As FIFA and U.S. Soccer take the next steps in the venue selection process for FIFA World Cup 2026™, the leaders of the process spoke to media today ahead of Tuesday’s virtual Candidate Host City Workshop. There, FIFA and U.S. Soccer will meet with representatives from all 17 cities competing to be a part of FIFA World Cup 2026™ before individual meetings with the cities over the coming weeks.
FIFA Chief Tournament & Events Officer Colin Smith and former U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn, who is overseeing the U.S. city selection, discussed the workshop and overall venue selection process.
Dan Flynn, opening comments: Welcome everyone and thanks for taking the time to be on the call. I think before we really get into any detail, we want to recognize that tomorrow's workshop comes at a time of uncertainty in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic and the global response to social and racial injustice are rightfully at center stage. Global football, it's endeavored to be a leader beyond just the field of play and that spirit will certainly inspire us in the years leading up to ‘26 and beyond as well.
Originally, this meeting was scheduled in March and we are really comfortable moving forward in this virtual manner. I'd like to just mention that we appreciate the partnership that we've had with FIFA, starting back to the '94 Men's World Cup to the '03 Women's World Cup that we hosted, albeit with four months’ notice, but that partnership has really served us well and we're looking forward to extending and including in that partnership our host cities in the U.S. and Canada and Mexico as well.
Stating the obvious, the ‘26 World Cup is a tremendous opportunity for the sport in our country. I think we're looking at it as a partnership, but the framework is that FIFA will be the rights-holder and their focus will be the event, both the consumer and the stadium level and the technical side, but U.S. Soccer is going to be taking a broader view and looking at how we can capitalize on this opportunity between now and ’26, I think with the overall vision and goal: ‘what does our industry look like the day after the 2026 World Cup?’
There's a lot of work ahead of us. Obviously, we have some experience from the ‘94 World Cup, knowing what that allowed us to do. That platform laid a lot of groundwork for some of the successes that the sport has had in the last 20 some-odd years. We also understand the amount of work that it's going to take to get this done. We're going to look to engage our membership across all the platforms, working with the host cities in partnership with FIFA, so that's going to be our vision.
Colin Smith, opening comments: Good morning everyone, good evening from Zurich. It's great to be here and I really appreciate all of you attending. As Dan said, it's difficult times across the globe at the moment. We took the decision to postpone this workshop initially as a precautionary measure, but then within a few days, it was proven right as travel restrictions were put in place. We're very excited that we can get this process moving. This host city selection process is really the natural continuation from the bid process, and as Dan and Neil pointed out we've already started up in Canada and Mexico and now we look forward to doing it across the U.S. cities. It's an opportunity for us to get to know the cities better, to get to know the stadiums, venture into more details and that's what the workshop tomorrow will be all about.
A host city of a FIFA World Cup goes far beyond simply where a stadium is located. It's a much more complex integration of aspects to be a successful host and to really get the most out of and embrace the fantastic opportunity that hosting a FIFA World Cup provides. Certainly, we're excited for the first 48-team tournament, the first expanded format of the World Cup. Stadiums are existing stadiums - the capacities are very large. We've got what we believe is an excellent platform and now we just really look forward to working together with all the partners across the cities and the stadiums in order to bring this to fruition. Six years seems like a long time, it's really not, so we're certainly impatient to get moving on this journey together.
Ideally, when would you like to settle on the U.S. venues? And two, is there a possibility of a city such as Chicago or in the case of Canada, Vancouver, jumping back into the contending steps?
CS: Thanks for the question. We initially planned that we would sort of finalize the selection process in the spring of ‘21. Now, obviously that was based on us having started this in March and conducting, at least I would say, two sets of inspection visits throughout this year in order to finalize that process. Now we've had to delay that, so it's very difficult to give a final date because we don't know when the start date is. So, start date of the workshop is tomorrow but it's not clear yet when we will be able to come and conduct those inspection visits. I would say we need a few more weeks yet to see how things develop and then I would say Q3, beginning of Q4 this year, we would have a better idea as to the inspection visit schedule and then the time needed for the selection. In terms of your second question, certainly with regards to the U.S., we've got 17 fantastic cities and there's a great depth there right the way across the U.S. and we're looking forward to making the selection from those 17 cities.
