Philadelphia remains prominent in U.S.-Canada-Mexico 2026 World Cup bid

The formal bid to bring the 2026 World Cup to the United States, Canada and Mexico has been filed to FIFA, global soccer’s governing body, and Philadelphia is one of the 23 potential host cities included.

“We feel very good about what was submitted,” PHL Sports executive director Larry Needle told the Inquirer and Daily News. He said stakeholders in the local process included city officials, the Eagles, the Union, owners of training sites, and other people involved in area soccer organizations.

A vote by FIFA’s member nations will choose the winning bid on June 13, the eve of the first game of this year’s World Cup in Russia. If the North American bid wins, organizers said up to 16 of the 23 venues would be officially picked to host games.

Although much of the bid book’s contents will be secret for a while, the headline items when it comes to Philadelphia are well-known. Lincoln Financial Field would be the venue for games. The Union’s Talen Energy Stadium and Penn’s Rhodes Field would be among the training sites. Potential locations for the always-popular fan festivals include Penn’s Landing, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and a combination of Dilworth Plaza and Love Park.

Needle said the presentation of Penn’s Landing as a potential fan-fest site includes the ongoing plans to build a new public park over I-95 between Chestnut and Walnut Streets.

Sources working on the World Cup bid have spoken highly of Philadelphia’s prospects for quite some time. They are especially fond of Philadelphia’s location at the heart of the Northeast Corridor, the city’s easy public transportation links from Center City to the Sports Complex, and environmental sustainability efforts at Lincoln Financial Field.

One of the big questions now facing city officials is how much public money will be required to host the tournament here. FIFA’s lack of transparency on the subject led soccer hotbeds Chicago and Vancouver to withdraw their bids Wednesday. Minneapolis followed suit Thursday. Los Angeles considered withdrawing last month, but ultimately came on board.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times that “FIFA could not provide a basic level of certainty on some major unknowns that put our city and taxpayers at risk. The uncertainty for taxpayers, coupled with FIFA’s inflexibility and unwillingness to negotiate, were clear indications that further pursuit of the bid wasn’t in Chicago’s best interests.”

Vancouver’s municipal officials very much wanted to have the World Cup in their city, but needed some financial support from British Columbia’s provincial government, which owns the stadium that would host games. The province said no.

“There’s very large concerns with the bid, one of them being the ability for FIFA to unilaterally change the stadium agreement at any point,” British Columbia tourism minister Lisa Beare told reporters at the provincial legislature in Victoria. “We don’t know what they’re going to ask and what they’re going to have the ability to do. … We can’t write a blank check to FIFA, and we won’t put B.C. taxpayers on the hook for something we can’t confirm.”

In addition to the local politics at play, there is symbolism. Chicago is the home of the U.S. Soccer Federation; its headquarters is walking distance from Soldier Field. Vancouver is the home town of regional soccer governing body CONCACAF’s president, Victor Montagliani. The city also was a spectacular host of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, including the tournament’s championship game. Los Angeles, in addition to being a global media capital, hosted the 1994 World Cup final at the Rose Bowl. The 2026 final could be held at the forthcoming NFL stadium in Inglewood.

Needle acknowledged that “a lot of the financial questions are still unanswered, and those are things that we will learn about in the months and years ahead if Philadelphia is ultimately selected.”

But he took a very different tone from Chicago and Vancouver officials when projecting how he thinks the situation will play out.

“Our sense is that the vast majority of the support would be privately secured,” he said. “The city’s responsibility may involve some city services support, but probably not a lot else from a financial standpoint. … Until it starts to take better shape and knowing exactly what would be involved, it’s premature to put a number on it.”

Might Comcast provide some of that private support? The Philadelphia-based company’s Spanish-language television network, Telemundo, has broadcast rights for the 2026 tournament, and all other FIFA events until then.

Needle said that Comcast hasn’t been directly approached yet, but added that “if ultimately Philadelphia is selected, they would be a critical partner to the event’s success and be integrally involved with what we’d be doing as a city.”

