Atlanta sets sights on World Cup semifinal, broadcast center

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Having secured what Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said will be “one of the most impactful events in our state’s history,” Atlanta’s World Cup bid group now plans to aggressively pursue some of the 2026 tournament’s highest-profile parts.

The group will try to persuade FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, to play one of the semifinal matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and to locate the event’s international broadcast center in downtown Atlanta.

Those issues weren’t part of FIFA’s announcement Thursday of the 16 North American cities, including Atlanta, that will host men’s World Cup matches in summer 2026, but will be decided over the course of the next year.

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Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens summed up the city’s ambitions for the event: “Yes, I’m excited about (Thursday’s announcement),” he said, “but I still want to make sure that we continue to go and try to host the biggest games, the biggest matches. … Whatever the largest parts of the (event), I’d like to make sure it is here in Atlanta, because we can do big well.”

The Atlanta bid group’s hopes for a semifinal – one of the three biggest matches in what will be an expanded 48-team, 80-game tournament – are rooted in the successful 2018 bid to FIFA by the United States, Canada and Mexico to hold the 2026 event in those three countries. That bid included a non-binding suggestion of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as possible sites of one semifinal each.

“We still hold that position, but nothing has been confirmed,” said Atlanta Sports Council President Dan Corso, leader of the local bid group. “We will continue to work on that.”

The North American bid cited “geographic location, travel distances and stadium capacity” as reasons for Atlanta and Dallas as semifinals sites. But other competitors are expected to emerge, including SoFi Stadium outside Los Angeles.

MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., appears to be the leading candidate to host the final, although AT&T Stadium also plans to pursue it aggressively.

In all, the 11 host cities in the United States are expected to get about 60 of the tournament’s 80 matches, likely four to six each. But the number and level of matches for a particular city won’t be finalized until summer 2023, Corso said.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Meanwhile, on a separate track, negotiations will continue to house the World Cup’s international broadcast center (IBC). North America’s original bid also suggested Atlanta and Dallas as options for that role. The Atlanta bid group has pitched the Georgia World Congress Center, and FIFA officials toured space there last fall.

“I would love (broadcasters from around the globe), each and every time, to say, ‘Live from Atlanta, we’d like to talk about today’s matches,’ or what-have-you,’” Dickens said.

Corso said the broadcast center was put on the backburner until the sites were named for hosting games.

“We have been told (FIFA) will re-engage on the IBC discussion with us at some point in time, hopefully this summer,” Corso said. “We still remain a candidate for the IBC.

“We have put a lot of work in with our partners at the state and the Georgia World Congress Center and the ACVB (Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau) on that effort to put us in a good position for it.”

Credit: Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton /

For now, what the 16 cities named Thursday -- 11 in the U.S., three in Mexico and two in Canada – know is that they will host some matches in the summer of 2026. They also know the honor won’t come cheap.

Corso said the Atlanta bid group’s contractual obligation is to host games and ancillary events according to requirements spelled out in FIFA’s bid specifications. Although the total local cost will depend in part on decisions not yet made, including the number and level of games, Corso said he expects it to be “north” of the host committee’s $46 million budget for the 2019 Super Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“It’s hard to pinpoint a number,” he said. “Probably a good conservative estimate that we’ve heard from other cities is ... in that $50 million to $60 million range, just because of the magnitude and the scale of the event.”

That would come from a combination of public and private funding, with public contributions identified so far being a portion of the Atlanta hotel-motel tax allocated for major events and a sales-tax exemption on World Cup tickets passed by the Georgia Legislature this year.

Corso said most of the local host committee’s costs will relate to transportation, lodging, security, marketing, public relations, a fan festival and operating a large volunteer program.

“As we turn the calendar into 2023, we’ll get into the planning phase,” he said.