- USA-Mexico-Canada organizers promise record $11bn profits for cash-strapped Fifa
- Bid book highlights quality and quantity of stadiums, hotels and airports for 48-team event
- Global anti-Trump sentiment is likely to play a significant role in deciding the vote, however
The 530-page bid book compiled by North American World Cup organisers begins with three slogans: Unity, Certainty, Opportunity. It might as well contain a fourth: Money.
A World Cup hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026 would be a money-maker like no other. On the campaign trail in Europe, Carlos Cordeiro – the recently elected US Soccer president and co-chairman of the United 2026 bid – claimed that a North American tournament would be “the most successful and profitable Fifa World Cup ever” with revenues of $14bn and profits of nearly $11bn.
Accounting for an expanded 48-team tournament, revenue projections include $2.5bn in gate receipts from 5.8 million tickets sold, between $1bn and $1.5bn in commercial hospitality, $3.6bn in sponsorship and licensing, and more than $5bn from TV rights fees – each of them potential records.
Fifa would also collect a $300m media-rights bonus from US broadcasters Fox and Telemundo. And there would be opportunities to once again court the big American sponsors who have viewed Fifa warily since corruption scandals engulfed the previous administration.
“A profit of this magnitude is unprecedented in any single-sport event in the world,” Cordeiro argues. “That has to sink in. In terms of value, it could mean $50m more per association.”
For the 207 Fifa associations that will cast ballots on June 13, geopolitics is likely to be as big an influence as economics. But despite waning US popularity around the world – a Gallup poll in January revealed median approval of US leadership across 134 territories stands at a new low of 30 per cent – United 2026 organizers remain bullish about their chances of victory.
The United bid is not short potential host cities. From an initial list of 41 entries, a final 23 were selected for the bid book, of which Fifa would choose up to 16.
Seventeen are in the US: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington DC. Mexico has three – Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey – as does Canada: Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton.
The oversupply of cities, United bid executive director John Kristick observed, not only gives Fifa an indication of the "intense interest across the three countries to take part" but also "unprecedented choice and flexibility in deciding how best to stage the competition".
Notably, Minneapolis, Vancouver, Glendale (Arizona) and Chicago – the home of the US Soccer Federation and host of the 1994 World Cup opening game – pulled out of contention after local politicians cited unacceptable Fifa demands, including host taxpayers picking up the full bill for safety and security, and assuming liability for any security incident of any size.
Kristick was unconcerned over the snubs, however. "Every city has the same requirements," he told ESPN. "These are competitive bids and that's just the natural process that you go through. I think every city, including if you speak to Chicago or Vancouver, if they were given more time, they would have told you they absolutely felt they would have gotten things done, but unfortunately we hit certain points where we have to make decisions."
It is in its infrastructure that the North American bid really stands apart its Moroccan rival. In painstaking detail, the United bid book lists more than 150 training site and base camp options, select five-star hotels, transport infrastructures and multiple airports that already serve each of the 23 candidate cities, as well as the deep IT networks at each venue.
“Unlike some past Fifa World Cup events, no major construction or capital investment is required," Mexico bid director Yon de Luisa tells SportBusiness International, "so instead of dealing with construction timelines and related challenges, we will focus on building the future of football in our nations – and around the world – as well as guarantee that the 1,100 of the world’s finest players will have everything they need to be at their very best."
The United bid has highlighted Fifa's poor financial situation – the governing body lost $369m in 2016 and $191.5m last year – during the election campaign, a case made more compelling by an upcoming World Cup in Russia that has not delivered significant new sponsors, and huge doubts over the commercial potential of Qatar 2022.
"We believe that between the size of the stadiums, which obviously impacts attendance, the level of hospitality available at stadiums, which affects revenue, and the commercial opportunities that are available to Fifa, this will be by far the most financially successful World Cup. And it's probably a pretty good time for that to happen for Fifa," said Sunil Gulati, the former US Soccer president and erstwhile bid chairman, last December. "It’s not lost on us and we will make sure it is not lost on 207 voters, many of them whom rely on Fifa for their financial stability."
Fifa hasn’t added a new US sponsor since 2011, when by Johnson & Johnson signed a deal for rights around the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Moreover, relations with existing US partners Visa, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s remain strained following the 2015 corruption scandal, in which the companies spoke out against then-president Sepp Blatter.
The United bid expects "each and every one" of the 80 games – 60 in the US and 10 each in Canada and Mexico – to be sold out. Prices range from $21-$323 for group games up to $128-$1,550 for the final, while the number of premium seats – around 750,000 total – will generate significant extra revenue.
There is an expectation among the United bid that Fifa will be confident enough of sell-outs to increase these provisional ticket prices, which explains why United organisers recently updated the projected gate receipts to $2.5bn – a figure they still believe to be conservative – from $2.1bn in the bid book. That implies an average ticket price of $431, compared to $213 for Brazil 2014 and the $227 per ticket offered by the Moroccan bid.
From a television rights perspective, deals have already been struck covering much of the Americas, but the United bid is claims the continent’s sheer breadth will be an advantage over Morocco.
“The 2026 Fifa World Cup will be hosted across three time zones, so we can offer the best of all worlds to fans, broadcasters and commercial partners," Kristick told SportBusiness International. "Our afternoon kick-offs will hit primetime in Europe and Asia, and our primetime kick-offs will hit early afternoon in East Asia – Fifa’s largest audience for Brazil 2014, where China alone represented 12 per cent of the global reach. That is part of the reason we are confident United 2026 can help Fifa set new commercial revenue records.”
