Philadelphia has formally expressed interest in being part of the North American bid to host the 2026 FIFA men's World Cup, bid organizers and local officials announced Tuesday. It's the first official step toward bringing the planet's most famous sporting event here for the first time ever.
The United States, Canada and Mexico are bidding jointly to bring the 2026 tournament to the continent. Their only competition is Morocco, which announced its intention to bid last week.
The bid committee's statement Tuesday said it reached out to 44 cities across the three nations with formal requests for information. Responses are due back to the bid committee by Sept. 5.
"This is merely step one," PHL Sports executive director Larry Needle said. "We're in the process now of working with all of our area partners — the city, the Eagles, the Union, Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer, and other soccer leadership — to pull together answers to what's a pretty comprehensive request for information so that we can get them what they need."
What did the bid committee want to hear?
"What you would expect," Needle said. "Information about the city, about its history with soccer, about its history with hosting major events, about its stadium. Your facility offerings, your potential training site offerings, and really your vision for what the event could look like in your city."
That includes potential sites for an outdoor fan fest, which has been a staple of World Cup hosting since Germany pioneered it in 2006. Needle has a few ideas in mind: Penn's Landing, Dilworth Plaza/LOVE Park and Independence Mall.
For now, they're still just ideas. Talks with city officials and the National Park Service have only just started.
"We have not yet confirmed what those spots may be, so we're talking through which ones would lend themselves best as fan fest sites," he said. "At this point, realistically, we're only listing options anyway. We'll probably list three or four possibilities with the idea that when we learn more about it from [the bid committee], we'll be able to make further decisions."
The bid committee will make a round of cuts in September. Cities still in contention will then receive more detailed information on what's required. Final bids from cities will be due in January of 2018, and the overall bid will be filed to FIFA by March 16.
The winner will be picked at the FIFA Congress in June of 2018, which will be held in Moscow ahead of Russia's hosting of the World Cup.
If the North American bid wins, it would be the second men's World Cup in the United States, after 1994, and Mexico's third after 1970 and 1986. Canada has never hosted a men's World Cup, but was a spectacular host for the 2015 Women's World Cup. The U.S. also hosted the Women's World Cup in 1999 and 2003.
Morocco has bid four previous times to host, and lost them all: 1994 to the United States, 1998 to France, 2006 to Germany and 2010 to South Africa.
North America's bid is the overwhelming favorite to prevail, for many reasons.
First is the continent's wealth of stadiums. Almost every venue in the bid will already exist by the time FIFA makes its decision next year. The only exceptions are the forthcoming NFL stadiums in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, which are already under construction, and a potential new stadium in Montreal. Some stadiums in Canada may also need expanding to reach FIFA's minimum capacity requirements of 40,000 seats for group stage and early knockout round games.
(All games from the quarterfinals on would be played in the United States.)
Second is the vast transportation infrastructure that stretches from coast to coast. Yes, it causes endless headaches for passengers, but it's still relatively simple to get from any big city to another by air, and in some cases by rail or car.
This is a particular advantage for Philadelphia, since it's in the middle of the Northeast and a short flight from the Midwest. Lincoln Financial Field is easily accessible by local public transportation and regional highways, and has a well-earned reputation as one of the nation's top venues for soccer spectacles.
"That's certainly something that we will be promoting as a real strength that we can offer," Needle said. "And generally, how accessible and compact an event footprint that we're able to deliver. We think, certainly for a city of our size, it's something special. And when you look at the proximity between the venue and the airport and the hotels and all of the amenities and attractions of the city, I think that's a real strength for us."
Third, and perhaps most important, is the tournament's expansion to 48 teams in 2026. It has been a 32-team, 64-game event since 1998. Adding 16 teams will raise the number of games to 80. So having many venues in a bid will be an asset.
"We've got a population of 500 million – an economic giant with stadiums ready to roll tomorrow – so we think we'll have a very, very compelling bid," bid chairman and U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said. "This is going to be a great process, over the next 10 months and then beyond. … There will be a little bit of friendly competition here to be one of the final selected venues."
To say the least.
The bid committee's announcement Tuesday stated: "Municipal leaders in each city have been asked to provide information about each city's transportation infrastructure, past experience hosting major sporting and cultural events, available accommodations, environmental protection initiatives, potential venues and more."
A total of 49 venues in 44 cities were included in Tuesday's announcement: 37 stadiums in 34 cities from the United States, nine stadiums in seven cities from Canada, and three stadiums in three cities from Mexico (a full list is below).
Bid officials said the expectation is for 20 to 25 venues to be in the bid application, and that "at least 12 locations could ultimately serve as official host cities." Needle said he expects the final number to land at about 15. That's a slight increase from the United States' bid to host the 2022 World Cup, which had 18 potential host cities and a plan to pick 12 winners.
Cities that do not host games could also be used during the tournament as sites for team base camps, the International Broadcast Center or the tournament draw.
It's worth noting that the bid committee's announcement stated that the bid committee reached out to cities, not the other way around.
