Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Philly’s 2026 World Cup bid unveils ace in the hole as Comcast joins the campaign to win FIFA’s approval

As Boston and D.C. load up their off-the-field influence, Philly's bid brought Comcast's CEO and Telemundo's chairman to meet with FIFA — a reminder of how much Comcast has spent on World Cup rights.

Concacaf president and FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani speaking at a news conference Wednesday at Lincoln Financial Field as a FIFA delegation toured the stadium and the city.
Concacaf president and FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani speaking at a news conference Wednesday at Lincoln Financial Field as a FIFA delegation toured the stadium and the city.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

From all that one could see, Philadelphia’s 2026 men’s World Cup hosting bid did a fine job of making its case to the FIFA judges who toured the city on Wednesday.

There was a bus ride from their hotel to Lincoln Financial Field, with electronic billboards along Market Street bearing messages of support.

There were banners on all the venues at the Sports Complex, with Citizens Bank Park’s the most notable. The Phillies’ cooperation will be needed to make a busy summer on Pattison Ave. run smoothly.

And as the dignitaries arrived at the Linc, there was a boisterous group of fans making a welcoming committee at the stadium. They kept up the noise as new bid chair Daniel Hilferty, Mayor Jim Kenney, and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and president Don Smolenski greeted their visitors atop the Headhouse Plaza steps.

“It was obvious that — I think in maybe typical Philadelphia fashion — it was very clear that you want it,” Concacaf president and FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani said at an early-afternoon news conference. He was one of three headline dignitaries in town, along with FIFA chief tournaments and events officer Colin Smith and U.S. Soccer Federation CEO and general secretary Will Wilson.

When the crowd dispersed and the big names disappeared into meetings, a reality came to the fore for Philadelphia’s bid: it’s likely not going to succeed. Especially if FIFA holds to its previously stated plan of picking 10 U.S. host cities to go with those in Canada and in Mexico.

» READ MORE: Former Independence Blue Cross CEO Daniel Hilferty to succeed David Cohen as Philadelphia’s World Cup bid chair

The competition

The first locks are New York/New Jersey and Los Angeles, one of which will host the final. Then comes Miami, unparalleled in its cultural influences from South and Central America — media, sports, banking, and more.

Up next are stadiums with retractable roofs, meaning air-conditioned games can be played in afternoons there for prime time in Europe. Enter Dallas, Atlanta, and Houston.

Now add the San Francisco Bay Area (Santa Clara, officially) and Seattle to make a pod of western cities and shorten travel times for teams, which is understandably a FIFA priority.

That’s eight out of 10 spots taken before any consideration of the remaining northeastern contenders: Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston. Or the other cities in the running: Cincinnati, Denver, Kansas City, Nashville, and Orlando.

Mexico’s cities are set: Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Mexico City. Canada will have Toronto and Edmonton, and could add Vancouver if Montagliani’s hometown decides to come back into the running. If it does, it will be welcomed by continental organizers. If it doesn’t, an additional U.S. city could be picked.

The power game

Why would Philadelphia be turned down? A big hint was seen Sunday at MetLife Stadium. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft hosted FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the Patriots’ win over the New York Jets — on the field before the game, in a suite during it, and in New England’s locker room afterward.

It’s no secret in American soccer that Kraft and Infantino are close with Sunil Gulati, the former U.S. Soccer president and FIFA Council member who helped Infantino win his job in a high-profile election five years ago. We don’t know for sure what Kraft and Infantino talked about, but you don’t have to try too hard to guess.

» READ MORE: Philadelphia's bid started having online meetings with FIFA in March

On the same day as Infantino’s unofficial visit, FIFA’s official delegation was in Washington and Baltimore. They were greeted in the nation’s capital by endorsers including Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, a reminder of D.C.’s global clout.

If Kraft’s campaign is successful (and a lot of people think it will be), FIFA will ignore decades of complaints from visiting national teams about how far Foxborough is from downtown Boston (about 30 miles, with notoriously bad traffic), and how long it takes to get from the city’s hotels to local practice facilities.

If FIFA wants to go to Washington, it will ignore FedEx Field’s myriad flaws and go to Washington. (Frankly, if FIFA wants to go somewhere, it will just do so.)

As Smith stood on a podium on the field at the Linc, he praised Philadelphia officials for giving “just an exceptionally well-structured and detailed presentation today, with real substance across all the areas that go into a World Cup.” He was especially complimentary to the stadium’s natural-grass surface, an asset that many competing venues don’t have.

But the substance Smith referred to — a terrific stadium, better public transit access than competitors, and one of the smallest carbon footprints of any bidding city — won’t be enough to win.

The city will have to look a lot higher, literally and figuratively. And on Wednesday, it did just that.

Getting their money’s worth

Philadelphia has already played one big card by having David L. Cohen be the bid’s first chairperson. He’s a close friend of President Biden, one of the only people on the planet who’d rank higher on a marquee than a FIFA bigshot (by FIFA’s standards, that is). If Washington can have Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S. on board, then you can be sure Cohen will remain close by after he becomes Biden’s ambassador to Canada.

(Coincidentally, Cohen’s Senate confirmation hearing in Washington also took place Wednesday.)

» READ MORE: Senators praised David Cohen at a hearing on his nomination to be ambassador to Canada

The second card was played Wednesday — and it was put right in the middle of the table.

Over the last decade, Comcast has paid FIFA nearly $700 million for the Spanish-language U.S. broadcast rights to every FIFA tournament from 2015-26. That includes three senior-level men’s World Cups (with 2022 and ‘26 still to come) and three senior-level women’s World Cups (with ‘23 still to be played).

Of the total spent, $600 million was for a rights deal that ran from 2015-22. The rest, including the 2026 men’s tournament, came in a no-bid agreement that FIFA offered incumbents Telemundo, Fox (in English), and Bell Media (in Canada) to reportedly fend off a lawsuit threatened for moving the 2022 men’s World Cup from the summer to the fall, where it will overlap with the NFL season.

Comcast has also made significant financial investments in the English Premier League ($1.125 billion over nine years, with a new rights negotiation coming soon), soccer at the Olympics, and Concacaf men’s World Cup qualifiers across the continent, including the United States’ and Mexico’s road games.

If Kraft can use his leverage to bring World Cup games to Boston, then it’s fair game for Comcast to use its leverage to bring World Cup games to Philadelphia.

After Wednesday’s meetings ended, the bid committee unveiled its ace in the hole. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Telemundo chairman Beau Ferrari, as big as big names get, were featured speakers in the closed-door meetings at the Linc. And Cohen hustled back to Philadelphia after his hearing to offer a few words to FIFA in the late afternoon.

When Hilferty spoke at the news conference, he said: “As we closed our presentation this morning, I told Victor and Colin and the entire delegation that I hope they saw something very clearly. We want this, and we are ready to deliver on every commitment, and over-deliver wherever possible.”

The inclusion of Roberts, Ferrari, and Cohen was a big piece of proof.

Now the game is on for real.