Under a new combined proposal with Washington, Baltimore would host 2026 FIFA World Cup matches, boosting the city’s chances of bringing the world’s most viewed sporting event to M&T Bank Stadium.
U.S. Soccer, the sport’s governing body, had asked the cities earlier this month to collaborate on a “re-imagined” joint bid, reportedly over concerns about the viability of FedEx Field as a World Cup venue. As part of the joint bid that city officials announced Thursday, Washington would hold a fan festival on the National Mall. Baltimore, which has never hosted a men’s or women’s World Cup match, would get four to seven games, including potential knockout-stage matchups.
“I think it’s a great day for the capital region,” said Terry Hasseltine, executive director of the Maryland Sports Commission, which oversaw Baltimore’s bid. “I think both Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., both had solid pieces to their bids. ... But I think at the end of the day, to give us the biggest opportunity to be successful, merging our inventory of assets together only makes sense. And I think it gives us a stronger chance to be there when FIFA makes the final decision.”
The United States has partnered with Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup, the first time three countries have been selected to stage the competition. A combined 3.6 billion viewers watched the 2018 World Cup, according to audience data for official broadcast coverage of the event. The 2022 World Cup is scheduled to kick off in Qatar this November.
FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, is expected in mid-May to announce the 10 or 11 U.S. stadiums that will host matches. With Baltimore and Washington’s merged proposal, there are now 16 bids across the three countries under consideration, including those from Boston, New York-New Jersey and Philadelphia.
A report in February by 42Floors, a branch of California-based real estate data firm Yardi, ranked Baltimore No. 16 and Washington No. 17 among the cities vying to host the World Cup, suggesting the merging bids might not do much to sway decision-makers.
Hasseltine said earlier this month that the study “holds no weight as it was done in 2017 and did not take into account any of the work that has been done to date on Legacy, Human and Worker’s Rights and the site visit. We are listening to the leadership of U.S. Soccer and FIFA as to where we stand with the process, not the report referenced.”
Delegations from FIFA and U.S. Soccer visited Baltimore in September, where they watched the Ravens’ prime-time win over the Kansas City Chiefs and toured M&T Bank Stadium. The venue has previously hosted international friendlies and U.S. men’s national team matches.
Baltimore’s emergence as a potential host city has come as concerns over Washington’s bid grew. Since 1930, all but two capital cities of a host nation have hosted World Cup games. At the 1994 World Cup, the first and only time the United States hosted the men’s competition, five matches were played at Washington’s RFK Stadium.
But earlier this month, Greg O’Dell, the outgoing president and chief executive of Events DC, the city’s convention and sports authority that was overseeing Washington’s bid, acknowledged in an interview with The Washington Post that Landover’s FedEx Field “has some particular challenges.”
The Prince George’s County venue, which opened 25 years ago, has a capacity for NFL games of 67,717, fewer than M&T Bank Stadium’s 70,745, FedEx Field’s safety and infrastructure also came under heavy scrutiny during the 2021 NFL season, when a tunnel railing collapsed, nearly injuring Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, and a pipe broke at the stadium over fans’ heads. Players have also complained about the quality of the stadium’s grass playing surface.
In 2019, the Ravens completed a $120 million renovation of M&T Bank Stadium, which included new 4K ultra-high-definition video displays, new escalators and elevators to the upper deck, a new sound system and new suites. The team is eyeing additional stadium upgrades, owner Steve Bisciotti said last month.
“I think the fact that the United States is the anchor tenant on this three-country bid, having our nation’s capital part of the equation, and knowing that they have a partner just to the north of them that has the facilities that can help them and help us deliver a world-class event in two world-class destinations, I think it’s a net win for FIFA,” Hasseltine said in an interview. “It’s a net win for U.S. Soccer. It’s a net win for Baltimore, Maryland, as well as D.C. So we’re just excited that we’ve been able to come to a mutual agreement that says that we’re going to play ball together and we’re going to deliver something pretty special when we’re selected.”
Hasseltine said preliminary data collected during Baltimore’s independent bid found that hosting World Cup matches would have an economic impact on the city of between $400 million and $700 million dollars. The impact of a successful joint bid on Baltimore wouldn’t be known until this summer, he said. In a statement released Thursday, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott called it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring another world-class event to Charm City” and said the joint bid would “provide massive economic boosts for both urban centers.”
Hasseltine said officials in Baltimore and Washington would work with FIFA and U.S. Soccer over the next several weeks to “really orchestrate what that master plan looks like.” He was optimistic that a “cohesive partnership” would help deliver the World Cup to the area.
“We needed to make sure that FIFA understood that we have the basic framework in place where it says that we’re willing to work in collaboration,” he said. “We’re willing to roll up our sleeves and figure out what’s in the best interest of growing the game, what’s in the best interest of delivering the United States a portfolio of cities that are world-class. And making this partnership come together, I think, is just a critical next step in ensuring that the capital region is locked in to be one of those 10 cities.”