A bid spokesman said there were conversations with cities beyond those on the official list before the set of 44 was confirmed. That included a window for cities to express interest without necessarily being reached out to. Some cities chose to not to put their hats in the ring.
The most prominent absence is St. Louis, a longtime soccer hotbed. It chose not to bid in part because the field isn't wide enough at the domed stadium that used to house the NFL's Rams.
Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor also isn't there, even though America's largest football stadium has successfully hosted major exhibition games. Field dimensions were the cause there too: the Big House's surface is is too short for what's needed.
Winnipeg, a 2015 Women's World Cup host, is out as well. That came as a surprise to observers who expected the city to try to capitalize on the prominence it gained two summers ago. But Manitoba Soccer Association executive director Hector Vergara told the Winnipeg Sun that "it wasn't feasible [because] the requirement of the men's World Cup is much different than the requirements of the women's World Cup."
One can only wonder what the U.S. women's national team players who spent over a week in Vergara's city think of that remark.
It is possible for cities not on the official list to potentially end up being included when all is said and done – including after the bid is submitted next March. The odds would be slim, and it's up to FIFA in the end, but it is possible.
Most venues that did make the first cut aren't surprising. But there are some unexpected names, including Green Bay's Lambeau Field, New Orleans' Superdome, San Antonio's Alamodome and San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium.
The smallest market on the list is Regina, Saskatchewan, which opened a new stadium for its Canadian Football League team this year. Located a few hours north of the Montana-North Dakota border, Regina's regional population as of the 2016 census was 236,481 residents.
No matter the final number of cities, it will be a far cry from 1994. Back then, just nine American cities hosted the spectacle. Philadelphia was forced to watch from afar, as Veterans Stadium wasn't available because of the Phillies' schedule.
Union manager Jim Curtin was still in high school back then. The Bishop McDevitt product turned 15 during the tournament.
"I can remember, you looked across the country and you saw New York, Chicago, Detroit, and yeah, you wanted Philly – as a top-five market in the country – to host a game," he said. "Hopefully now that opportunity presents itself, because it's a soccer town with a real rich history."
Yet even with so few venues — and with only 24 teams and 52 games — the tournament set attendance records that stand to this day. The per-game average was 68,991, and the overall total was 3,587,538.
Those figures have resonated with global soccer big shots ever since. They'd likely be smashed in 2026. And you can be sure that record amounts of of money would flow into bank accounts worldwide as a result.
Of course, similar expectations didn't help the United States last time. Qatar won the 2022 bidding in a vote of FIFA's then-Executive Committee that was accused of being corrupt long before ballots were cast. The simmering scandal exploded in the vote's wake, and still burns to this day — with the U.S. government providing much of the fuel.
FIFA claims to have cleaned up its act since that vote was taken in December of 2010. But plenty of observers remain skeptical, and for good reason. Indeed, there have been allegations in parts of the soccer world that Gulati, a member of what's now called the FIFA Council, tried to speed up the 2026 bid process to lock North America in as the winner. The expansion to 48 teams also seemed just a little too convenient for the North American bid.
But the desire to bring the World Cup back here is sincere, from fans and power brokers alike. The benefits, whether domestic or foreign, are clear.
Now it's just a matter of waiting, and making sure that Philadelphia does what it needs to do to make the cut.
The official statement by the North American bid committee to host the 2026 World Cup listed the following cities as having formally expressed interest in being part of the tournament. Each is listed with its proposed venue or venues, their capacities, and any previous FIFA senior-level tournaments they have hosted.
Atlanta: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (capacity 75,000; opening this year)
Baltimore: M&T Bank Stadium (capacity 71,008; opened in 1998)
Birmingham, Ala.: Legion Field (capacity 71,594; opened in 1926, renovated in 2005)
Boston/Foxborough, Mass.: Gillette Stadium (capacity 65,892; opened in 2002; hosted 2003 Women's World Cup)
Charlotte, N.C.: Bank of America Stadium (capacity 75,400; opened in 1996)
Chicago: Soldier Field, (capacity 61,500; opened in 1924; hosted 1994 and 1999 World Cup)
Cincinnati: Paul Brown Stadium (capacity 65,515; opened in 2000)
Cleveland: FirstEnergy Stadium (capacity 68,710; opened in 1999)
Dallas: The Cotton Bowl (capacity 92,100; opened in 1930, renovated in 2008; hosted 1994 World Cup)
