Big pitches: MetLife and AT&T stadiums toe-to-toe in bid for FIFA’s 2026 final favour

January 8 – The battle for the hosting of the 2026 World Cup final is ongoing with the two favourites – the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas – both seemingly committing to multi-million dollar projects to woo FIFA’s decision makers.

Two days ago the MetLife Stadium said it is planning to remove 1,740 seats to widen its pitch to meet the full-size 75 yard width that FIFA demands. Stadium capacity would be reduced to about 80,000.

The AT&T Stadium has a similar pitch width problem but plans to overcome that by raising the pitch level by 15 feet to create the extra width which would reduce stadium capacity from about 105,000 to 90,000.

FIFA stipulated in the bid that for the stadium for the final had to have a capacity of 74,000 or more. Both the MetLife and the AT&T would have to replace artificial turf pitches with grass.

FIFA has not said when it will make public its decision on where the final will be hosted and would seem to be playing a game of chicken with the cities and their financial commitments to developing their stadia.

The brinksmanship has already caused a fall-out with the SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles which was an early favourite to host the final but whose owner Stan Kroenke wanted guarantees before committing hundreds of millions of dollars to a pitch widening programme.

New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, in announcing the stadium plans, said that the pitch widening will not be done in time for hosting of games in this year’s Copa America and on the financing of the building work said “who pays the cost of the construction was under negotiation.”

The AT&T Stadium has an $295 million worth of renovations that have said will begin this month, though it is unlikely any pitch widening will be an early part of those works.

It is unlikely that any stadium will be keen to push the button on the major expense of a major overhaul of infrastructure without the understanding of which World Cup games they are accommodating.

And if they don’t get the final, how motivated will they be to spending hundreds of millions to accommodate what is essentially a one-off.

FIFA are not used to push back when it comes staging the World Cup while US entrepreneurs with more personal wealth than FIFA are not used to being dictated to by non-US sports bodies.

US sources say there has generally been very little meaningful or transparent communication with FIFA’s rapidly expanding staff presence in the US over the issues.

FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino is privately understood to favour New York for the final, and in the current FIFA-world, Gianni generally gets what Gianni wants.

But so does Dallas Cowboys mercurial owner Jerry Jones whose team are the main tenants of Arlington’s AT&T stadium.

In a local radio interview this weekend, Jones was asked about the progress of the race to host the 2026 final.

“We’re on that by the minute, if there’s such a thing,” said Jones. “Certainly by the hour, by the day, by the week or by the month. We’re working as hard as we can to give our best presentation of why it ought to be here…

“This is, as far as the world is concerned, this area that we’re in Dallas, Texas, this is our country, in my mind. This is the vibrant part of the country, this is where young people in this country and progressive people are aspiring to build their lives and careers. So if you want a good shot of what it’s like to have a North American flavor to a sporting event, we’ve got the ideal place in the country right here in Dallas, Texas.”

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