U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati announced today that Philadelphia has made the final cut of 18 cities that will be submitted to FIFA for the U.S. bid to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
If the U.S. bid is accepted, there will be another round of cuts, probably to 12 venues.
"I'm very excited. We worked real hard at pulling it all together for Philadelphia, for the region, for economic development in the coming years," Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz said. "It's fantastic, I'm very excited for the fans here and for the community ... In a very short time, Philadelphia has become an international soccer city."
I asked Sakiewicz what he thinks the U.S. bid's chances are of being successful.
"I think a very good chance," he said. "Of all the bidding countries, I don't think they can provide as many seats available - it's an extraordinary financial opportunity for FIFA. I think we have a very, very good story to tell and a good shot."
Not that money matters to FIFA, of course. Or to Philadelphia either, but the economic impact here could be substantial.
"Each of the host cities should anticiapte a $300-$500 million economic impact as a host of the World Cup," said Philadelphia Sports Congress executive director Larry Needle, citing a study published by the U.S. bid committee. "Certainly it would be thousands of visitors and certainly international vistors that would be coming to the city and region."
A statement from Gov. Rendell:
Philadelphia and Pennsylvania are very excited to have the opportunity to be considered for the World Cup. This is another fantastic chance for the country and the world to see what this region has to offer. I expect all of the partners in this effort to continue to work together to make this sports spectacular a reality.
And a statement from Mayor Nutter:
I am thrilled for the City of Philadelphia and surrounding region to be in this position to put ourselves on an even greater world stage. In addition to being an amazing sporting event, the presence of the World Cup would be something that will benefit the citizens, businesses, and visitors of the Philadelphia region.
Here's the full list of 18 cities, arranged in a vaguely geographic order. More details to come.
Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field)
New York/East Rutherford, N.J. (New Giants Stadium)
Boston/Foxborough, Mass. (Gillette Stadium)
Baltimore (Ravens Stadium)
Washington (FedEx Field)
Atlanta (Georgia Dome)
Tampa (Raymond James Stadium)
Miami (Dolphins Stadium)
Nashville (LP Field)
Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium)
Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium)
Dallas (Cowboys Stadium or Cotton Bowl)
Houston (Reliant Stadium)
Denver (Invesco Field at Mile High)
Phoenix/Glendale, Ariz. (University of Phoenix Stadium)
Seattle (Qwest Field)
Los Angeles/Pasadena, Calif. (L.A. Coliseum or Rose Bowl)
San Diego (Qualcomm Stadium)
All four continental time zones are in the bid package. Eight of the cities are in the Eastern time zone, five in the Central time zone, two in the Mountain and three in the Pacific.
I asked Sakiewicz if he thinks Philadelphia is helped or hurt by having so many venues in the Northeast.
"My guess is it helps, because my understanding is [it helps] overcome the size of the country in terms of air travel and logistics," he said. "What's really cool about Philadelphia is we're smack in the middle of all of it. Geographically, Philly's always been a great location for anything, and that certainly bodes in our favor here."
And in case you forgot, Eagles president Joe Banner said back in November that sections of seats in the corners of Lincoln Financial Field's lower deck "are removable to perfectly accommodate the specs that they need for the World Cup."
Five of the 18 cities hosted games in the 1994 World Cup, although only the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl among venues on this list were 1994 venues. Five of them, though not the same five, hosted games in the 1993 and/or 2003 Women's World Cups. Ten of the cities have Major League Soccer teams and six have Women's Pro Soccer teams, including Philadelphia for both groups.
U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said that the average capacity of the stadiums for soccer will be 78,000, and that a total of 5 million tickets will be available for sale. That's a 33 percent increase over the 1994 World Cup.
From everything I've heard, Giants Stadium will be the venue for the championship game. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if Cowboys Stadium is also in the conversation. Wouldn't it be great to see a goal kick hit that video screen with the whole world watching?
On a less humorous note, there was one really big omission from the bid: Chicago. Not just because of its market size, but because U.S. Soccer headquarters is barely a mile from Soldier Field. It's so close that there are parking lots for Bears games a block away.
Did Chicago's rejection in bidding for the 2016 Summer Olympics have anything to do with it? We'll never know for sure, but Gulati said "our bid is completely independent" of Chicago's Olympic bid.
Also eliminated at this point in the process were the Bay Area (Oakland, San Francisco and Stanford), Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Jacksonville, Orlando and St. Louis. Stanford Stadium, Detroit and Orlando were 1994 World Cup venues.
Again, the actual tournament will probably have 12 venues. Do you think the U.S. bid will be successful? And do you think Philadelphia will make that cut?
To close, I asked Sakiewicz how this World Cup bid differs from the buildup to 1994.
It feels different in the sense that for our nation and Philadelphia in particular, soccer is an American sport. In 1994, the acquisition of a World Cup was an effort to grow the game, and today the game has grown. We're not infants anymore in this game, and it's not a foreign sport that somebody else plays. This is an American sport with an American soccer market as well as an ethnic market that brings a long history and tradition. But it feels more mature, it feels more grown up, it feels more like it's ours.