIFA and the tournament.
I think for most, a FIFA World Cup without games being played in the nation’s capital is hard to imagine. FedEx Field – despite its many gripes – is perhaps more likely to be selected than Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.
So, that leaves New York City, Boston, and Washington, D.C. left among the crowded Mid-Atlantic / Northeast corridor.
How many stadiums will be chosen in Florida and Texas?
In Florida, it certainly feels like all the momentum is with Miami, so where does that leave Orlando? The city was a host in the 1994 FIFA World Cup, but my gut tells me there will only be one host in Florida.
Dallas is almost assuredly a lock, so will Texas get more than one host? Houston will certainly hope so and they have a great case for selection – two major airports, top 5 market in terms of population, top 10 TV market, and an obvious connection to the Hispanic market. Similarly to Orlando, however, with only 11 host spots available, Houston might be on the outside looking in.
What happens in the middle of the country?
Chicago seems like a shoe-in, right? Right? The city removed itself from the running, which makes the Central and Mountain time zone regions a little more interesting. Removing the Texas markets from this conversation leaves Nashville, Kansas City, and Denver as options. Of the three, Nashville has the most momentum and is a red-hot soccer market, so its inclusion wouldn’t surprise me. It’s also a 4-hour drive to and from Atlanta, which is a strong consideration if FIFA elects to group markets together.
Our office selected Cincinnati as least-likely to be selected, which leaves Kansas City as the only true Midwestern location. Depending how you look at it, this can be a positive and a negative. If FIFA elects to group markets together, Kansas City is a relatively lone ranger with the next closest markets being *checks Google Maps* Nashville, Dallas, and Denver – all of which are an 8-hour drive away. But is it a miss to not have the Midwest represented? A fair question to ask.
Where does that leave Denver? Like Kansas City, it’s a bit of an outlier in terms of geography. Yes, it’s an 8-hour drive to Kansas City, but the next closest potential market is Dallas, a 12-hour drive away. From a purely geographical standpoint, I think it’s fair to pit Denver and Kansas City against each other and say only one will likely be selected.
Which “sexy” markets are too good to pass up?
Using this as sort of a “catch all” category, I think there are several markets that are almost too good to pass up. Nashville fits into this category given the market’s rapid rise mentioned above. I would also include Seattle and Atlanta in this category, as well.
We’ve all seen how much Seattle loves their Sounders and the sport. I don’t think there’s any doubt about the market’s ability to be a host for the FIFA World Cup. Rather, the doubt lies in the stadium’s turf surface. U.S. Soccer is an infrequent visitor to the Pacific Northwest for this reason. Despite being a hotbed for fandom, the U.S. Men’s National Team last played in Seattle in the 2016 Copa Centenario Quarterfinals. Before that, a 2013 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Panama.
Atlanta is in a similar situation. The market’s meteoric rise in recent years has been well-documented. However, despite Mercedes-Benz Stadium regularly having north of 40,000 fans for Atlanta United games, it too has a turf field.
While turf is a hurdle, both would be replaced with grass fields for the FIFA World Cup, which makes both markets very attractive. In the hypothetical selection we’ve laid out, Atlanta helps form a Southeastern hosting block with Miami and Nashville.
Seattle is currently on its own with Vancouver withdrawing from selection. However, there are rumblings of the British Columbia travel destination returning to the mix. Between San Francisco (albeit not super close) and a potential Vancouver return, that’s a decent grouping of cities in that region of North America.
When will find out the host cities for the 2026 FIFA World Cup?
The pandemic has messed with the timeline a bit, but we should know which cities will be selected in early 2022.