WashU Expert: World Cup 2026 a matter of economics

1994 records, infrastructure all favored ‘United Bid’ of U.S., Canada, Mexico

World Cup 2018 is set to start in Russia. (Image: Shutterstock)

North America, even in the face of controversial policies regarding immigration under President Trump’s administration, had more to offer soccer’s international governing body, says a sports business expert from Washington University in St. Louis. As a result, the “United Bid” of the United States, Canada and Mexico was awarded the 2026 World Cup on the eve of this year’s competition in Russia.

It was a matter of economics and facilities, Rishe said, not to mention the track record of establishing a World Cup attendance record when the United States played host to the 1994 World Cup.

Rishe

“The North American bid did have to answer questions and address concerns about the political situation in the U.S. — much of it having to do with policies regarding foreigners put in place by President Trump — but largely played to its obvious strengths: money and infrastructure,” said Patrick Rishe, director of the Sports Business Program and senior lecturer in management at Olin Business School.

Rishe, as in this interview with CNBC regarding Brazil’s 2014 spin with the World Cup, long has been a scholar on the attendant costs and benefits, advantages and liabilities, of placing such sporting events on a global stage. So when FIFA approved the joint Mexico, Canada and U.S. bid — in which the two neighboring countries will serve as host to 10 preliminary matches apiece, then the final 60 matches will take place on American soil — he could foresee the committee balloting, where the Morocco bid garnered barely half the votes as did the united group.

“The North American bid accentuated the quantity and quality of available stadiums, experience in staging major events and the infrastructure necessary to transport and house tens of thousands of visiting fans,” Rishe said. “They also said that they would make an $11 billion profit for FIFA, money that would help nourish federations in need of funding to grow programs and build facilities.

“Morocco was always the outsider to win, but any chances of success were hit hard by FIFA’s evaluation report, published on June 1, which heavily favored the North American bid,” Rishe said.

History and logistics served the North Americans far better, as well.

“When the U.S. hosted the World Cup in ’94, it set an attendance record of 3.6 million over 52 matches. With 80 matches slated for ’26, the majority of them in the U.S., the lure of a North American bid proved too hard for FIFA to withstand,” Rishe said. “Not to mention, this continent had a huge infrastructure advantage over Morocco, as well as an edge in security concerns. Plus, Morocco basically had to build all the necessary infrastructure from scratch.”

Hotel, dining and shopping expenses by spectators and competing teams often are cited as lucrative benefits to such a big event. But don’t forget, there are costs involved, too. In the U.S., large venues such as AT&T Stadium outside Dallas, and MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. — mentioned as a potential championship match site — are accustomed to security, public safety and other site needs. So it isn’t far-fetched to hear total revenue numbers such as $15 billion being tossed around.

“What’s often overlooked are the potential costs incurred to ready the host city for such events,” Rishe said. “To the extent additional local monies are spent on police, firefighters, safety, security and other event logistics such as venue preparation, this eats into the gross infusion of visitors dollars, leaving a net visiting spending impact less than the gross.

“That said, whether hosting such events is a ‘net positive’ for host communities is subjective and depends on each community’s unique experience,” he said. “Cities that are already well-suited and positioned to host larger events without needing to invest significant monies into venue preparation are going to be better off.”

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