Sorting through some 2026 World Cup questions

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, shown here during an Atlanta United match on June 2, is a contender to host a World Cup semifinal in 2026.



Mercedes-Benz Stadium, shown here during an Atlanta United match on June 2, is a contender to host a World Cup semifinal in 2026.

Soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, voted last week to play the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada. And while the announcement raised much excitement in North American soccer circles, it left open questions that won’t be fully answered for years. Here are some of them that affect Atlanta:


Sixteen North American cities – at least 10 in the U.S. – will be chosen by FIFA in 2020 or 2021 to host matches. Those 16 choices will come from 23 “candidate cities.” FIFA will have negotiating leverage in whittling the number.

The U.S. host cities will be chosen from among these candidates: Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium), Baltimore (M&T Bank Stadium), Boston (Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.), Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Dallas (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas), Denver (Broncos Stadium at Mile High), Houston (NRG Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium), Los Angeles (Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif., or the new NFL stadium under construction), Miami (Hard Rock Stadium), Nashville (Nissan Stadium), New York (MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.), Orlando (Camping World Stadium), Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field), San Francisco (Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.), Seattle (CenturyLink Field) and Washington (FedEx Field in Landover, Md.)

In addition, current plans call for matches to be played in up to three cities in Canada (Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto) and up to three in Mexico (Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey).

"We are blessed with 23 really world-class stadiums -- some iconic, some brand-new cutting-edge and everything in between," U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro said. "I think it will be a very difficult decision to make … when we have to determine the final 16 cities. But it’s a high-class problem.”

Under current plans, 60 matches will be played in the U.S., 10 in Canada and 10 in Mexico.


All indications are that Atlanta enters the next round of the process in a very good position to host matches.

The successful North American bid proposed Mercedes-Benz Stadium and AT&T Stadium as the sites of the two semifinal matches, and those stadiums also could host matches earlier in the tournament. But while the semifinal recommendation legitimately boosts Atlanta’s chances of securing a prime role in the 2026 World Cup, it is not a guarantee.

A bid evaluation report by FIFA, which holds the ultimate decision on sites, also cites Boston and Washington as possibilities for a semifinal.

The North American bid names MetLife Stadium as a proposed site for the final, while the FIFA report also identifies Los Angeles and Dallas/Arlington as options. If MetLife doesn’t get the final, it would be a strong contender for a semifinal; same goes for Dallas and L.A.


The FIFA evaluation report mentions one potential obstacle for Atlanta, noting that a large annual event at AmericasMart Atlanta “is expected to fill many of the city’s hotel rooms” during some of the possible World Cup dates in 2026.

But it’s too early to know if the weeklong Atlanta International Gift and Home Furnishings Market in July 2026 will pose a conflict because the exact World Cup dates haven’t been set by FIFA yet. If the 2026 World Cup dates parallel this year’s in Russia, the semifinals would be completed slightly before the AmericasMart event.

“There are a lot of moving parts still going on,” said Mark Vaughan, executive vice president and chief sales officer of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have discussed the FIFA bid with the mart, and they have been very supportive. I think it’s a wait-and-see thing right now.”

Vaughan also noted that a significant number of new hotel rooms will be added to the city’s inventory over the next eight years.

Dan Corso, president of the Atlanta Sports Council and chairman of Atlanta’s World Cup committee, said that if the dates do overlap that might require a “workaround” but wouldn’t preclude Atlanta from getting World Cup matches.

The North American bid also proposed Atlanta as a possible site of the World Cup’s international broadcast center, which the FIFA report said “could place additional pressure on the city’s room inventory.”

Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s artificial turf would have to be temporarily replaced with natural grass to host World Cup matches, but that isn’t seen as an issue. Almost half of the candidate stadiums – 11 of 23 – currently have artificial turf. All have committed to install real grass for the World Cup, according to FIFA.


It helps that no new stadiums will have to be built in North America for the event, but the costs of security, transportation and other requirements will be considerable in any host city.

“We’ve been told during the bid process it is on the level of (hosting) a Super Bowl,” Corso said last week. “We have not gotten into too much detail on that yet, but we will during this next phase of the process.”

If Atlanta hosts games, costs would be funded in part from a portion of the city’s hotel-motel tax that is designated for use in attracting major events, Corso said. The same tax will help fund Atlanta’s 2019 Super Bowl and 2020 Final Four.