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With estimates nearing a half billion in net economic benefit for cities that play host to the games, the 2026 World Cup makes Amazon HQ2 seem very 2018.
The decision by FIFA’s Congress last week to select Canada, Mexico and the United States as joint hosts for the 2026 World Cup sets up a new domestic competition, with 17 U.S. cities now vying to be designated as host sites.
Up to 11 of the venues will be in the United States. The U.S. cities will split among them 60 of the 80 games (Canada and Mexico will host 10 games each). In addition, communities will serve as “base camps” to national teams and referees, providing hotels, training facilities and other necessary amenities.
By hosting, the cities hope to gain international attention and a financial windfall. According to a Boston Consulting Group study touted by the Unity Bid Committee, the potential economic benefit across all three countries could be “more than $5 billion,” $3 to $4 billion of which would be net gain. Individual host cities could expect “a net benefit of approximately $90 - $480 million per city after accounting for potential public costs.”
Like the Olympics, the ultimate economic effect of the World Cup on its host countries has been questioned by financial analysts, especially as governments have poured money into major infrastructure projects surrounding these international events. Brazil’s $14 billion 2014 tournament is probably the most controversial, causing significant protests in several cities.
However, unlike Brazil and Russia's current $11 billion World Cup, all the potential host cities in North America’s 2026 bid already have the major stadiums and key transportation infrastructure necessary to host five or six games apiece. In fact, existing infrastructure was a key feature of the “unity bid" ahead of the 134 to 65 winning vote. Morocco's plan included spending $16 billion on infrastructure.
The only area Morocco’s bid outscored the North America bid in technical rankings from FIFA was government support (though there was an endorsement/threat from President Trump to other countries’ FIFA delegates).
The potential for less government support was evident when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pulled the nation’s third-largest city from consideration in March, with his office saying there were too many “unknowns.” FIFA requires host governments to agree to provide certain “guarantees,” which could be significant from a financial standpoint. Those guarantees include fiscal, operational and administrative support ranging from event security to dealing with work permits and exemptions from labor laws.
A spokesman for Emanuel stated at the time, “The uncertainty for taxpayers, coupled with FIFA’s inflexibility and unwillingness to negotiate, were clear indications that further pursuit of the bid wasn’t in Chicago’s best interests.”
Most cities, however, are not deterred by the guarantees. And, with FIFA slated to make its final decisions as to the host cities in late 2020, the scramble to dazzle begins now.
Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, told The Tennessean that FIFA has said they would begin visiting potential host cities right after this year’s tournament ends.
"I feel good about it, but we also know the work is not done," Spyridon said.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings touted his city’s preparedness for the World Cup—and its potential financial impact on the city. According to the Dallas Morning News, when Dallas hosted part of the World Cup tournament in 1994, the city spent $18 million and accrued $20 million in revenue; this time around, though, the impact could be much larger: “Dallas City Council's Quality of Life, Arts & Culture Committee has estimated the economic impact from hosting the 2026 Cup could fall between $300 million and $500 million.”
Rawlings also pointed out the city’s growth in the decades since and its dedication to building more transit infrastructure in the years to come.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney also was excited about the bid—and his city’s chances—when addressing the media this weekend. As with other cities, he pointed to the existing infrastructure, but also to the city's spirit and culture.
The mayor is currently hosting his city’s own micro-version of the World Cup, Philadelphia’s Unity Cup. An annual initiative that Kenney started in 2016, the Unity Cup is intended to unite the city’s neighborhoods and celebrate “diverse immigrant communities.”
“I love the World Cup—I love soccer, I love European soccer, American soccer,” Kenney said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s terrific for us as a city to continue creating relationships and building relationships with foreign countries and cities.”
Our nation’s capital region is seen as almost a lock to be a host. Washington, DC Deputy Mayor Brian Kenner, whose suburban neighbor FedEx Field is a finalist to be a venue, told Route Fifty that the city is used to hosting large gatherings and unique events on a regular basis. Kenner pointed to the city hosting everything from inaugurations every four years to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game next month and the recent Stanley Cup Finals. In addition to the bars and restaurants he hopes international football fans will be frequenting, he also pointed to their 20,000 seat capacity Major League Soccer stadium slated to open next month, which could potentially serve as a training facility.
Kenner said he has yet to engage with FIFA or the Bid Committee on next steps since the unity bid’s success last week. They are, after all, he pointed out, in the middle of this year’s World Cup.
Mitch Herckis is Senior Editor and Director of Strategic Initiatives for Government Executive's Route Fifty. He is based in Washington, D.C.