Cincinnati’s effort to host 2026 World Cup matches ended in disappointment for Ohio leaders on Thursday when FIFA left Paul Brown Stadium off the final list of U.S. host sites.
Cincinnati was among 17 finalists for 10 U.S. host city spots. Canada and Mexico will host matches in three cities each.
Since last November, Cincinnati has hosted two U.S. Men’s National Team matches at TQL Stadium, home of FC Cincinnati of Major League Soccer. The Cincinnati Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium has more than twice the capacity of TQL, however, with over 60,000 seats.
Hamilton County had agreed to numerous upgrades to Paul Brown Stadium and found millions of dollars in private investment to satisfy FIFA’s requirements to host 2026 group stage matches.
Ultimately, the bid fell short. Kansas City won a bid and will be the lone Midwestern host site.
Hamilton County and Cincinnati made a strong pitch for Ohio
Cincinnati and Hamilton County political and corporate leaders spent years making a case for one of the coveted World Cup host city selections.
The 2026 Cincy Local Organizing Committee worked on the bid effort with FIFA for more than five years. FIFA visited Paul Brown Stadium in October for an official site visit to learn more about the region’s offerings.
“Cincinnati’s bid has been very inclusive, collaborative and innovative, led by the corporate community, government officials and experts in human rights areas,” Jackie Reau, a spokeswoman for the 2026 Cincy Local Organizing Committee, told PlayOhio.
A delegation of Cincinnati business leaders attended the Soccerex Americas conference in March to demonstrate the political and business support behind the region’s bid.
Hamilton County agreed to a number of updates and modifications to Paul Brown Stadium to satisfy FIFA, including removing corner seats to accommodate an international soccer field, which is slightly larger than an NFL playing field. Removing the seating and reinstalling it before the 2026 NFL season will cost around $5.9 million.
The county would also have replaced the artificial turf with natural grass for $4 million.
Quite a bit of the funding needed to lure FIFA to the region was promised by private entities, including sponsorships, corporate contributions, philanthropic contributions and funding from states. The county expected $35-$50 million to be generated for a fan fest, training facilities and legacy projects.
The CEOs from four of the region’s largest companies had been at the forefront of the effort, including P&G’s David Taylor, Ohio National’s Barbara Turner, Kroger’s Rodney McMullen and American Financial Group’s Carl H. Lindner III. Other members of the Cincinnati Business Committee and Cincinnati Regional Business Committee representing Cincinnati-area companies also supported the effort.
A missed economic opportunity
According to an economic impact study by the UC Economics Center, hosting the 2026 World Cup would have generated nearly $450 million in non-local visitor impact.
The study also found that approximately $20 million in tax revenue would have been created for state and local governments with $15.4 million resulting from sales tax revenue.
The event was expected to support more than 3,000 jobs in the area.
World Cup 2026 will be bigger than ever
The FIFA World Cup is the most prestigious soccer tournament and the most-watched sporting event in the world. FIFA expects 5 billion people around the world to watch this year’s World Cup, a much bigger audience than the 3.5 billion who tuned in to the 2018 edition in Russia.
The current format includes 32 teams competing in a group stage followed by the “knockout stage,” which is essentially a 16-team tournament to crown the champion. The 2026 World Cup will expand to include 48 teams, adding four more “groups” to the group stage.
Host nations automatically qualify for the World Cup. The United States Men’s National Team did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia after a disappointing showing during qualifying matches. But the USMNT have qualified for the 2022 World Cup and will get underway in the group stage against Wales on Nov. 21.
The USMNT have never won the World Cup. The team’s best finish was eighth in 2002.
The 2026 World Cup will be the first time three countries have co-hosted. The U.S. will host a total of 60 games, including the entire knockout round.
Which U.S. cities will host the 2026 World Cup?
The 2026 World Cup group stages will be played at the following 12 locations in the U.S.:
- Arlington, Texas (AT&T Stadium)
- Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)
- East Rutherford, New Jersey (MetLife Stadium)
- Foxborough, Massachusetts (Gillette Stadium)
- Houston (NRG Stadium)
- Inglewood, California (SoFi Stadium)
- Kansas City, Missouri (Arrowhead Stadium)
- Miami Gardens, Florida (Hard Rock Stadium)
- Pasadena, California (Rose Bowl)
- Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field)
- Santa Clara, California (Levi’s Stadium)
- Seattle (Lumen Field)