kAnsas City wasn’t a sure bet to be named as one of the host cities for the 2026 World Cup that day, but Kathy Nelson was confident enough to throw one of those big-screen parties at the trendy Power & Light District of the center when FIFA confirmed the options on June 16.
Nelson, the chairman of the Kansas City Sports Commission, felt that the city, despite being the 31st largest metropolitan area in the US, had made a strong offer. But FIFA had not leaked anything. When Kansas City was chosen, the crowd roared. She cried, a little.
“Seven years of work turned into 10 seconds of euphoria,” Nelson told The Guardian recently in his office.
Although Nelson says this was more of a US Midwest bid, Kansas City will be the smallest of 11 US metropolitan areas to host the World Cup. Kansas City beat Phoenix, Denver, Orlando, Cincinnati, and Nashville, among others, making this something of a sports upset.
“There is a natural chip on our shoulders for fans and sports teams in general,” Jake Reid, president of Sporting Kansas City, the city’s Major League Soccer franchise, told The Guardian. “They’re passionate, but there’s a bit of a David versus Goliath feeling here.”
Although, as the story goes, the late Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt was responsible for changing the name of the NFL championship to the Super Bowl after seeing his children play with a bouncing toy called the Super Ball, Kansas City has never been the host of the big game. itself.
The Chiefs won the Super Bowl two years ago, but it was their first NFL title in 50 years. Kansas City has had an NBA team, the Kings, and an NHL team, the Scouts, but neither was good enough to play for a championship before moving elsewhere in the 1970s.
The city’s major league baseball team, the Royals, won the World Series in 1985 and 2015, but the club, which has won just one division title in the last 36 years, seems destined for its seventh straight losing season already. another fire in August. sale of their best players.
What Kansas City did have, however, was the location, smack in the middle of the continental US, the so-called Heartland, no more than a four-hour flight from anywhere else for the 2026 World Cup. As Nelson said with a smile, “When you look at the map, oh, we stand out.”
But apparently there was much more. Kansas City really loves both types of football, football and association football.
The offer was a big deal here, joined by hundreds and co-chaired by Sporting Kansas City owner Cliff Illig and Clark Hunt, Lamar’s son and current Chiefs owner. Lamar Hunt, the soft-spoken Texas oilman who died in 2006, was passionate about football.
When Major League Soccer was formed in 1996, Hunt brought a team to Kansas City called the Wizards. The club was renamed Sporting Kansas City in 2011 and plays its home games to large crowds in a state-of-the-art, 18,000 capacity stadium.
When Hunt died, he owned MLS teams in Columbus and Dallas. The US Open Cup, the country’s largest domestic tournament, was named after Hunt in 1999.
When Hunt brought the Dallas Texans to Kansas City in 1963 and renamed them the Chiefs, he was influential in establishing the Kansas City area as a hotbed of youth soccer. The Heartland Soccer Association, with 30,000 players, is the largest such association in the US.
FC Kansas City was among the original eight members of the National Women’s Soccer League, winning two championships before folding in 2017. But the NWSL added an expansion team in 2021, now called the Current, which opened its own practice facility last year. past and will feature the league’s first women’s soccer-specific stadium, an 11,500-seat venue along the Missouri River.
“The beauty of football is that it’s not about your size, it’s about the size of your heart,” FIFA council member Victor Montagliani told a news conference after a tour of Kansas City last year. “The reality is that Kansas City obviously has a stadium and it’s in a city that’s crazy about the game.”
The actual infrastructure itself is being shored up. A new terminal will open at Kansas City International Airport next year, and ongoing highway and public transportation projects in the city should make it easier for thousands of international guests to get around.
Meanwhile, Kansas City and the Chiefs will play host to the 2023 NFL draft. Kansas City has long been a capital of college basketball: The NCAA champion Jayhawks play in Lawrence, Kansas, 45 miles to the west of Kansas City, and the Big 12 Tournament is played at the T-Mobile Center 15 in downtown. Kansas City.
The announcement was not so much a culmination as a green light to continue preparing. At least four World Cup games, and maybe five to seven, will be played at Arrowhead Stadium, the city’s 76,000-seat NFL facility.
But Many Other details remain. The schedule, not to mention the full field and pool pairings of the 48 participating countries, won’t be released until closer to 2026. Thus, Nelson and Katherine Holland, who led the team that put together Kansas City’s bid, they are not finished.
Almost immediately after the host cities were announced, the focus naturally shifted to the economic benefit to each metropolitan region. Such benefit is difficult to measure, but it is safe to say that the World Cup will bring millions of dollars to each host city.
“It will change Kansas City over the next four years and beyond,” Holland told The Guardian. “You can never pay for that kind of marketing exposure.”
FIFA will make most decisions from here, setting ticket prices and availability, for example. Many logistics of the sport’s most complicated tournament, “the nuts and bolts” as the Netherlands called them, will need to be worked out after the 2022 World Cup takes place in Qatar.
Seven of the top 10 US metropolitan areas will host the World Cup: New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Miami, but Kansas City also belongs. As Reid said, “We knew we had to set ourselves apart.” And Kansas City did.
“I don’t worry about filling up Arrowhead,” Holland said.
When the bid committee had to find two local celebrities to send a congratulatory video message for the draft pick, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Modern Family star Eric Stonestreet stepped in. (Jason Sudeikis, the star of Ted Lasso, was tied up.)
“Kansas City, we have the World Cup!” Mahomes said in his message. “The city will be seen in 2026. We can’t wait to welcome fans from around the world to the heart of America and the loudest stadium in the world. Let’s go!”
Nelson and Holland laughed as they told the story of hosting FIFA officials for a tour of the city and some of its facilities last October. The tour, of course, included lunch, and lunch, as is often the case in Kansas City, included their world-famous barbecue, this time from Joe’s.
The carne asada is best enjoyed outdoors on a paper plate with beans, coleslaw and cold beer, but at this lunch the barbecue was served to international visitors on china, with wine. Reflected was Kansas City’s past and near future. “It was beautiful,” Nelson said.