Photographer: PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP via Getty Images

U.S., Canada, Mexico Bid Proposes Most Lucrative World Cup Ever

  • Tournament will have 48 nations, 16 more than in past years
  • U.S. to hold 60 games, with Mexico and Canada hosting 10 each

Soccer leaders from the U.S., Canada and Mexico announced a joint bid to host the expanded 48-team World Cup in 2026, promising an event that would bring in more money than any previous iteration of the world’s biggest sporting event.

North America hasn’t played host since the U.S. held the event in 1994 and drew almost 3.6 million people to stadiums across the country -- still a World Cup record despite the fact that only 24 nations competed at the time. After that tournament, FIFA, the sport’s governing body, increased the number of teams to 32 and will expand it again to 48 as of 2026.

A return to North America, with 60 games in the U.S. and 10 each in Mexico and Canada, would be “by far the most successful World Cup in the history of FIFA in terms of economics,” U.S. Soccer Federation head Sunil Gulati told reporters in New York. “We’ve got 500 million people in these three countries. This will be an extraordinarily successful World Cup on financial and economic grounds, and that’s critical because most of FIFA’s revenues come from one event.”

The 2018 World Cup in Russia is expected to bring in $5.5 billion for international soccer’s governing body, including money from ticket sales, sponsorship and media rights. FIFA has estimated the addition of the 16 extra teams with the 2026 matches should produce an extra $1 billion. The U.S. and Mexico contribute two of the bigger media markets in the world, especially with the ability to host games in prime time, plus a more mature sponsorship environment, Gulati said.

Existing Stadiums

Leaders from Mexico, Canada and the U.S. said their bid would also differ from the tournament’s most recent and upcoming hosts, who spent billions to create stadiums and tourism infrastructure. Brazil spent more than $11 billion to host the event in 2014, and Russia is on pace to spend about $20 billion for 2018. In an unprecedented investment, Qatar is projected to spend more than $200 billion for the 2022 World Cup.

"Infrastructure that’s already in place is a far better solution than spending hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars on stadiums that don’t have use beyond the tournament," Gulati said. 

All three countries have a number of stadiums, currently holding American football or soccer, that could work as venues, in addition to tourist infrastructure such as hotels and transportation. It’s too early to say how much the event might cost in total, officials said. Under the initial plan, the U.S. would be the site of the quarterfinals, semis and finals, with further discussions to determine the full schedule, including the opening game.

Europe, Asia Excluded

The North American joint bid has a strong chance of success given that Europe and Asia are excluded from bidding because those continents will hold the next two tournaments. South America (Brazil) hosted in 2014, and Africa (South Africa) four years before that. So far no other countries have announced plans for a 2026 bid. The voting is scheduled to take place in 2020.

In addition to a larger field, the 2026 World Cup will be awarded using a different voting process. Host nations will now be chosen by polling all 211 FIFA members nations, not just the executive board. That change came in the wake of allegations of wrongdoing surrounding Qatar’s successful bid for the 2022 event, in which the tiny, oil-rich nation beat out proposals from the U.S., Japan and South Korea.

The joint North American bid has been discussed for a few years by the continent’s soccer officials. In that time, Gulati has been outspoken about the need for reform in the bidding process. Speaking Monday, he said the new process, which is public and includes required technical standards, is finally acceptable.

He also said the three-nation partnership has the blessing and encouragement of U.S. President Donald Trump, who plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and whose immigration policies have created public doubts about where the U.S. government would stand on a joint bid. Trump “is especially pleased that Mexico is a part of this bid,” Gulati said.

— With assistance by Tariq Panja

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