Atlanta’s 2026 World Cup bid ‘starts this summer’

Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in 2017, but in its short life it's hosted some big events

One year after soccer’s global governing body voted to bring the 2026 men’s World Cup to North America, Atlanta and other cities are gearing up to bid for a piece of the action.

When FIFA awarded the event to the United States, Mexico and Canada on June 13, 2018, the organization said 16 cities in the three countries eventually would be chosen to host matches. Ten U.S. cities will be selected, along with three cities in Mexico and three in Canada. Seventeen U.S. cities, including Atlanta, were named as candidates for this country's 10 spots.

That selection process is about to officially begin.

“(It) starts this summer,” Atlanta Sports Council president Dan Corso said recently. “The timeline for that will be this summer through next June. U.S. Soccer is required to propose to FIFA the 10 cities in the U.S. to host World Cup matches by June of 2020. FIFA will then consider those cities and will announce the (choices) no earlier than December of 2020.

“So we’ve got a little bit of runway, but that work is starting up again.”

Atlanta will target a semifinal match after last year’s joint U.S./Canada/Mexico bid named Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as potential sites of one semifinal each.

While that recommendation is subject to much negotiation and competition over the next 12 to 18 months — a FIFA evaluation report also mentioned Boston and Washington as possibilities for the semis — “geographic location, travel distances and stadium capacity” were cited as advantages of Atlanta and Arlington as semifinal sites.

A FIFA committee toured Mercedes-Benz Stadium last year and gave the venue high marks.

The men’s World Cup has been held in the United States once previously; that was in 1994. Atlanta didn’t host any matches then.

Last year's North American bid, which handily defeated a competing effort by Morocco for the 2026 event, promised FIFA that there would be competition among U.S. stadiums for hosting roles. It stated that all candidate venues "are ready to compete to offer the best possible experience for players and officials, fans, partners, media, and other stakeholders, giving FIFA maximum flexibility and leverage."

Financial requirements to host matches, including the level of taxpayer funding, haven’t been disclosed. For a semifinal, the costs could be comparable with hosting a Super Bowl.

As with other sports mega-events held in Atlanta recently, costs of hosting the World Cup likely would be funded in part from a portion of the city’s hotel-motel tax that is designated for use in attracting major events.

The U.S./Canada/Mexico bid suggested MetLife Stadium — home of the New York Giants and Jets in East Rutherford, N.J. — as the site of the 2026 World Cup final. But a FIFA report also mentioned Los Angeles and Dallas (Arlington) as options for the final.

Atlanta's World Cup pursuit follows a string of successful bids that landed the 2018 College Football Playoff championship game, the 2019 Super Bowl and the 2020 Final Four for Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the 2021 MLB All-Star game for SunTrust Park.