If you want to succeed in international soccer, you have to be able to do a few things at once.
So while PHL Sports executive director Larry Needle watched the U.S. women come to town and the Union kick off their 10th season in recent weeks, he also kept an eye on Philadelphia’s long-term plans to become one of the host cities for the 2026 men’s World Cup.
“We’ve been at this now, realistically, for a couple of years with all of our core partners — and that’s everybody from the Eagles to the Union, Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer, the city and the state, among many others,” Needle told The Inquirer. “We have no doubt that it will be a fierce competition until the end, in large part because all the cities realize just what’s at stake and how significant this event is."
Philadelphia is one of 17 United States cities competing to stage games in the tournament, which will be spread across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Canada and Mexico each have three cities bidding, and almost all of them are expected to get games. It’s expected that 16 cities in total will make the final cut.
“One of the great things we offer as a city is just a tremendous, compact event footprint,” Needle said, specifically highlighting SEPTA’s Broad Street Line from Center City to the Sports Complex. “Everything is very easy to navigate. You have airports, train stations, hotels, athletic venues, restaurants … The city lends itself so nicely, in so many different ways, to hosting major events, and that doesn’t escape the event planners and the decision-makers when they come to town and see what we’re talking about.”
In the next few months, Needle will assemble a local bid committee. For now, he is encouraging fans sign a petition on that website. Needle noted that when the U.S. bid in 2010 to host the 2022 World Cup, Philadelphia was the first market to collect 100,000 signatures on its local petition.
Can a fan petition really have influence, though, when global soccer power-brokers care most about how much money they can make?
“I think it’s one of a hundred different things, ultimately, that we can be showing FIFA, U.S. Soccer and the decision-makers,” Needle said. “They’re going to be looking at everything from stadiums, to accessibility to experience in hosting major events and major soccer events, to special events and activities that you have planned, and financial wherewithal. They’re going to be looking at so many things, but certainly, one of those is going to be community support.”
The most effective play for sentiment might be the idea of America’s birthplace as the host of America’s 250th birthday party.
“Philadelphia will be very much the focal point of festivities during that year, and what better [event] than the world’s biggest sporting event in America’s birthplace during that celebration?” Needle said. “That’s certainly very much part of our message to the decision-makers.”
A separate source who’s well connected to the broader World Cup organizing effort said that sales pitch can work.
Another asset is Philadelphia being the home of Comcast, whose Spanish-language TV network Telemundo is a FIFA rightsholder through 2026. Needle said Comcast is doing its part to help get games here.
“The relationship that they have with the sport of soccer and with FIFA is a huge one,” Needle said. “We’ve had some initial dialogue with them, and they’ve expressed very strong support and interest in being involved.”
The Phillies are also on board. They know that World Cup games across Pattison Ave. could affect their schedule, and the entire Sports Complex. Needle said the team has “been nothing but supportive of this process, as have all of our venues and teams.”
Twenty-three cities across the United States and Mexico are bidding to host games in the 2026 World Cup. Here are the cities in alphabetical order and their stadiums:
Atlanta: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (capacity 71,000)
Baltimore: M&T Bank Stadium (71,008)
Boston/Foxborough, Mass.: Gillette Stadium (65,892)
Cincinnati: Paul Brown Stadium (65,515)
Dallas/Arlington, Texas: AT&T Stadium (105,000)
Denver: Broncos Stadium at Mile High (76,125)
Houston: NRG Stadium (71,500)
Kansas City, Mo.: Arrowhead Stadium (76,416)
Los Angeles/Inglewood/Pasadena, Calif.: New NFL stadium (80,000, with potential to expand); Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (around 78,500 after renovation); or the Rose Bowl (87,527)
Miami: Hard Rock Stadium (65,767)
Nashville: Nissan Stadium (69,143)
New York/East Rutherford, N.J.: MetLife Stadium (82,500)
Orlando, Fla.: Camping World Stadium (65,000)
Philadelphia: Lincoln Financial Field (69,328)
San Francisco/San Jose/Santa Clara, Calif.: Levi’s Stadium (75,000)
Seattle: CenturyLink Field (69,000)
Washington, D.C./Landover, Md.: FedEx Field (82,000)
Edmonton, Alberta: Commonwealth Stadium (56,335)
Montreal: Olympic Stadium (61,004)
Toronto: BMO Field (36,000; expansion to 40,000 has been planned)
Guadalajara: Estadio Chivas (45,364)
Mexico City: Estadio Azteca (capacity 87,000)