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World Cup matches in Cincinnati would be an economic boon, study says

artist rendering of Paul Brown Stadium set up for soccer with fans in the stands.
United Bid
/
An artist rendering of how Paul Brown Stadium might look if selected to host 2026 World Cup matches.

The Cincinnati region would see a big economic impact if selected as a host city for the 2026 World Cup. That's the finding from a study by the UC Economics Center commissioned by the 2026 Cincy Local Organizing Committee.

The study suggests the combined economic impact would be nearly $450 million, including about 3,000 jobs for the 15-county, Tri-State area. It also estimates hosting would generate about $20 million in tax revenue for state and local governments and $15.4 million in sales tax revenue.

"Hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup would be equivalent to hosting 10 Super Bowls and would be another billion dollar marketing campaign for our city and region," says Julie Calvert, president and CEO of Visit Cincy (formerly the Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau). "The tens of thousands of visitors to our region coupled with the global TV audience would be another opportunity to showcase our region to the world."

International soccer's governing body, FIFA, is scheduled to announce the final host cities June 16. Cincinnati is bidding to be one of 10 U.S. cities to host games during the 2026 tournament.

A delegation from FIFA and U.S. Soccer visited Cincinnati Friday, Oct. 22, to vet the city as a possible host site.

The delegation toured Paul Brown Stadium and possible training and Fan Fest locations. Games in Cincinnati would be held at the American football stadium, which forecasts a soccer capacity of 60,294, rather than the much smaller TQL Stadium.

The United States is jointly hosting the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico.

Other U.S. cities in the running are: Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, D.C., Boston, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, and Seattle.

Stadium Authority Agreement

Part of the bidding process includes inking a Stadium Authority Agreement between the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners and FIFA. The board is slated to vote on that agreement Thursday, June 2.

The several hundred pages long document lays out various costs and responsibilities. County Administrator Jeff Aluotto says the biggest financial outlays include installing a grass pitch, or field, and removing the corner seating areas at Paul Brown Stadium to provide for a soccer-size playing field.

"The estimated cost of that installation is $4 million," Aluotto told commissioners Tuesday. The pitch would be installed in 2025 to allow for one playing season in advance of the World Cup. The existing field at Paul Brown Stadium was already scheduled to be replaced in 2026.

The cost to remove the corner seating areas and perform some associated concrete work is $5.9 million. Aluotto says that includes the cost to re-install the seating after the proposed games.

The county would also be on the hook for a slew of other possible improvements identified by FIFA when it visited last year. According to Aluotto, many of those items - such as a ticketing systems, WiFi, and video screen upgrades are either already complete or are scheduled as part of the county's capital improvement plan (CIP) for the stadium.

The county sets aside $5 million each year for upgrades in the CIP. Aluotto says as part of the county's discussions with FIFA it has made clear the county is willing to make requested updates as far as how they fit into the county's improvement plan.

He tells commissioners for anything FIFA might request beyond that plan, the goal would be to ask an as-yet-to-be-formed host city board to fund through private or philanthropic donations. The current local hosting committee has said it aims to raise $30 to $50 million in donations to cover a slew of other costs surrounding being a host city.

Hamilton County's attorneys are working with FIFA on the agreement. Commissioners Tuesday expressed some concerns about how much money taxpayers could be asked to layout to meet FIFA's requirements. Vice President Alicia Reece was the most vocal, stating concerns about getting stuck with larger bills than anticipated and signing an agreement that would give FIFA too much leeway to demand costly changes while producing little benefit for the county.

Reece is also specifically worried that the county is giving up its bargaining power with the Bengals by agreeing to complete scheduled stadium upgrades laid out in the county's improvement plan when the Bengals' lease is coming up for renewal shortly.

This story has been updated. A previous version mistakenly stated the total economic impact at $550 million. It should have said $450 million.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.