The crowd went berserk, a screaming, jumping, flag-waving, fist-waving whirlpool of red-white-blue joy. And why not? Kansas City had just won the 2026 World Cup.
The host city selection process for the US, Mexico and Canada tournament was much like a World Cup itself: a few fallouts, some underdogs who went deeper than expected, a few surprise flops and predictable triumphs for the favourites.
Fans at KC Live! Watch Party for Thursday’s winner announcement celebrated what until recently seemed an unlikely win. When Fifa evaluated Kansas City’s bid in 2018, it scored some of the lowest marks for accommodation and transportation among the bidders.
But the airport is being rebuilt, football culture is vibrant, the Hunt family is one of the most influential dynasties in US sports, and Missouri passed a law exempting World Cup tickets from sales tax – unlike Colorado.
In any case, it would have been remiss not to pick Midwest cities, although the venue map still looks odd. There was a glaring omission even before the united North American bid beat Morocco in 2018, as the then-mayor of Chicago — the sports-loving third-largest city in the US and home of the US Football Association — took one look at potential financial liabilities and balked. As did Montreal, which dropped out of the race last summer when the Quebec government refused to contribute a reported $75 million.
Edmonton has been spurned by Fifa, meaning Canada has just two cities to Mexico’s three and the US to 11. And KC beat DC. “You can’t imagine a World Cup coming to the US and the capital not also having an important role to play,” Fifa’s chief tournaments and events officer Colin Smith told reporters on Thursday. But that is What’s happening.
Even the merger with nearby Baltimore and its solid downtown stadium, after Fifa inspectors panned the bleak and remote FedEx Field, failed to sway the governing body in favor of Boston — another location with a troubled venue, but one influential supporter in billionaire team owner Robert Kraft. A US senator described Fifa as a “mafia-style crime syndicate” at a 2015 congressional hearing in Washington, so perhaps world football’s power brokers won’t be too distraught to skip the city.
This World Cup will bear little resemblance to USA ’94, although Diana Ross will make another appearance at the opening ceremony. (Don’t bet against it.) When this 24-team tournament began, the USMNT had only been involved in one World Cup since 1950 and the MLS was not yet born.
It will also differ greatly from Qatar 2022 as the World Cup slides from a compressed 32-team, 64-game winter competition in a country smaller than Connecticut to a bloated transcontinental 48-nation, 80-game summer spectacle.
There were nine host cities at USA ’94. The Boston, Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York, and Dallas regions are repeated, but none of the 1994 stadiums are used in 2026. The ancient Rose Bowl, in which Brazil won their fourth title, has been sidelined in favor of the sleek new SoFi Stadium.
Fifa has not revealed where the Showpiece matches will be held. New York is the front runner for the finals, but how important is that? Homogenization is a goal of every efficient international corporation, whether you are Starbucks or a Swiss non-profit organization running global football.
“The exotic is now watered down. People talk about hosting the World Cup,” journalist and author Jonathan Wilson wrote in 2014, “but really every World Cup is now held in Fifaland, a tax-free generic bubble with the venue name on a billboard up to the center line because you couldn’t find out where you were otherwise.”
Fifa President Gianni Infantino was in attendance for the live unveiling in Manhattan, although Davos might have been a more appropriate venue given the tournament’s business elite.
The income growth is staggering. Fifa said it turned $235 million in revenue from the 1994 tournament into a surplus of nearly $100 million. When it launched for 2026, the North American bid forecast revenue of $14 billion and a surplus of $11 billion for Fifa. Literally a law unto itself, the governing body insists governments agree to provide “exceptions to labor and other laws,” streamlined border and work permit procedures, and tax exemptions.
They sound like a series of outrageous impertinences, an assertion of Fifa’s sovereignty over democratic governments. On the other hand, local and state authorities waste public money and tax breaks on professional sport and claim economic benefits. Billion dollar companies that pay a lower tax rate than the average citizen. What could be more American?
NFL stadiums with problem fields like the LA and Dallas venues need to be remodeled and put in artificial turf with grass, but a definite benefit over the last World Championships that will make 2026 more profitable and less wasteful is that no stadiums are needed for that Tournament built or significantly remodeled to avoid legacy scandals like Brazil’s $550 million stadium turned bus yard.
And not everything about the world’s greatest sporting event can be quantified and monetized. “This part of the world doesn’t realize what’s going to happen here in 2026. These three countries will be turned upside down and then turned upside down again,” Infantino told reporters. “The world will invade Canada, Mexico and the United States. And they will be overtaken by a great wave of joy and happiness.”
The party kicked off Thursday in Kansas City, Vancouver, Atlanta, Monterrey and a dozen other cities across the continent.