I heard you confirm that the United States cities will be picked from the existing ones, I didn't hear you say the same about Canada. I was wondering if you could confirm that.
CS: The situation is a little bit different. We need 10 venues from the U.S. and there's 17. In Canada and Mexico, there's three that have been put forward and certainly the plan is to continue and have those discussions with those three. That's the intent. They were the cities that took part in the workshops and those are the cities that we will be visiting during the inspection trips.
You have a lot of cities in the Northeast corner of the United States that are involved in this. Do you have some sense of how many cities total in this part of the country you'd like to end up with? Because the conventional wisdom that's going around here is that they won't all make it.
DF: I think it's a little early to say in the Northeast, even though there's quite a few as you highlighted. We're not in a position to narrow in on that at this point. I can say that every community that was part of the bid put a very strong bid and commitment to the World Cup together. It's going to make our job difficult, but there's a lot of factors: travel, clusters, this is the first time with 48 teams. We're just not in the position at this point to commit on the geography of where the cities might be, Northeast versus the West Coast or Midwest.
This is just a question regarding some of the stadiums that might be considered a little bit dated, certainly by ‘26, or maybe have design flaws. I'm really referring to Gillette Stadium. How can a stadium like that, or some of the ones that would be a little bit older, expect to stack up against some of these newer stadiums? What are the chances that those kinds of stadiums get it?
DF: I think it's a lot of factors, quite frankly. We've had really a great amount of success in Boston over the years, but I hear what you're saying. In fact, when we were in the bid process review, Colin and his team and folks from U.S. Soccer, we actually did a rather extensive tour in particular when we were in Boston. It'll just take, in all due respect, it'll take a commitment if there are upgrades. That will be part of the process that we'll have to discuss with the Boston market. We still think that that most of our stadiums, even though you've termed them older, are very, very viable with some modifications for a successful World Cup.
I don't know if you can say this, but who from Kansas City will take part in the workshop and is this a one-day thing where you just try and get it all done tomorrow with all the cities or will it go on if needed?
CS: It's a workshop tomorrow with all the cities participating and then over the next three, four weeks, we have individual meetings together with U.S. Soccer and each of the cities individually to go through in more detail.
DF: Without getting into exact names, the folks representing on the call tomorrow are a broad range of people from the sport and sports community or its commission members, not only just Sporting KC, but the Chiefs and political representatives will also participate so that it's a well-rounded representation from the community.
Is it like three or 20 people?
DF: The limitation of what we try to do in each market, I think is no more than eight. I think Kansas City is right about eight total.
Two-part question: First is similar to KC, what organizations from Miami are involved in the workshop? Is Inter Miami involved and the Dolphins or the stadium people from Hard Rock? Also, I was wondering the renovations that were made to Hard Rock Stadium, which really make it look a lot like a European soccer stadium, how much will that play into their viability as one of the host cities, that they've recently had renovations? It very much looks like an international soccer stadium now.
DF: In terms of those who are part of the meeting tomorrow, that includes people from Hard Rock Stadium, the Dolphins and the CVB. At this point, there were no Inter Miami reps that I recall from the registration. The Miami mayor's office will be a participant as well. I assume moving forward Inter probably will. I think their focus was, quite frankly, just getting started with the season and the launch of the season.
CS: I think it's hard to say much on individual stadiums at the moment until we do the more detailed inspection. We were in Miami, we were in the Hard Rock and we certainly look forward to going back and going through the more detailed list of requirements. It's a great venue. All the stadiums that we've seen so far, part of what we look at is then what adaptations need to be made to the stadiums for a World Cup. Obviously, some of those adaptations depend, and that's a future stage of the process, what type of match will a stadium potentially host? So, we look at the wide range of requirements and we go through the details, the space allocations for each venue when we get there.
