Cincinnati Makes Its Pitch To Host 2026 World Cup Matches
The pitch is in, and now we wait. Members of Cincinnati's World Cup bid committee made their case Tuesday to international soccer's governing body, FIFA, about why it should pick the Queen City to host one or more 2026 World Cup soccer matches.
The United States is jointly hosting the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico. Three cities each in Canada and Mexico are already determined. Cincinnati is among the 17 U.S. cities bidding for one of the 10 U.S. host city slots.
"We had a very positive call this morning with FIFA and U.S. Soccer officials to discuss Cincinnati as a host city," reports Jeff Berding, president of FC Cincinnati.
FC Cincinnati is leading the local bid. Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials, regional tourism leaders, Cincinnati police, and Paul Brown Stadium representatives were also in Tuesday's meeting with FIFA.
Berding says Cincinnati's central location in the Midwest makes it an ideal host city.
"Ohio is the 'heart of it all.' If you look at the list of the 17 cities, we're about it in the Midwest. There's no Chicago. There's no Indy, no Detroit. There's no Cleveland. There's no Columbus. There's no St. Louis, so we feel enormously well positioned to win this thing."
Games in Cincinnati would be held at Paul Brown Stadium, which forecasts a soccer capacity of 60,294. The gross capacity is listed at 67,402, but 7,108 seats are lost to VIPs and media. The total field area would be expanded to 125 meters by 85 meters, according to GameDay PR, to accommodate a FIFA-sized playing surface, sign boards and bench areas.
"In order to provide the width, the four corners (of seating at Paul Brown Stadium) literally with a crane will be lifted out," Berding explains.
Hamilton County, which owns Paul Brown Stadium, is in the process of crafting a long-term capital plan to guide its future.
"The planning for this capital work comes at the same time that the community is competing for the opportunity to serve as a host for FIFA 2026 World Cup games as that sporting event will be held in North America that year," county spokesperson Bridget Doherty tells WVXU in a statement. "Part of FIFA's evaluation will focus on conformance of stadium infrastructure with their event requirements. So the timing of the work by the County and Bengals in that regard really couldn’t be better."
Berding reports a substantial portion of Tuesday's meeting was spent discussing grass. Paul Brown Stadium has a synthetic turf field, but a grass field would be installed for the World Cup. Berding points out The Motz Group, which is designing the grass field for the new West End stadium and has built fields for FIFA, is headquartered in Newtown.
"We might have talked about grass for half an hour," Berding quips, adding the grass system installed at the new FC Cincinnati stadium "mirrors the requirements for FIFA. ... We don't have to bring in any authorities from around the country, they're right here in our backyard. They're advisors to our local organizing committee for the World Cup, and they're well prepared to meet the FIFA specs on grass pitch as evidenced by what they've done for FC Cincinnati at West End Stadium."
Besides televised air time on the world stage, host cities are predicted to realize $90 million to $480 million in economic impact. Paul Brown Stadium's size allows it to be considered for opening round matches up through the quarter finals, and possibly the 3rd place match.
According to an updated timeline announced in January, FIFA aims to start in-person site visits in July if they can be done safely given the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Provided the aforementioned venue visits are conducted, FIFA and the host associations aim to have the host cities appointed by the FIFA Council in the last quarter of 2021," FIFA said in a statement.
Team Facilities/Training Sites
As WVXU reported in 2018, even if not selected to host a game, Cincinnati could still serve as a training and/or "base camp" city for a team. These details were laid out in the 2018 bid book.
UC's Nippert Stadium, FC Cincinnati's future training ground in Mason, and a future FC Cincinnati Major League Soccer stadium are all listed as team basecamp facilities. The bid says the MLS stadium - a location for which remains up in the air - would be completed in 2021 and "will pay homage to the famous Bayern Munich stadium, Allianz Arena, and feature a stand capacity of up to 25,000 individuals."
The University of Cincinnati, Xavier, Northern Kentucky University, and Mount St. Joseph University are included as possible venues to host team practices. Teams and FIFA delegations would stay at The Cincinnatian Hotel (FIFA VIP Hotel), Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza (FIFA Venue Hotel), The Westin Cincinnati, the Renaissance Cincinnati, Embassy Cincinnati RiverCenter, Hyatt Regency Cincinnati, Marriott RiverCenter, and a hotel near Mason that's to be determined.
In total, 16 cities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico will be selected to host matches during the 2026 World Cup, which is being expanded to 48 teams. The U.S. will host 60 matches, including the final. Canada and Mexico will host 10 matches each.
The 23 finalist cities are:
- Kansas City
- Los Angeles
- New York/New Jersey
- San Francisco Bay Area
- Washington, D.C.
- Mexico City