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Tom Kaminski/WCBS 880

2026 World Cup Coming To North America; MetLife Stadium Proposed Site For Final

June 13, 2018 - 8:24 am
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) — North America will host the 2026 World Cup after FIFA voters overwhelmingly opted for the financial and logistical certainty of a United States-led bid over a risky Moroccan proposal for the first 48-team tournament.

The soccer showpiece will return to the U.S. for the first time since 1994 after gaining 134 votes, while Morocco got 65 at the FIFA Congress in Moscow on Wednesday. The vote by football federations was public, in contrast to secrecy surrounding the ballot by FIFA's elected board members for the 2018 and 2022 hosts, Russia and Qatar, in 2010.

“It’s a huge deal, and this is really what convinced FIFA to go for it in the end, was that the united bid – as it’s called – was promising profits of $11 billion to FIFA, and if you know one thing about FIFA, it’s that money talks,” said Wall Street Journal Europe Sports Editor Joshua Robinson.

For the first time ever, the tournament will be hosted by three nations. The U.S. proposed staging 60 out of the 80 games in 2026, when 16 teams will be added to the finals, leaving Canada and Mexico with 10 fixtures each.

The 87,000-capacity MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey is the proposed location for the final.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says there is a next step in the process "in which specific venues from these countries will be selected to host tournament games."

“MetLife Stadium and the Meadowlands region are an ideal site for the World Cup. New Jersey has hosted World Cup matches before and we are more than ready to do so again," Murphy said. "MetLife Stadium is an internationally-renowned facility with first-class amenities. The Meadowlands region includes hundreds of hotels to house fans from all over the world and first-rate entertainment, shopping and dining, all just across the river from New York City."

Murphy and other New Jersey officials are thrilled that the stadium is expected to play a role in the World Cup in 2026. The Meadowlands Super Bowl provided an economic boost for the region. But as WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported, Murphy believes the World Cup impact would be greater.

“Because typically, stadiums get to host anywhere between three and five games – so that’s three and five times eighty-odd-thousand,” Murphy said.

Murphy emphasized that the venues for specific matches have yet to be determined.

“The federations that submit their bids go around and they build a book of qualified venues,” Murphy said.

Glenn Crooks, the radio voice for New York City FC, calls it a high honor to host the World Cup again.

"Like the Olympics, it's one of these events that's really a must-see," said Crooks, who in 1994 attended one of the most electrifying games at Giants Stadium. "Ireland came through with a huge upset over Italy to kick off the tournament winning one nil and the atmosphere unbelievable, the amount of green in the parking lot of Giants Stadium, now MetLife, to support the Irish was just phenomonal."

Canada will host men's World Cup matches for the first time, while Mexico gets its first taste of the event since staging the entire event in 1986.

The 1994 tournament got the highest average attendance of any World Cup with close to 69,000 fans per game, WCBS 880's Kevin Rincon reported.

President Donald Trump tweeted his approval: "The U.S., together with Mexico and Canada, just got the World Cup. Congratulations - a great deal of hard work!"

While Trump has been feuding with Canadian leaders over tariffs and Mexico about his proposed border wall, the political leaders are not heavily involved in the World Cup bid. Even if Trump wins re-election, his presidency will end before the 2026 World Cup.

Robinson noted that “a lot of the pitch from the U.S. bid team and the North American bid team has been to reassure voters that they’re not going to have any problem getting visas when the time comes to travel to North America for the tournament.”

An optimistic promise of delivering $14 billion in revenue helped sway voters, along with the lack of major construction work required on the 16 planned stadiums, all of which already exist.

“It’s almost certain to break records, both on attendance and in ticket sales,” Robinson said. “The bid officials have said that at least six games of the 80 would be comparable to the Super Bowl.”

By contrast, Morocco appeared too hazardous as a potential host when all 14 venues had to be built or renovated as part of a $16 billion investment in new infrastructure. The vote leaves Morocco reeling from a fifth failure in a World Cup hosting vote, with the continent's sole tournament coming in 2010 in South Africa.

While Morocco's combined tickets and hospitality revenue would be $1.07 billion, according to FIFA analysis, North America would generate $2 billion additional income.

“I think ultimately, that’s what it came to – although if you look at the final analysis and who voted for Morocco and not the U.S., you did see France there, and you saw North Korea. So there was a little political sway there, but I don’t think it was really ever in doubt, due to the incredible infrastructure and having hosted the World Cup before,” Crooks said. “The U.S., Canada, and Mexico combined are in such a better position and shape to host in 2026.”

MetLife Stadium is just miles from where federal prosecutors spearheaded an ongoing investigation into FIFA corruption. More than 40 soccer officials and businesses indicted, convicted or pleaded guilty.

The bribery scandal put the governing body on the brink, FIFA President Gianni Infantino told the congress ahead of Wednesday's vote.

"FIFA was clinically dead as an organization," Infantino said, reflecting on his election in 2016. "Two years later, FIFA is alive and well, full of joy and passion and with a vision for its future."

The North American victory suggests football officials are ready to gather for a World Cup in a country whose government has demonstrated its willingness to jail corrupt sports leaders through undercover investigations.

The North America bid also had to overcome concerns about the impact of policies from the Trump administration, including attempts to implement a ban on travel by residents of six majority-Muslim countries.

The main intervention by President Trump was a warning in a White House news conference, discussing the FIFA vote, that he would be "watching very closely." It was a veiled threat to withhold U.S. support from countries opposing the bid.

FIFA now has the final say on which cities are selected to host games and whether all three countries are guaranteed a place at the tournament. Victor Montagliani, the Canadian who leads CONCACAF, wants them to take three of the six qualification slots reserved for the region.

There is also a chance to send a seventh team via an inter-continental playoff. North America will host the six-team playoff tournament in November 2025 to decide the last two places in the 48-team lineup.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)