First, you mentioned geography not being set in stone right now for location, but is it important for U.S. Soccer to showcase venues across the country and in different parts to kind of give a little bit of breadth there? Number two, when looking at the infrastructure of cities - roads, the airports, hotels - what are some of the most important factors that will be considered in cities that will be able to set themselves apart in that way?
CS: Nothing is set in stone from our point of view. We want to look at, as Dan previously said, the whole picture. We want to look at, obviously the clustering, the location of the venues, the time zones. We also look at the climate conditions, in terms of the timing of matches, the heat in certain matches at certain times of the day. We look at all those considerations and ultimately what we're looking to do is to come up with, together with U.S. Soccer, the best list of stadiums for hosting this tournament.
With regards to the second part, you very correctly mentioned many of the key aspects. We look at the full picture, we look at the roads, we look at the airports, we look at the hotel, transport concepts, mobility concepts. We obviously look at human rights, sustainability, stakeholder engagement processes, in each of the host cities and really paint a whole picture. Part of that is looking at what does the whole city want to achieve from hosting this World Cup? What can this World Cup bring to them? As much as obviously what a city can bring to us, what are they looking to get out of it and what big events have they hosted in the past? Just really working with them as a partnership through all those different aspects. There's no one sort of golden thread, if you like, that runs through a perfect host city stadium. It really is an integration of many, many different factors that we look at.
Dan referenced the importance of the build-up to 2026 and Colin has referenced the legacy of 2026. My question is how much will the city's plan in terms of developing the sport and promoting the sport between now and ‘26 factor into the decision along with what they plan to do afterwards?
DF: On a comparative basis, '03 just didn't really have that opportunity. In '94, I think it was a sense of newness and it was just a very unique opportunity. This time, we've got 20-plus years of experience since hosting '94. I think that it takes on a greater role than it certainly did in '94, but I also think there's just greater opportunities. Our sport is at a different level than it was pre-'94. As I tried to mention on the front end, I think Colin's point of view is the event, but the tournament is now bigger than just the event … U.S. Soccer’s point of view is going to be from the soft side, ways that our membership can either grow or be connected to the event. That will be important, how we can culturally extend, go beyond just the sports fan, and make the event something more than just a soccer or global football tournament. So, from a U.S. Soccer perspective, we'll have a much heavier emphasis from our point of view - ultimately that decision falls back to FIFA - but our input will be what can be accomplished in the runway between now and '26 will be incredibly important to U.S. Soccer and the legacy beyond - what the sport looks like, as I mentioned in my opening comments, the day after. ‘What is there we can continue to build on after the '26 World Cup?’
Similar to other questions, who will be representing New York/New Jersey? Two- I know way back in the '94 bid, FIFA said you could not have a World Cup without New York. I'm not saying New York is a shoe-in this time, but could you talk about the impact of having the World Cup back in New York again? And three, I guess a broader-type question, and I'm probably getting a little ahead of myself here, but looking at the 17 candidates, how much are you considering the potential of these stadiums or venues hosting a final?
DF: I'll just start on those who are representing. Obviously at the stadium level, they are well represented. The governor's office in particular has been very involved as well, along with government officials from both states, the mayors from both sides of both states as well, MetLife Stadium is very involved. They are well represented, similar to every market across the country, quite frankly.
CS: I'll give the diplomatic answer that we're at the start of the selection process. Coming back to the third part of your question regarding hosting the final. The final is a special animal in terms of the requirements simply because it's just huge, and the media attention, the broadcast attention, hospitality, obviously the fans, but the space and requirements in and around the stadium for the final is just at a different level than the other matches. Just seating capacity alone, 80,000 is the minimum for the final. That's obviously one of the key criteria for us when we look at that. When we go through the different venues, as I alluded to earlier, we have a list of the different requirements and the different scope of those requirements, depending on the different matches throughout the tournament. That's obviously also a key part of our decision. The match schedule itself, obviously, is far off. We haven't looked at that in detail at the moment.