The $302m Fifa would receive from US broadcasters Fox and Telemundo if the United bid wins – reflecting the advertising windfall they would receive – could prove less of a blessing than a curse. Fifa agreed extensions covering 2026 with each broadcaster without opening the bidding to competitors, probably to dissuade them from legal action over the switch of Qatar 2022 to a winter date. The deals have created a conflict of interest for the Fifa hierarchy that may not sit well with some members.
After accounting for the revenue projections from tickets, hospitality, sponsorship and media rights, the United bid book is still $1.4bn of its headline $14bn figure. It claims this money will come from new revenue lines that will emerge over the next eight years, including additional programming such as concerts around the event. Cordeiro told SportBusiness International: "Our projections include… additional revenue from new business lines and concepts we can introduce into the Fifa World Cup experience."
Great opportunity to share #United2026 vision at @AIPSmedia summit in Brussels. Together, we're ready to host what will be the most successful and profitable FIFA World Cup ever – $14 billion in revenue; $11 billion in profit for FIFA and its Members! #FootballForAll 🇨🇦🇲🇽🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/SRHLOoscWz
— United 2026 (@united2026) May 8, 2018
"All of our proposed stadiums are already built and operating," the United bid book declares, "with an average seating capacity greater than 68,000, and confirmed uses after the competition has ended, as requested by Fifa in the bidding requirements."
The 23 stadiums suggested to Fifa are already state-of-the-art and need little work, thus avoiding any potential for the 'white elephants' that have plagued Olympics and World Cups over the years. They range in capacity from the 45,500-seat BMO Field in Toronto to the 92,967-seat AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
The United bid book suggests a "general flow from West to East" in its proposed schedule. This includes the opening match in either Mexico City or Los Angeles, semi-finals in Atlanta and Dallas and the final at the 84,953-seat MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Unlike Morocco – whose state-operated stadia have been offered to Fifa at no cost – there will be significant costs involved in renting US arenas, most of which are operated by NFL teams. A potential $40m in grass installation – though the United bid is looking to explore the development of a hydra-turf solution – is small change in comparison.
Fifa is likely to weigh up these cost factors when it comes to choosing the final stadiums, if the United bid is successful. "As to how that math plays out, that will be discussed and determined down the road," Kristick told reporters last November. "Certainly a factor that you have to look at in terms of each venue is, there’s a different component of cost. We’d love to see a higher number of venues as opposed to a smaller number of venues, to spread the wealth as far as we can. But that will be something that, at the right time, we’ll sit down with Fifa and go through the process to determine.”
A final list of 16 cities – likely three each in Canada and Mexico, leaving 10 in the US – would be finalised in 2021.
The bid book makes provision for as-yet-unfinished stadiums: the Rose Bowl is listed as the Los Angeles site but mention is made of the 70,000-seat NFL stadium under construction in Inglewood.
The United bid also has plans to help fans and media alleviate potential problems thrown up by crossing multiple borders during the tournament. Kristick told SportBusiness International: "The United bid has also committed to working with Fifa to develop a comprehensive ‘fan pass’ to ensure smooth travel between the three countries, syncing match ticket, domestic travel, hotel accommodation, Fifa Fan Fest access, and more. Every fan will also have complimentary access to public transport within each host city on match days."
We kick off FIFA’s Bid Evaluation Task Force tour today in Mexico City! Follow us here for a behind the scenes look at some of the venues & locations that make up our United2026 Bid. #FIFATour2026 #Unity2026 #Certainty2026 #Opportunity2026🇨🇦🇲🇽🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/IZ3Dpn0TS6
— United 2026 (@united2026) April 10, 2018
The United bid knows its excellent infrastructure and bold revenue projections will not guarantee victory. Indeed, when the US lost to Qatar – which is smaller in area and population than Los Angeles County – for the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, it had little to do with the quality of stadia or hotels.
This is partly why the US did not bid for the 2026 World Cup alone – even though it could easily host a 48-team tournament. Appearing less US-centric was believed vital due to growing anti-American sentiment following the election of President Donald Trump.
A further step was taken in March when Gulati stepped down as the bid's leader and Cordeiro – his successor as USSF president – Canada's Steven Reed and Mexico's Decio de Maria were named as United co-chairmen. This was followed by an assurance that there would be no travel restrictions placed on visitors following a warning from an independent human rights report.
Whether this will make any difference to the vote remains unclear but the United bid is certainly trying to address the issue, with little help from the President, who recently tweeted: “It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid” – quite possibly in violation of Fifa's provision on governmental interference.
"This is not only about our stadiums and our hotels and all that," Gulati said in January. "It's about perceptions of America, and it's a difficult time in the world."
On the campaign trail, Cordeiro said he hoped Fifa members would set aside politics when they go to vote next month. "Let me acknowledge up front that, as with many international bids over the years, the question of who will host in 2026 has at times become mixed with geopolitics," he said. "We are asking that we be judged, not on the politics of the moment, but on the merits of our bid."
The United bid is confident of gaining support from the confederations of North America, South America and Oceania but beyond that has work to do. Africa is likely to support its continental colleague – even if South Africa may not – and many European countries have pledged their support for Morocco too.
This means that Asia, which has 47 federations, will be critical for the United bid to find a path to victory.
The situation facing the United bid is summed up best by Alan Rothenburg, the former US Soccer president who is credited with making USA '94 a resounding success. "I don't think Fifa has ever seen a bid so complete and so ready. Unlike 1994, we have cities now experienced in hosting international soccer matches. We are absolutely ready to go," he told Bleacher Report.
"Before Morocco, [the US-led bid] looked, to take a phrase from another sport, like a slam dunk. International geopolitical issues come into play. Some of the things the current administration has said or done would cause concern in some parts of the world, and everyone has an equal vote.
"I'm very hopeful that North America will win the bid. But I'm concerned about the Morocco bid."