By Paul Nicholson
October 27 – If the expanded 48-team World Cup in 2026 matches the no-holds barred drama and competitiveness of the US cities battling in the high-stakes race to host the final, then it really could be a best-ever World Cup for FIFA.
When the host cities were announced for 2026, the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles immediately became red hot favourite to hold the final, having spectacularly staged a Super Bowl to worldwide acclaim.
The biggest rival to a Los Angeles final was reckoned to be New York and the MetLife Stadium. After all, if you are taking the biggest event in the world to the biggest commercial market in the world you surely want to put your showpiece in one of the world’s truly global cities.
Simple thinking but this is, after all, FIFA, where doing things the logical way play second fiddle to doing things the FIFA-way (that more often than not seems to involve a fiddle).
But the US isn’t such a compliant and warm-fuzzy place compared to other countries that lay out the red carpet when it comes to business and FIFA’s demands, as FIFA has found out.
Having told the SoFi that their pitch was too narrow, it appeared an agreement had been struck for owner Stan Kroenke (he also owns Arsenal so you would have thought his people might have considered this when they built the $5.5 billion stadium) to dig deep again and jackhammer out a couple of rows of seating to meet the FIFA requirement.
At the same time Kroenke said he wanted to know what matches they would have and expressed frustration at not being able to progress discussions on revenue-sharing and other income streams. FIFA didn’t budge, bend, show humility or even respect for the investment Kroenke was about to make (none of them strong FIFA traits).
The frustration boiled over to the point where Kroenke was about to tell FIFA they could stick their football tournament somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine – every day is a shooting day in LA.
Whether this was bluff or not, you can kind of see Stan’s point. FIFA should perhaps have taken a leaf out of their confederation partners Concacaf’s operational play book, who staged their Gold Cup final in July to a sold out SoFi, with very few glitches and to great success.
Inside sources now tell Insideworldfootball that everything is back on track and that the stadium will host World Cup matches.
Though whether that means the SoFi is in the running for the final or not remains to be seen. But if you owned the stadium and you weren’t going to get the final, would you bring in the construction engineers – at your expense – to butcher one of the most modern and spectacular stadiums in the world to make sure there was space for a VAR monitor to probably make the wrong call for the good of the game?
So if not LA where?
With Kroenke frothing at the mouth and FIFA cold-shouldering the entertainment capital of the world on the west coast, New York’s MetLife, and Arlington, Texas’s AT&T stadiums climbed to the top of the pile.
In global terms – in pretty much any kind of comparison – New York vs Arlington is barely a contest. But in FIFA’s world (one where the little people have as much say as the big people – just look at the federation membership), Arlington appears to have taken a lead.
Dallas’s big pitch (the city is not even the biggest city in Texas – Houston is) is that it can scale up the final to a ticketed event with up to 200,000 people across the entire Arlington sports complex.
The Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium can be expanded to about 100,000 while the neighboring Globe Life Field, home of MLB’s Texas Rangers, seats 40,300, and Rangers’ former home, Choctaw Stadium, seats another 48,114. Games would be simulcast on the jumbotrons as part of a fan event.
While Dallas is promising big numbers, New York/New Jersey is promoting inclusivity and the ‘right values’ in what is clearly a shot at controversial Texas Governor Gregg Abbott by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy who has taken the gloves off in the fight for the final.
Abbott has previously referred to “homes being invaded” in regards to illegal immigration in Texas, and signed a bill in June that bans transgender athletes from participating on collegiate sports teams that correspond with their gender identities.
It is the kind of morality that FIFA would have railed against in Qatar (at least publicly) where Infantino declared that ‘today’ he felt like a welcomed immigrant and LGBTQ+ person in that spectacular pre-tournament press conference.
While the focus has been on where the final will be held, there has been less discussion over where the tournament will kick off. Current favourite is Atlanta where the US Soccer Federation will have moved its headquarters by 2026 tournament kick off. That would be a nice-looking bone thrown to the national federation that currently has virtually no involvement in the greatest show on earth that is predominantly being played in their own backyard (Mexico and Canada are still co-hosting in case you were wondering).
FIFA are expected to announce the match allocations before the end of the year.
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