A global spotlight will once again shine in Seattle when the city learned Thursday that it was selected to host the FIFA Men’s World Cup matches in 2026.
Soccer’s governing body made the announcement during a live broadcast from New York City. Seattle is one of 11 US cities, and 16 in all, that will serve as venues for the revamped 48-team tournament that also includes matches in Canada and Mexico.
“We are going to show that this is a great soccer city; it’s a great international city,” said Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. “But for me, it goes beyond sports. It has to do with the attitude of the city. We will show the world that we have a great attitude here in this city.”
Seattle and Vancouver, BC are the only host cities in the Pacific Northwest. The number of games and at what stage of the tournament they will be played here during the summer of 2023 is expected to be announced, but the Northwest is likely to host two sets of pool games with the possibility of one or two knockout-round games, according with the presentation of the North American bid committee.
Having three countries host the tournament is a first for FIFA. The event, which attracts billions worldwide, will take place in the summer of 2026 with the final scheduled for July 12.
FIFA’s selection committee visited Seattle last fall to assess its potential as host. A bid committee called SEA 2026 submitted the region and pledged to ensure the site is inclusive around factors such as accessibility and sustainability.
The local committee has spent the past five years organizing his bid in part because of what representatives believe will be a major economic boost for Seattle. The North American bid committee estimated that the host cities will combine to generate more than $5 billion in economic activity in the short term, which could break down to $480 million per city.
The last mega sporting event Seattle played a part in was the 1990 Goodwill Games. About 2,300 athletes from 54 countries competed in 21 sports across the state. Funded by Ted Turner, who had already organized a failed Games in Moscow in 1986, it lost $44 million on the 1990 event because the expected crowds did not turn out, according to HistoryLink.org.
During the broadcast announcing the host cities, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said that soccer would be the biggest sport in the US when the winner of the 2026 World Cup was crowned. Thursday at the SEA 2026 Public Celebration at Waterfront Park.
Music blared from the stage as hundreds of people mingled, some wearing football jerseys, and dined on free meals from food trucks or played on a Sounders-built mini-pitch. A crowd of civic and sports leaders attended. Governor Jay Inslee was joined by King Dow County Executive Constantine and Harrell among the speakers.
“We have work to do to catch up,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of the sport that dwarfs the NFL in popularity. “It will certainly propel us towards bigger and better things.
“The World Cup, what it did for us in 1994, launched MLS a couple of years later. The sheer volume of people, money, everything that’s being thrown into this, it’s a really huge event. The Super Bowl is probably the biggest business in the United States, this will match it for sure, and then you have that Super Bowl in multiple cities.”
The Sounders announced plans for their first headquarters, at Longacres in Renton, which was office space for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. While the Sounders will retain the original building, land will need to be cleared for four fields, two with natural grass, and are expected to open in January 2024.
FIFA requires turf for tournament matches. When the Washington Public Stadium Authority bill (Referendum 48) was passed in 1997 to build what is now Lumen Field, provision was made for grass to be installed. The Sounders play on artificial turf, but the grounds were prepared for the Copa America in 2016 and talks are already underway between stadium officials and FIFA to seed grass by January 2026 at the earliest.
“The stadium was built for this,” said Zach Hensley, Lumen Field’s vice president of operations and general manager. “We will make a lot of infrastructure changes for FIFA; one will be the installation of natural grass.
“We will install it natively; it will not be installed on grass. There are other specifications that FIFA requires you to do, such as buying grow lights and other infrastructure under the turf. It is a great process. And most likely there will be some time before the World Cup where there can’t be any activity around it, we’re not sure exactly what those times are at the moment.”
Hensley is part of a five-person group that will travel to New York this weekend to meet with FIFA and the other host cities of the 2026 World Cup.
The next public event will be a FanFest at Pier 62 and World Cup viewing parties in Qatar.
“There is no exhalation,” said Maya Mendoza-Exstrom, Sounders director of external affairs operations, who will travel to New York. “The good thing is that they are the same people at the table. This sports community, this business community and government leaders, we’re all working on these things, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Seattle was not selected when the World Cup was last held in the US in 1994. Nearly three decades later, the 2026 event will be the biggest sporting event Seattle has ever hosted.
Seattle hosted five NCAA Men’s Final Fours, the first in 1949. The NBA (1974, 1987), WNBA (2017), and MLB (1979, 2001) all held their All-Star Games in the city, while the 2018 Seattle USA Special Olympics Games. Regionally, the 1998 PGA Championship was at the Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, the 2002 NEC World Championship in Sahalee, and the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay in University Place.
“In 1994, we just weren’t there as a host city,” said Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer. “But 28 years has changed this city a lot. Industry, arts, infrastructure and thought leadership – there are so many areas where this area has become a leader nationally, in North America and in some cases globally, not to mention an amazing soccer city .
“All of that together, in hindsight, made this [World Cup selection] It was a no-brainer, but it definitely didn’t feel like a no-brainer at 2:14 p.m. when I was watching it on TV.”
Hanauer, a Seattle native who grew up playing soccer, was thrilled once he saw “Seattle” on the screen, proclaiming it the host city.
“It was harrowing and emotional,” Hanauer said. “I came downstairs with tears in my eyes and my girlfriend said, ‘Are your allergies bothering you?’ No, 20 years of working towards this, no, I’m excited.”