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U.S. Cities Score Big With World Cup Bids, Gear Up For Work To Come

Sixteen cities across North America were chosen Thursday to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, resulting in rejoicing among soccer fans and economic development officials alike, but there’s still competition to be had among the winning cities, setting up further economic wins for the selected cities.

NYCF has been playing home games at Yankee Stadium.

Getting on the list of winning cities for the first World Cup to land in the U.S. since 1994 is widely seen as a boon for local economies, but just how much cities stand to benefit depends on how many games they’re able to secure, or if they’re lucky enough to win the crown jewel of the cup: the World Cup Finals.

The World Cup would “outdo the Super Bowl from an economic impact by multiples,” according to comments made by the president and co-owner of soccer club FC Dallas Dan Hunt, who served as chairman for the winning Dallas World Cup bid for 2026, at the Texas CEO Summit on June 8.

Hunt stressed the revenue benefits multiple games can bring to a city.

"It's in the billions of dollars that you can get off of this, especially if you host six or seven matches. Here in Dallas, we're chasing the final at this amazing venue,” he said. 

That venue is AT&T Stadium, where the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys play, which includes 380 suites and 15,000 club seats.

A similar sentiment emerged Friday from fellow winning city Santa Clara, California, located 45 minutes outside of San Francisco.

“The issue for the World Cup is going to be how many games we get. This is bigger than the Super Bowl. It could be four Super Bowls or six Super Bowls. It depends on the number of games and which teams we get,” Santa Clara Mayor Lisa M. Gillmor said in a release.

FIFA will make its decisions regarding the number and stature of games played in each of the winning cities at a later date. Eighty matches will be played in the 2026 tournament, with the number of teams competing expanded to 48.

But even with the race still on for the most games or the top prize of the finals, representatives of the winning cities are largely thrilled.

In Pennsylvania, for example, a watch party held outside Philadelphia City Hall for the reveal of the host cities erupted into applause on Thursday when Philly was chosen to host FIFA World Cup games for the first time in its history. The city did play host to group stage matches at the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup when it was relocated from China due to the SARS outbreak.

Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, will be the city’s venue, just like the 69,000-seat stadium was for Women’s World Cup games in 2003. A new nearby multi-bar entertainment venue called Xfinity Live! and a Live! Casino & Hotel owned by Cordish Cos. are among the businesses that stand to benefit from the crush of soccer fans.

In Houston, winning its World Cup bid is the result of a decade of attempts, having been passed over for the 1994 World Cup, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The Houston games will be played at NRG Stadium, though the site is too small to allow for semifinals or finals to be hosted there. The Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee, which is part of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority, pitched the Bayou City on its diversity and proximity to Mexico.

While Houston has long vied for the World Cup, the priorities of Mayor Sylvester Turner, who in 2020 launched an office to tackle human trafficking and domestic violence, contrast starkly with FIFA’s troubled reputation around the world.

FIFA has received international criticism in past years for human trafficking at World Cup events in countries like Qatar.

FIFA has also been under fire for labor abuse in its World Cup event in Qatar, with The Guardian previously reporting that over 6,500 migrant workers have died over the decade since Qatar won its bid to host the World Cup.

Houston's Turner told the Chronicle that Office of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence Director Minal Patel-Davis presented a human rights plan to FIFA. But the criticisms of FIFA over these abuses are among the concerns that come along with hosting the tournament.

Another is the funding for building the necessary infrastructure for a host city.

The cost of hosting the World Cup varies widely, and most cities claim that they make the money back, and then some. Putting a number on an estimate is more difficult now than in the past, as the threat of recession and the rising cost of building materials cause estimates for even simple projects to swing wildly.

Some cities have laws in place that keep taxpayers from footing the bill, regardless of its size. 

Santa Clara’s Gillmor said the city was reimbursed close to $5M in costs from Super Bowl 50 because of Measure J, the Santa Clara Stadium Taxpayer Protection and Economic Progress Act. The act includes language intended to insulate the city from expenses related to “NFL and Non-NFL Events.”

"We will not use public funds on any of this. It’s the host committee, like the Super Bowl, that will have to raise the money to reimburse the city of Santa Clara,” she said. “That’s why it’s a win/win for Santa Clara. We get the economic benefits of hosting a world-class event, yet, we aren’t going to pay for it on the backs of our taxpayers.”

“It’s tremendously expensive, which is why some cities pulled out of the event,” she continued.

Bisnow reporters Olivia Lueckemeyer, Lane Gillespie and Matthew Rothstein contributed to this report.