Tour Kansas City and pass the BBQ sauce: FIFA officials check out our World Cup digs

·6 min read

Kansas City presented a united front Thursday in its bid to host games during the 2026 World Cup.

Clark Hunt, John Sherman, Cliff Illig and Chris and Angie Long — owners and/or chairmen of the Chiefs, Royals, Sporting KC and KC NWSL, respectively — were among the local dignitaries alongside FIFA officials during an afternoon news conference in the Power & Light District.

Together, they sang Kansas City’s praises and posed for a few photos. Afterward, with bottles of wine on the table, the group dined on some choice fare from Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que.

Call it Kansas City’s saucy pitch.

“This group has been working for years to share not just the excitement and energy not just for the sport of soccer — football — in Kansas City, but also to make sure we put our best foot forward to make sure our guests from around the country and around the world know how great it is here in Kansas City, and how exciting it will be to have the 2026 World Cup here,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas.

Officials from FIFA — the Federation International de Football Association — are touring the cities that have submitted bids to play host to World Cup Games nearly five years from now. Members of the international delegation have already visited cities in the eastern portion of the United States, and will later tour candidates in the West.

This week’s portion of the tour brought them to the Heartland, to one of the smallest metropolitan areas among the 17 in the U.S. that are bidding for 11 spots.

And market size and geography could actually help Kansas City make its case as a suitable site.

“The beauty of football is that it’s not about your size, it’s about the size of your heart,” said Victor Montagliani, a member of the FIFA Council. “The reality is Kansas City obviously has a stadium and is in a city that is crazy about the game.

“A World Cup, you need everything, you need every size. That’s the beauty of the World Cup. It’s really for everybody.”

Kansas City bills itself as something of a U.S. soccer capital and has made an impression in the sports world with its wild watch-party scenes, especially for international soccer events like the World Cup. Some of KC’s most indelible images have played out in the Power & Light, where fans cheered joyously for the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams during their biggest matches.

The fiscal windfall that accompanies a World Cup event makes Thursday’s red-carpet treatment seem well worth the effort: estimates vary, but hosting World Cup matches could bring the city $620 million, according to a study by Boston Consulting Group. The World Cup’s total value to North America, according to U.S. Soccer, could be $5 billion.

All World Cup games would be played at Arrowhead Stadium — officially now known as GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium — and the delegation toured that venue on Thursday afternoon. If Kansas City lands the right to host some games during the roughly month-long international tournament, it’s likely that some seats at Arrowhead would have to be temporarily removed from the corners of the stadium to accommodate a soccer field’s dimensions.

Also important in Kansas City’s bid are local training facilities, and the FIFA officials on Thursday checked out the Compass Minerals National Performance Center (the soccer facility in Kansas City, Kan.), the Chiefs’ training facility at Arrowhead and KU’s Rock Chalk Park in Lawrence.

It’s also possible for a bidding city to become what’s known as a base camp site, where teams would train during the World Cup. Those teams would make that city a base camp during their World Cup stay in North America.

The FIFA group also toured potential sites for the World Cup’s 2026 FIFA Fan Fest, viewing Union Station and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Some U.S. cities are already seen as locks to land bids — New York and Los Angeles, for instance. The 2026 World Cup will feature the tourney’s largest field yet, at 48 nations. A total of 16 cities will be needed for three-team groups. The top two countries in each group will advance from the group stage of the tournament to a knockout round consisting of 32 teams.

Individual assignments for which cities will be awarded particular games won’t be determined until all of the cities are identified, which is supposed to happen in early 2022. The 2026 World Cup will be a North American enterprise, with games also slated to be held in Mexico and Canada. Sites north and south of the U.S. border have already been determined: Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey in Mexico and Toronto and Edmonton in Canada.

Kansas City, as a central location in North America, has selling points from a geographic perspective.

“When we look at the U.S., Canada and Mexico, the geographic spread is obviously large,” said Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief competitions and events officer. “One of the key areas we look at is team travel and quality of travel, so one team isn’t traveling huge distances and other teams are playing locally.

“That’s why a spread across the country is beneficial.”

Katherine Fox, director of Kansas City’s World Cup bid, said KC is the only U.S. bid-city positioned no more than a four-hour flight to and from any other potential World Cup city.

So, what might not work in Kansas City’s favor? For one thing, there is no large-scale public transportation to Arrowhead.

“We will have to put together a robust transportation plan ... not only to get to the stadium, but to the Fan Fests,” Fox said.

Speaking generally, Fox said cooperation between governmental entities in Missouri and Kansas has been helpful so far. The bid couldn’t have happened without cooperation from governments on both sides of the state line, she said.

Before the media event, FIFA officials met with Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Kansas Lt. Gov. David Toland, as well as mayors from across the region.

“We’ve been in lockstep with both of those entities throughout the entire bid process,” Fox said. “It really was at the heart of our bid: supporting a region through this bi-state partnership.”

U.S cities bidding for the 2026 World Cup: Los Angeles, New York/New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Kansas City, Boston, Denver, Houston, Baltimore, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Nashville, Seattle, San Francisco/Bay Area, Cincinnati, Miami, Orlando.

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