There is a more pressing concern in the short term: The North American bid might not beat Morocco, the only competitor on the table. For a long time, that idea sound crazy, given this continent’s huge advantages in existing stadiums, transportation and hotels — not to mention the allure of big cities here and the vast sums of corporate sponsorship available. 

And with the 2026 tournament set to expand to 48 teams from the current 32, Morocco’s small size is a big hindrance. 

But President Trump’s denigration of immigrants from countries in Africa and the Americas has irked officials on those continents.

“In Africa there’s solidarity,” Comoros federation Hassan Waberi told the New York Times in mid-January. “So we feel insulted and not happy. Of course it’s not good for the Americans.”

There are 211 member nations in FIFA. All but the four bidding countries will cast ballots. So the Comoros’ vote matters just as much as England’s — and by the way, the votes will be public.

Andrés Cantor, Telemundo’s leading soccer announcer and a voice of the World Cup here for nearly 30 years, told the Inquirer and Daily News recently that he’d be surprised if the North American bid loses. But he is not surprised by the current tone.

“The world of sports is sometimes intertwined with politics, and everything that’s going on here doesn’t help,” he said. “I think people have to see realistically in the long term which is the best country to host a World Cup of the magnitude of 2026, with 48 teams.”

While bid officials from the three North American countries travel the world lobbying, Needle is focusing on what he can control at home.

“We have full faith that at the end of the day, they’re going to deliver this for our three countries,” he said. “There’s always a lot of speculation out there with a huge event such as this, but we feel good about the leadership that’s in place and confident that they’re going to bring it home.”

Here’s the full list of the 23 cities in the World Cup bid book, and their proposed or potential venues:

United States

Atlanta: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (capacity 75,000)
Baltimore: M&T Bank Stadium (capacity 71,008)
Boston/Foxborough, Mass.: Gillette Stadium (capacity 65,892)
Cincinnati: Paul Brown Stadium (capacity 65,515)

Dallas: The Cotton Bowl (capacity 92,100); AT&T Stadium (capacity 105,000)
Denver: Sports Authority Field at Mile High (capacity 76,125)
Houston: NRG Stadium (capacity 71,500)
Kansas City, Mo.: Arrowhead Stadium (capacity 76,416)

Los Angeles/Pasasdena: New NFL stadium (capacity 80,000, with potential to expand); Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (capacity will be around 78,500 after 2019 renovation); The Rose Bowl (capacity 87,527)
Miami: Hard Rock Stadium (capacity 65,767)
Nashville, Tenn.: Nissan Stadium (capacity 69,143)
New York/East Rutherford, N.J.: MetLife Stadium (capacity 82,500)
Orlando, Fla.: Camping World Stadium (capacity 65,000)

Philadelphia: Lincoln Financial Field (capacity 69,328)
Santa Clara/San Francisco/San Jose, Calif.: Levi’s Stadium (capacity 75,000)
Seattle: CenturyLink Field (capacity 69,000)
Washington, D.C./Landover, Md.: FedEx Field (capacity 82,000)

Canada

Edmonton, Alberta: Commonwealth Stadium (capacity 56,335)
Montreal:
 Olympic Stadium (capacity 61,004)
Toronto: BMO Field (capacity 36,000; expansion to 40,000 has already been planned)

Mexico

Guadalajara, Jalisco: Estadio Chivas (capacity 45,364)
Mexico City:
 Estadio Azteca (capacity 87,000)
Monterrey, Nuevo León: Estadio BBVA Bancomer (capacity 52,237)

The nine cities that either withdrew or didn’t make the cut from the last list in October are: Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Phoenix/Glendale, Salt Lake City, Tampa and Vancouver.

That Phoenix/Glendale didn’t make the cut is another surprise, because the University of Phoenix’s retractable roof is a big asset. But while it may have been news to the continent, it wasn’t news to local officials. Tom Sadler, president of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, said in a statement Thursday that his entity told the bid committee in December it was withdrawing its bid.