FIFA 2026: Ain’t That a Kick?

For a growing fan base in pro and amateur soccer, 2026 could be a landmark year that will change everything in Kansas City.

That’s when North America will host the men’s FIFA Word Cup, and Kansas City is one of 17 cities in the United States that have been
chosen as finalists to host the events.

That number will be whittled down to 10 by FIFA, which is expected to make an announcement by early 2021. In the meantime, a group of the community’s sports and business leaders, called KC2026, is working hard to boost the region into the final 10 for the international soccer games. If they’re successful, bringing the World Cup here would have a significant economic impact, and in the meantime, bring some lasting changes to the city’s infrastructure.

“With the size of Arrowhead [Stadium], we could host after the semifinals, which means up to five, potentially six, games,” said Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission, and a member of the KC2026 executive committee. “That’s easily $600 million to $700 million. In a month. We’ve never seen anything like this, and we’ll never see anything like this again.”

To put that dollar amount in perspective, 2017 was a great year for the area in terms of sports-related economic impact. Kansas City hosted the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, NCAA Men’s Basketball Midwest regional tournament games, the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championships, as well as other events. The entire year brought in $300 million. So the World Cup would double a great year in one month.

To get there, Nelson calculates that the area needs to beat out three of the 17 U.S. cities that are relatively nearby and considered Kansas City’s main competition: Cincinnati, Denver and Nashville.

Kansas City has a lot going for it to make it an ideal location as a host city. There are adequate facilities and accommodations to serve as a home base for a country’s team and its fans—about 10,000 per team—for the six-week duration of the games. Those teams need a practice facility to store their equipment and call home during that time, and there are several such venues in the area, including the new Pinnacle Development Center, a training complex used by Sporting KC and U.S. Soccer, in Kansas City, Kan.; the Chiefs’ practice
facility near Arrowhead; Park University’s fields, in Parkville; and others. 

Then there’s Kansas City’s geographic accessibility to other areas of North America.

“If I’m Brazil, and I have to play a game in Mexico, and a game in Canada and a game in San Francisco, and maybe in New York, where do I want to be? Kansas City,” Nelson said. “There’s no better place to train and for all of my fans to live because we can get to all of those cities within a few hours, and that makes us very unique.” 

Games would be played at Arrowhead, which is a good thing, since it has the fifth-largest seating capacity of all 17 teams, but also a challenge,
because free public transportation would need to be provided to and from the stadium, Nelson says. A spokesman for the Chiefs organization, which is also a supporter of KC2026, said: “We are working with a local engineering firm on logistics topics, including transportation to and from the stadium, in addition to how to best retrofit Arrowhead to accommodate the field requirements.”

Retrofitting the stadium will involve widening the playing field for soccer, and the team is looking at a few different options, including the temporary removal of the warning track area and some lower seating. All of the NFL stadiums in the running would need some kind of adjustment for FIFA standards, though, Nelson said.