How Kansas City became the most unlikely host city of the 2026 World Cup | World Cup 2026

KAnsas City weren’t a safe bet to be named as one of the host cities for the 2026 World Cup that day, but Kathy Nelson was confident enough to throw one of those big-screen parties in the neighborhood plugged into the downtown Power & Light District when Fifa confirmed the picks on June 16.

Nelson, chairman of the Kansas City Sports Commission, said the city, despite being the 31st largest metropolitan area in the United States, made a strong bid. But Fifa had not disclosed anything. When Kansas City was picked, the crowd roared. She cried, a little.

“Seven years of hard work has turned into 10 seconds of elation,” Nelson told the Guardian recently in his office.

Although Nelson says it was more of a Midwestern US bid, Kansas City will be the smallest of the 11 US metropolitan areas to host the World Cup. Kansas City has beaten Phoenix, Denver, Orlando, Cincinnati and Nashville among others – making it something of a sports upset.

“There’s a natural chip on our shoulders for fans and sports teams in general,” Jake Reid, president of Sporting Kansas City, the city’s Major League Soccer franchise, told The Guardian. “They’re passionate, but there’s a bit of a David versus Goliath feeling here.”

Although, according to the story, late Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt was responsible for renaming the NFL championship the Super Bowl after watching his children play with an inflatable toy called the Super Ball, Kansas City didn’t has ever hosted the big game. himself.

The Chiefs won the Super Bowl two years ago, but it was their first NFL title in 50 years. Kansas City had an NBA team, the Kings, and an NHL team, the Scouts, but neither was good enough to play for a championship before moving elsewhere in the 1970s.

The city’s big league baseball team, the Royals, won the World Series in 1985 and 2015, but the club, which has won just one division title in the past 36 years, seems destined for its seventh consecutive season and another fire in August. sale of its best players.

What Kansas City had, however, was the location, smack dab in the middle of the continental United States, the so-called Heartland, no more than a four-hour flight to any other World Cup venue. 2026. As Nelson said with a smile, “When you look at the map, oh, we stand out.”

But there was apparently a lot more. Kansas City really likes both types of football, American and association.

The offer was a big deal here, joined by hundreds and co-chaired by Sporting Kansas City owner Cliff Illig and Clark Hunt, Lamar’s son and current Chiefs owner. Lamar Hunt, the soft-spoken oilman from Texas who died in 2006, was passionate about football.

When Major League Soccer was formed in 1996, Hunt brought a team to Kansas City called the Wizards. The club was renamed Sporting Kansas City in 2011 and plays its home matches in front of large crowds in a state-of-the-art 18,000-seat stadium.

When Hunt died, he owned MLS teams in Columbus and Dallas. The US Open Cup, the nation’s largest domestic tournament, was named after Hunt in 1999.

When Hunt brought the Dallas Texans to Kansas City in 1963 and renamed them the Chiefs, he was instrumental in establishing the Kansas City area as a hotbed of youth football. The Heartland Soccer Association, with 30,000 players, is the largest such association in the United States.

FC Kansas City was among the original eight members of the National Women’s Soccer League, winning two championships before folding in 2017. But the NWSL added an expansion team in 2021, now called the Current, which opened its own training facility last year and will have the league’s first dedicated women’s soccer stadium, an 11,500-seat site along the Missouri River.

“The beauty of football is that it’s not about your size, it’s about the size of your heart,” Fifa board member Victor Montagliani told a press conference after a tour in Kansas City last year. “The reality is Kansas City obviously has a stadium and is in a city that’s crazy about the game.”

The infrastructure itself is reinforced. A new terminal at Kansas City International Airport is due to open next year, and highway and public transportation projects underway in the city are expected to make it easier for thousands of international customers to travel.

In the meantime, Kansas City and the Chiefs are to host the 2023 NFL Draft. Kansas City has long been a college basketball capital: the NCAA champion Jayhawks play in Lawrence, Kansas, 45 miles east west of Kansas City, and the Big 12 tournament is being held at the 15-year-old T-Mobile Center downtown. Kansas City.

The announcement was not so much a highlight as a green light to continue preparing. At least four World Cup matches – and possibly five to seven – must be played at Arrowhead Stadium, the city’s 76,000-seat NFL facility.

But many other details remain. A schedule, not to mention the full roster and group pairings of the 48 participating nations, won’t be released until around 2026. So Nelson and Katherine Holland, who led the team that put together Kansas City’s bid, aren’t finished. .

Almost immediately after the host cities were announced, attention naturally turned to the economic benefits for each metropolitan area. Such a windfall is hard to measure, but it’s safe to say that the World Cup will bring millions of dollars to each host city.

“This is going to change Kansas City for the next four years and beyond,” Holland told the Guardian. “You can never pay for this type of marketing exposure.”

Fifa will call most of the shots from here – setting ticket prices and availability, for example. Many of the logistics of the most complicated sports tournament, “the cogs”, as Holland called them, will have to be worked out after the 2022 World Cup is held in Qatar.

Seven of the 10 major metropolitan areas in the United States will host the World Cup – New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Miami – but Kansas City is also among them. As Reid said, “We knew we had to differentiate ourselves.” And Kansas City did.

“I’m not worried about filling Arrowhead,” Holland said.

When the nominating committee had to find two local celebrities to provide a congratulatory video message for the selection show, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Modern Family star Eric Stonestreet stepped up. (Ted Lasso star Jason Sudeikis was tied up.)

“Kansas City, we have the World Cup!” Mahomes said in his post. “The city is going to show up in 2026. We can’t wait to welcome fans from around the world to the heart of America and the loudest stadium in the world. Let’s go!”

Nelson and Holland laughed as they recounted the story of hosting Fifa officials for a tour of the city and some of its facilities last October. The tour, of course, included lunch – and lunch, as is often the case in Kansas City, included its world famous barbecue, this time from Joe’s.

Grilled meat is best enjoyed outdoors on a paper plate with beans, coleslaw and cold beer, but on this lunch barbecue was served to international visitors in China, along with wine . Kansas City’s past and near future were reflected. “It was beautiful,” Nelson said.

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