NEW YORK (AP) — As FIFA prepares to announce the venues for the 2026 World Cup on Thursday — and make high-profile cuts — Alan Rothenberg reflected on when stadiums were chosen for the 1994 tournament which he directed in the United States.
“They gave the rights to the host country, and the host country basically ran everything,” he said. “Here, everything is done internally by FIFA. So it was a very long and arduous process. The conditions have been incredibly difficult for the cities to manage.
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Seventeen stadiums in 16 regions, including across California, remained in contention to be among the 10-12 selected in the United States for the tournament, which will be co-hosted with Mexico and Canada. The United States will host 60 of the 80 matches scheduled by FIFA, including all from the quarter-finals, and there was no doubt about the venues of 10 matches each in the other nations.
Last time, the nine U.S. stadiums were announced at a Waldorf-Astoria press conference 816 days before opening. This time the decisions will be revealed by FIFA in a Fox TV studio 1,456 days before the likely start.
In handicapping bidders, there seemed to be several levels:
—Locks: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, as well as SoFi Stadium in Inglewood or the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
—Hunting: Mercedes-Benz Stadium Atlanta; M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore; Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts; NRG Stadium in Houston; Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri; Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida; Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee; Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia; Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California; and Lumen Field in Seattle.
—Least likely: Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati; Empower Field at Mile High in Denver; and Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
—In other countries: the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, which hosted the 1970 and 1986 finals and will become the first stadium for three World Cups; the Estadio Akron in Guadalajara; Monterrey BBVA Stadium; BMO Field in Toronto and BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia. Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta was likely to be abandoned.
“This country even has more than 17 cities capable of hosting the World Cup, and it will be a shame for those who miss out,” said Andrés Cantor of Telemundo, who has been broadcasting the tournament since 1990 and will co-host the announcement. “But I don’t think that’s going to take away the desire of football fans to attend the game, wherever their country lands in 2026.”
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Rothenberg said the decision remained uncertain last week between SoFi, which may need expensive renovations to create a wider field, and the Rose Bowl.
“Even now, there are calls all day to try to sort it out,” he said on Tuesday. “There will be discussions between the Los Angeles organizing committee and FIFA until the time of the announcement. LA’s costs are a big part of the difficulty.
Only two of the contending stadiums hosted games in 1994, the Rose Bowl joined by Orlando. Dozens of training complexes have been built for MLS teams, creating a much better infrastructure than at the first World Cup in the United States, when Italy trained at the Pingry School in Basking Ridge, in New Jersey, and that the United States trained before it opened on a windswept field at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.
“It’s completely different from the point of view that in a lot of these cities there’s a fan base that’s sort of built up through MLS,” said Tony Meola, the US starting goalkeeper for this Cup. 94. “We know that Los Angeles, New York, and Miami have always had football fans, and they weren’t necessarily American football fans, but they were fans of certain teams around the world. I think we just have a little more fever for the game. From a fan’s perspective, the infrastructure in cities is so much more developed. And tickets will never be a problem in our country if we organize the World Cup every four years.
All US stadiums plan for capacities of 60,000 or more. Three have retractable roofs and one has a fixed roof. Ten have artificial grass but would switch to temporary grass.
It will be the first 48-nation World Cup, up from the 32-team format used since 1998. there will be 16 groups of three nations. Each team will play two first-round matches instead of three under a clumsy arrangement in which one nation from each group opens up against an opponent who has already played. The top two from each group advance to a 32-nation knockout bracket.
Revenues skyrocketed: the 1994 Cup attracted a record 3.59 million fans and brought in $580 million, resulting in a profit of $133.25 million for FIFA and $50 million for dollars for the American organizing committee. FIFA said the 2018 World Cup in Russia generated $5.357 billion in revenue over a four-year cycle and a surplus of $3.533 billion.
FIFA requires bidders to obtain “a limited tax exemption” for FIFA, the teams and other entities involved, and the Missouri legislature last month approved a sales tax exemption for June and July 2026. Chicago has abandoned in 2018 at the request of FIFA.
Rothenberg predicts that many US states and cities will refuse to comply.
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“I think that’s a fair assumption in most jurisdictions. Some of them may just roll it into the price of the stadium and stuff, but getting an actual waiver can be difficult,” he said. “At the end of the day, it just means another cost that the host committee, the host city, will be responsible for.”