I think what we would say is that the final is only one match, but the other 79 matches are also, in our view, finals if you like, and we're really looking forward to a cracking competition across all the venues. In fact, many of the stadiums are well above the minimum capacity of 40,000. So, even the group matches are going to see audience figures, probably not seen since '94. '94 still holds the record of the largest attendance, so we look forward to breaking that if we can in '26.
I wanted to ask in terms of FIFA's perspective, is there a particular lens that it has when it looks at a relatively new market within the 17 candidates? Specifically, with a city like Nashville, does it look at markets differently in terms of what it's hoping for, what it's requiring? Second question, in terms of just the Southern region of Nashville, alongside Atlanta, is that situation more of a competitive situation in terms of possibly one getting a bid more than the other? Or is it something more of a project in which U.S. Soccer, from their point of view, is trying to grow the game in the South?
CS: Again, I think just to reiterate, we really look at the whole picture. There's no advantage or disadvantage or anything going into this process. We have the full list of technical requirements, if you like, we then also have the soft aspects, the more intangible ones that we, as I mentioned earlier on the call, we want to understand what it means to the city, what it means to youth development, women's football, what's the overall landscape of football in that city and the projections for the future. And then together, obviously, with the non-stadium aspects, such as airports, travel distances, accommodation, training sites and all these sorts of elements. It's very much an open mind from our side. It was a very, very competitive bid, obviously a successful bid, we have a lot of details from all the cities and stadiums and now we need to go that layer of detail further and really work our way through hand-in-hand with those different partners.
DF: There's just a lot of opportunities that are being presented to us, if you will, given the number of markets that are interested. Thinking longer term, I think Nashville is actually a good example. They weren't probably even considered, in terms of soccer, there wasn't much being discussed about Nashville leading up in 1994. I think that's what the '94 World Cup did, it just inspired and provided this platform. We're looking for ways, as we said, what does the sport look like and the industry look like the day after the '26 World Cup? Those kinds of thoughts will be considered and taken into consideration strategically with our final recommendation to FIFA.
My question is about the Washington, D.C. bid. I was wondering if that bid is being made with FedEx Field set in stone as the host venue? There's been a lot of talk about a new stadium potentially being built where RFK Stadium currently stands. If that stadium is in the works by the time the selections are made, does that make DC a more attractive fit?
DF: I think we've got to go with the information that we have in hand as part of the bid. I think we would leave it to the market to come back to us as to what their plans are and how that might be factored in regarding '26. But I think for now and the sake of this process, we've got to go with what is in the bid itself.
I just wanted to make sure I understood earlier about Vancouver. Am I correct in saying that you are only looking at the three candidates cities in Canada?
CS: I mean, those are the three cities that bid, so those are the three cities that we are evaluating and discussing with.
I'm still unclear a little bit on what U.S. Soccer's role is in this process. How much influence or direction or say will U.S. Soccer have in the ultimate selection of the bid cities? Or is it simply a FIFA call at the end and they can use U.S. Soccer for some counsel, but otherwise it's FIFA's decision? And a quick follow-up- is it definitely, certainly ten? Or could that number also be massaged up or down, one or two based upon developments over the next few years?
CS: U.S. Soccer, and Mexico and Canada as well, football associations are key partners throughout this process and will be integral to it. The final decision will be a FIFA decision, but the journey and the process, recommendations, working through the different aspects in terms of the landscape of what it means to football in the U.S. and obviously U.S. Soccer is a critical and crucial partner of ours throughout that entire process.
DF: I think that U.S. Soccer will have a significant influence, and the final say, ultimately as Colin has highlighted, is FIFA's.
That number 10, is that set in stone?
CS: Again, we are conducting the process in line with the bid book and the bid process as it stood, and that indicated 10. So, that's certainly the premise on which we are embarking on the selection process.