Organizers of the bid to bring the 2026 World Cup to the United States, Canada and Mexico offered another big hint Tuesday that Philadelphia has good odds of being a host city.
During a conference call with reporters about the bid's prospects, bid committee executive director John Kristick was asked whether it is a good thing or a bad thing for a city competing for hosting rights to be close geographically to others of the 32 cities that are in the bid pool.
Philadelphia has long touted its proximity to other big Eastern cities as an asset. It will be especially useful in organizing a World Cup, to help reduce travel costs and distances for teams and fans.
"It's certainly something we take into account," Kristick said. "Ensuring that we make it as easy as we can on players, as easy as we can on fans, is something that will be taken into consideration. Certainly, when you look at the Northeast of America and you see the number of cities there, that's something that would be considered."
Nearby cities also bidding to host World Cup games include Baltimore, Boston, New York and Washington. Many more cities in the Midwest and South are a short flight away.
Kristick said the bid committee wants to spread host cities across the continent, which makes sense. But his first statement was plenty strong.
So was a somewhat surprising remark that a stadium with a roof might not necessarily have an advantage over the competition.
The conventional wisdom is that such venues can more easily host games in the afternoon, which is prime time for big-spending European television broadcasters.
Five of the 32 venues in the race have retractable roofs, and five others have fixed roofs. One venue in the latter category is the forthcoming NFL stadium in Los Angeles, which is a leading contender to host the championship game.
"I wouldn't weight it one way or the other," Kristick said. "Covered stadiums create more challenges if the roofs are not retractable, from the standpoint of the requirement to have natural grass that not only is able to be installed in the facility but maintained at a standard that can withstand the amount of play that you're going to have a World Cup. If the roof is retractable, that issue is far less of one to worry [about]."
Kristick said the current plan is still for 12 to 16 cities to be ultimately picked to host games. But the bid committee might lobby FIFA to allow for more.
"We'd love to see a higher number of venues … to spread the tournament as far as we can," Kristick said. "At the right time, we'll sit down with FIFA and go through the process to determine that."
The formal bid is due to FIFA by March 16, 2018. Competition will come from Morocco, which bid unsuccessfully to host the 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010 tournaments. FIFA will make its choice in June.