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2026 World Cup in Baltimore? Never underestimate an underdog | COMMENTARY

Kids who took part in a soccer tournament last month hold up scarves advocating bringing the World Cup to the Baltimore region in 2026.
Kids who took part in a soccer tournament last month hold up scarves advocating bringing the World Cup to the Baltimore region in 2026. (Graham Whaples/Graham Whaples/Handout to The Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore faces 16 other cities across the country in a competitive bidding race to host soccer matches during the 2026 FIFA World Cup — the largest international sporting event in the world. With a focused vision of transforming our communities, “Baltimore-Maryland 2026” is a serious contender offering unrivaled opportunities.

Our bold campaign to host matches at M&T Bank Stadium is rooted in an understanding of what the FIFA World Cup would mean to our city and the long-term, positive changes it could create for communities across our state. We firmly believe that FIFA World Cup matches would build and create transformative legacies, with benefits for Marylanders far and wide.

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More than half the world tuned into the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. That’s more than 3.5 billion people. The potential economic impact of hosting matches for each U.S. city has been estimated at $480 million in net benefits. The statistics are simply unparalleled, and the economic benefits for Baltimore and Maryland are clear.

The 2026 World Cup will be the largest ever, the first time 48 teams will compete, with greater numbers of fans traveling to cities across the three hosting nations of the U.S., Mexico and Canada. More than 3 million people are expected to attend live games across the tournament. This translates to out-of-state dollars being spent at local restaurants, businesses and hotels. No other singular event in the next decade has the potential to have the type of economic impact that the World Cup would have on our region.

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Residents and visitors alike would enjoy a fan experience that is unmatched by any other city. M&T Bank Stadium is a world-class venue, renowned for its hospitality offerings and proximity to our proposed FanFest sites. Our accessible hosting concept would bring our entire city to life, ensuring our local communities are at the heart of celebrations, showcasing Baltimore as a vibrant destination on the world’s stage.

Baltimore has one the most diverse communities in the U.S. Our residents represent more than 100 countries from across the world. With thousands traveling to take part in this global celebration of soccer, the World Cup would enable all residents of the city to demonstrate our outstanding mix of local hospitality, culture, art and more.

What’s more, visiting fans would reap the benefits of our compact footprint. With efficient public transport links, and the ability to walk between downtown Baltimore and M&T Bank Stadium, fans would experience a festival-like atmosphere from the moment they arrive at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Our bid supports a re-imagining of our downtown spaces. We are constantly connecting with local leaders to identify opportunities that have the potential to leave real, tangible, and long-term benefits for our community. And there will always be a seat at our table for any individual, organization or group who has a shared vision of utilizing this incredible opportunity to be a driving force for positive change.

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Our communities are filled with a passionate base of soccer fans, with more than 60,000 children participating in youth programs statewide. Maryland is the fourth largest state in terms of registered soccer players per capita nationally. The Baltimore-Maryland 2026 bid is elevating our local soccer culture to the next level by providing more opportunities for our communities to play. Working with globally recognized partners, such as Football for Peace, we would build our love of the “beautiful game” using soccer as a force for good in our local communities — uniting groups beyond cultural, social and economic differences.

Hosting World Cup matches won’t solve every challenge in Baltimore. But it could help be a catalyst for our future. We are presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redefine our city. This is a chance for something more than creative slogans or billboards — this is a chance to be a part of the biggest sporting event in the world. More importantly, this is a chance to deliver immediate change, building foundations that would create a lasting impact beyond the next five years.

Inclusion is at the heart of Baltimore-Maryland 2026, and that is why we want every Marylander to be a part of this journey. We’re asking you to join us. Help us create history. Every follower that we add on social media (@BaltimoreMD2026 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) serves as an endorsement, highlighting the passion that exists to redefine Baltimore as a Global City for the Future.

Sure, we might be an underdog. But never underestimate the underdog, especially when it’s Baltimore-Maryland.

Terrance Hasseltine (terry@sportcorpmaryland.us) is president of Baltimore-Maryland 2026, host city candidate and executive director of the Maryland Sports Commission.

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