The combined bid of the United States, Mexico and Canada was awarded the 2026 FIFA World Cup on Wednesday, moving Baltimore a step closer toward hosting a match in the quadrennial soccer competition.
Baltimore was selected as one of 23 potential host cities in North America for the 2026 tournament. FIFA will meet with the United Bid Committee over the next two years to determine by late 2020 the cities that will stage the tournament’s 80 matches.
Under the United Bid proposal, the list of host cities for the world’s most watched sporting event likely will include two or three in Canada, three in Mexico and 10 in the United States.
Baltimore is considered the favorite to host the World Cup Team Workshop, which brings together delegations from all 48 competing nations before the tournament for an orientation. National team base camps could be set up at sites such as Loyola University Maryland and the Naval Academy.
Baltimore and M&T Bank Stadium fared well in FIFA’s assessment of potential game venues. FIFA member nations scored the 70,000-seat stadium 4.2 out of 5 — the third highest score given to any of the proposed venues in North America.
“There's a lot of things that bode well for Baltimore and M&T Bank Stadium,” said Terry Hasseltine, executive director of Maryland Sports, an agency of the Maryland Stadium Authority. “And when it's all said and done, I think the United Bid Committee and FIFA in 2020 will have a really hard time not putting our stadium on the list for matches.”
Hasseltine, who is deputy chairman of the Baltimore-Maryland Host Organizing Committee, said Wednesday he thinks the city has an “extremely high” chance of being selected to host.
“The thing that really bodes well is that our venue is in such close proximity to our entertainment and lodging,” he said. The United Bid’s recommended hotels — the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore and the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront — are both within two miles of the stadium.
Baltimore’s transportation infrastructure poses concerns. The city received its lowest score in that category: a 3 out of 5. Unlike Washington, New York and Philadelphia, Baltimore lacks an extensive underground system.
“Today’s announcement, as exciting as it is, we still have a lot of work to do,” Hasseltine said.
Currently there are no plans to address area transportation, but Hasseltine expects it to be a topic of conversation in the years leading up to the competition.
The United Bid beat Morocco 134-65 in a vote of more than 200 member nations of FIFA’s governing body in Moscow to host the 2020 tournament. It’s the first time three nations have been selected to co-host.
“Hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup is a rare and important moment to demonstrate that we are all truly united through sport,” Carlos Cordeiro, president of U.S. Soccer and co-chair of the United Bid, said in a statement. “We are humbled by the trust our colleagues in the FIFA family have put in our bid; strengthened by the unity between our three countries and the CONCACAF region; and excited by the opportunity we have to put football on a new and sustainable path for generations to come.”
Carlos Tolentino, 30, has loved soccer for as long as he can remember. He said he plans to start saving money in case the games do come to Baltimore in eight years.
“Soccer, it’s a universal unifier,” he said. Tolentino is a part-time coach at Columbia FC, a Maryland Major Soccer League team. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, your religion, your race — soccer combines people.”
If Baltimore is selected as a host city, the games will attract people from across the country and around the world, said Daraius Irani, chief economist at the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University. Hotels, restaurants and attractions such as the Horseshoe Casino will feel the impact of the national and international crowd.
“It would be a great boom for tourism,” Irani said. “Because we’re bringing in people from out of the region, that’s all new dollars. So even if they spend one dollar, that’s one dollar we didn’t have before.”
Hasseltine estimated the economic impact of hosting matches at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Baltimore has a history with soccer, from hosting international games to fielding the indoor soccer powerhouse Blast to boasting several soccer bars.
A World Football Challenge match between England's Chelsea and Italy's AC Milan in 2009 drew a sellout crowd of 71,203 to M&T Bank Stadium.
Nearly 38,000 watched the U.S. men's national team rout Cuba, 6-0, and Jamaica edge Haiti, 1-0, in the quarterfinals of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. More than 70,540 saw the United States beat El Salvador, 5-1, and Honduras top Costa Rica, 1-0, in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Gold Cup.
Steve Goodman, 54, attended the 2013 matches. He said he looks forward to watching international teams go head-to-head again.
“Baltimore’s got a great soccer community,” Goodman said. “I think it’s great for Baltimore because we did such a wonderful job with the Gold Cup.”
Mayor Catherine Pugh also expressed excitement.
“We are thrilled to have our great City of Baltimore as among those in the running to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup games,” she said in a statement. “Without question, hosting these prestigious games would serve to inspire a new generation of soccer players across our state and nation. If selected, we intend to make sure that all who come to Baltimore to play soccer, leave with an enduring appreciation of Baltimoreans and all that we have to offer.”
Other host city finalists include Washington, New York/New Jersey, Boston, which hosted matches in the 1994 World Cup, the last held in North America. Elsewhere in the region, Philadelphia is also under consideration.
Hasseltine said the Baltimore committee would now turn to tying up “any loose ends,” from potential practice venues to the creation of green spaces in the city. M&T Bank Stadium’s $120 million renovation is set to be completed by next fall, giving city officials two years to address technical and other concerns.
Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, honorary chairman of the Baltimore-Maryland Host Organizing Committee, said the FIFA decision "confirms what we knew all along: the United Bid submission was solid, well thought out and delivered what FIFA needs in a host nation(s).
“We are fortunate that Maryland could be chosen to host 2026 World Cup games and other events leading up to the 2026 FIFA World Cup in North America,” he said in a statement. "This is a great day for soccer in the U.S. and for Maryland. I am excited to move the next phase of this award forward for Maryland and all our participating partners in the effort.”
2026 FIFA World Cup facts and figures
Number of teams: 48
Number of matches: 80
Number of players: +1,100
Candidate host cites: 23
Proposed training sites: 150
Projected revenue: $14 billion
Projected profit: $11 billion
Projected economic impact: $5 billion