Dallas/Arlington, Texas: AT&T Stadium (capacity 105,000; opened in 2009)
Denver: Sports Authority Field at Mile High (capacity 76,125; opened in 2001)
Detroit: Ford Field (capacity 65,000; opened in 2002)
Green Bay, Wisc.: Lambeau Field (capacity 81,441; opened in 1957)
Houston: NRG Stadium (capacity 71,500; opened in 2002)
Indianapolis, Ind.: Lucas Oil Stadium (capacity 65,700; opened in 2008)
Jacksonville, Fla.: EverBank Field (capacity 64,000; opened in 1996)
Kansas City, Mo.: Arrowhead Stadium (capacity 76,416; opened in 1972)
Las Vegas: New NFL stadium (capacity 72,000; scheduled to open in 2020)
Los Angeles: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (capacity will be around 78,500 after 2019 renovation, down from current capacity of 93,607; opened in 1923)
Los Angeles/Inglewood, Calif.: New NFL stadium (capacity 80,000, with potential to expand; scheduled to open in 2020)
Los Angeles/Pasadena, Calif.: The Rose Bowl (capacity 87,527; opened in 1922; hosted 1994 and 1999 World Cups, including both finals)
Miami: Hard Rock Stadium (capacity 65,767; opened in 1987, renovated in 2016)
Minneapolis: U.S. Bank Stadium (capacity 63,000; opened in 2016)
Nashville, Tenn.: Nissan Stadium (capacity 69,143; opened in 1999)
New Orleans: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (capacity 72,000; opened in 1975)
New York/East Rutherford, N.J.: MetLife Stadium (capacity 82,500; opened in 2010)
Orlando, Fla.: Camping World Stadium (capacity 65,000; opened in 1936; hosted 1994 World Cup)
Philadelphia: Lincoln Financial Field (capacity 69,328; opened in 2003; hosted 2003 Women's World Cup)
Phoenix/Glendale, Ariz.: University of Phoenix Stadium (capacity 73,000; opened in 2006)
Pittsburgh: Heinz Field (capacity 68,400; opened in 2001)
Salt Lake City, Utah: Rice-Eccles Stadium (capacity 45,807; opened in 1998)
San Antonio: The Alamodome (capacity 72,000; opened in 1993)
San Diego: Qualcomm Stadium (capacity 71,500; opened in 1967)
Santa Clara/San Francisco/San Jose, Calif.: Levi's Stadium (capacity 75,000; opened in 2014)
Seattle: CenturyLink Field (capacity 69,000; opened in 2002)
Tampa, Fla.: Raymond James Stadium (capacity 73,309; opened in 1998)
Washington, D.C./Landover, Md.: FedEx Field (capacity 82,000; opened in 1997; hosted 1999 Women's World Cup; a new NFL stadium in D.C. could be used instead if built in time)
Calgary, Alberta: McMahon Stadium (capacity 36,650*; opened 1960; may be renovated if Calgary gets the 2026 Winter Olympics, but the city is still undecided on bidding)
Edmonton, Alberta: Commonwealth Stadium (capacity 56,335; opened 1978; hosted 2015 Women's World Cup)
Montreal: Olympic Stadium (capacity 61,004; opened in 1976; hosted 2015 Women's World Cup; the stadium's fabric roof would reportedly be removed for the tournament)
Montreal: Stade Saputo (capacity 20,801*; opened in 2008, renovated in 2012)
Ottawa, Ontario: TD Place Stadium (capacity 24,341*; opened in 1908, renovated in 2014)
Regina, Saskatchewan: Mosaic Stadium (capacity 30,048*; opened this year)
Toronto: Rogers Centre (capacity 53,506; opened in 1986)
Toronto: BMO Field (capacity 28,026*; opened in 2007, renovated in 2016)
Vancouver, British Columbia: BC Place (capacity 55,165; opened in 1983, renovated in 2010; hosted 2015 Women's World Cup, including final)
* – These stadiums would have to be expanded to reach FIFA's requirements.
Guadalajara, Jalisco: Estadio Chivas (capacity 45,364; opened in 2010)
Mexico City: Estadio Azteca (capacity 87,000; opened in 1966, renovated in 2016; hosted 1970 and 1986 men's World Cups, including both finals)
Monterrey, Nuevo León: Estadio BBVA Bancomer (capacity 52,237; opened in 2015)
1970: Mexico hosts Men's World Cup at five venues; average attendance 50,124 per game (1,603,975 total; both figures were records at the time)
1983: Mexico hosts Under-20 Men's World Cup at seven venues; average attendance 36,099 per game (1,155,160 total; both figures were records at the time)
1986: Mexico hosts Men's World Cup at 12 venues in 11 cities; average attendance 46,039 (2,394,031 total, a new record)
1987: Canada hosts Under-16 Boys' World Cup at four venues; average attendance 5,286 per game (169,160 total)
1994: United States hosts Men's World Cup at nine venues; average attendance 68,991 (3,587,538 total; both figures set records that still stand)
1999: United States hosts Women's World Cup at eight venues; average attendance 37,944 (1,214,209 total; both figures set records at the time, and the former still stands)
2002: Canada hosts Under-19 Women's World Cup at three venues; average attendance 11,351 per game (295,133 total; this was the first edition of what's now the Under-20 Women's World Cup)
2003: United States hosts Women's World Cup at six venues; average attendance 20,525 (656,789 total)
2007: Canada hosts Under-20 Men's World Cup at six venues; average attendance 22,987 per game (1,195,299 total, a new record)
2011: Mexico hosts Under-17 Boys' World Cup at seven venues; average attendance 19,275 per game (1,002,314 total)
2014: Canada hosts Under-20 Women's World Cup at four venues; average attendance 9,017 per game (288,558 total)
2015: Canada hosts Women's World Cup at six venues; average attendance 26,029 (1,353,506 total, a new record)