Kansas City’s bid to host 2026 FIFA World Cup matches enters homestretch

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Posted at 2:39 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 15:39:26-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City region’s push to host games during the 2026 FIFA World Cup is entering the homestretch.

FIFA will send roughly two dozen representatives to Kansas City for a site visit in late October as the city vies to host games when the world’s biggest sports event is staged in North America less than five years from now.

“There are going to be multiple legs to the site visit, if you will,” Katherine Fox, director of the KC 2026 FIFA World Cup Bid, said. “We’re expected to showcase some of the training sites that we’ve positioned as good options. We’ll obviously be out at Arrowhead (Stadium). We’ll have a city-wide meeting with representation from KCK and KCMO. It’s a little bit of putting our best foot forward.”

Arrowhead Stadium would be the competition venue, if Kansas City is awarded games, with the Compass Minerals National Performance Center serving as a team base camp.

Swope Soccer Village, Children’s Mercy Park, Park University’s Julian Field and The University of Kansas Hospital Training Complex, which is where the Kansas City Chiefs practice, are among the proposed training sites.

“We feel very, very good about our training site options — very good,” Fox said. “We think we are definitely leading the pack on that one when it comes to competition.”

GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium must be widened to accommodate FIFA specifications, which recommend a field 105 meters long and 68 meters wide, and some seats may have to be temporarily removed at the corners of the field to retrofit the stadium for World Cup games.

But the biggest hurdle for Kansas City’s bid based on the initial FIFA review may be infrastructure.

FIFA requires free public transportation to game-day venues, so the Kansas City Sports Commission and Kansas City Area Transportation Authority will work to put officials’ minds at ease with a plan to move visitors around the city during the site visit.

“When FIFA looked at the United bid and sort of ranked individual cities within that bid when they were evaluating it, Kansas City did score low on public transportation,” Fox said, “but I think there’s a real opportunity for us to reframe that.”

The city’s exceptional traffic-congestion rating should still provide an opportunity to demonstrate that fans and teams can be moved “quickly and efficiently” through the city, including the use of park-and-ride shuttle sites among other options.

“Particularly sometimes when you compare it to public transportation systems in other cities, it’s not exactly faster and more efficient necessarily,” Fox said. “I think that it’s a real opportunity for us to reframe that potential for FIFA when they get here and show that we can traverse the region pretty quickly and easily.”

Organizers hope several major hotel projects, which were completed or announced since the bid process started several years ago, will satisfy FIFA evaluators.

Construction of a new single-terminal airport, which is expected to be completed in early 2023 ahead of the NFL Draft that spring, also should bolster Kansas City’s hopes.

“We feel confident,” Fox said. “We definitely feel confident. We have a lot of incredible assets working in our favor. We are the most centrally located city. One of the things that we’ve got going for us is that we are no more than a four-hour flight from any potential World Cup host city, including Canada and Mexico.”

While the goal is to become a host city, Kansas City will play a role in the 2026 FIFA World Cup in some form or fashion.

“Regardless of whether or not we are awarded matches, we are going to be a World Cup city,” Fox said. “We’ll be hosting teams for base camp and things like that.”

But the expected economic impact of serving as a host city, which would guarantee five to seven matches are played at Arrowhead Stadium from mid-June to mid-July 2026, would be $620 million, Fox told the Jackson County Legislature on Monday.

The legislature unanimously voted during that meeting to approve $15,000 to help pay for the upcoming site visit.

Kansas City, Missouri; the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas; VisitKC; and Sporting Kansas City also are contributing to help pay for the Kansas City Sports Commission’s expenses — including the manpower needed to navigate the bid process and plan, organize and staff the site visit.

If Kansas City is awarded matches, “tens of millions of dollars” will be needed to host the event, but the return on investment should be substantial, according to Fox.

Kansas City expects to learn the fate of its bid by June 2022. FIFA is roughly halfway through the site-visit process.

Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C. also are vying to be among the 10 host cities for the biggest global sports event.

The U.S., which was awarded a joint bid with Canada and Mexico, will host 60 matches, including five to seven in each selected city.

Canada and Mexico will host 10 matches apiece in three cities from mid-June to mid-July in 2026.