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How Kansas City became the 2026 World Cup’s most unlikely host city

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Photo: USA Today Sports

It is unlikely that Kansas City was named one of the 2026 World Cup host citiesbut Kathy Nelson was confident enough to host one of those big-screen parties in downtown’s trendy Power & Light District when FIFA confirmed the choice on June 16.

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Nelson, president of the Kansas City Athletic Commission, believes the city, despite being the 31st largest metropolitan area in the US, made a strong offer. But FIFA didn’t leak anything. When Kansas City was chosen the crowd roared. She cried, a little.

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“Seven years of work turned into 10 seconds of delight,” Nelson told The Guardian recently in her office.

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Although Nelson says it was more of a midwestern bid, Kansas City will be the smallest of the 11 American metropolitan areas to host the World Cup. Kansas City beat Phoenix, Denver, Orlando, Cincinnati, and Nashville among others, making it somewhat of a sports upset.

“We have the natural support of fans and sports teams on our shoulders,” Jake Reid, president of Sporting Kansas City, the city’s Major League Soccer team, told The Guardian. “They are passionate, but there is something like David against Goliath here.”

Despite the fact that, as the story goes, the late owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, Lamar Hunt, was responsible for renaming the NFL championship to the Super Bowl after seeing his kids play with an inflatable toy called the Superball, Kansas City never hosted the big game. myself.

Connected: 2026 FIFA World Cup: Host city reveals vast and lucrative case

The Chiefs won the Super Bowl two years ago, but it was their first NFL title in 50 years. Kansas City had an NBA team, the Kings, and an NHL team, the Scouts, but neither were good enough to play for the championship before they moved 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 only one division title in the past 36 years, looks doomed to a seventh straight losing season and another August fire. selling their best players.

What Kansas City did have was a location in the middle of the US mainland, in the so-called Heartland, no more than a four-hour flight to any other 2026 FIFA World Cup venue. As Nelson said with a smile: “If you look at the map, we stand out.”

But apparently there was much more. Kansas City really loves both types of football, American and football.

The bid was a big deal here, hundreds joined, and was co-chaired by Sporting Kansas City owner Cliff Illig and Clark Hunt, Lamar’s son and current owner of the Chiefs. Lamar Hunt, the quiet Texas oilman who died in 2006, was an avid soccer fan.

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 in front of large crowds in a state-of-the-art 18,000-seat stadium.

When Hunt died, he owned MLS teams in Columbus and Dallas. The US Open Cup, the nation’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 turning the Kansas City area into a hotbed of youth football. With 30,000 players, the Heartland Football Association is the largest such association in the United States.

Kansas City FC was one of eight original members of the National Women’s Football League, winning two championships before folding in 2017. But in 2021, the NWSL added an expansion team now called the Current, which last year was the league’s first 11,500-seat women’s football stadium 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 said at a press conference following last year’s Kansas City tour. “The reality is Kansas City obviously has a stadium and it’s in a city that’s crazy about the game.”

The actual infrastructure itself is being strengthened. A new terminal at Kansas City International Airport is due to open next year, and ongoing highway and public transit projects in the city should ease the movement of thousands of international visitors.

Kansas City and the Chiefs, meanwhile, will accept the 2023 NFL Draft. Kansas City has long been the capital of college basketball, with the NCAA champion Jayhawks playing in Lawrence, Kansas, 45 miles west of Kansas City, and the Big 12 tournament being held at the 15-year-old T-Mobile Center downtown. Kansas City.

The announcement was not so much a climax as it was a green light to continue preparations. At least four World Cup games – possibly five to seven – must be played at Arrowhead Stadium, the city’s 76,000-seat NFL stadium.

But a lot of other details remain. The schedule, not to mention the full courses and group pairs of the 48 participating countries, will not be published closer to 2026. So Nelson and Katherine Holland, who led the team that made Kansas City’s bid, weren’t done yet.

Almost immediately after the announcement of the host cities, attention naturally shifted to the economic benefits for each metropolis. Such a boon is hard to measure, but it’s safe to say that the World Cup will bring millions of dollars to every host city.

“This will change Kansas City for the next four years and beyond,” Holland told The Guardian. “You can never pay for this type of marketing exposure.”

From here, FIFA will make most decisions, such as setting ticket prices and availability. Many of the logistics of the toughest tournament in sports, the “nuts and bolts” as Holland called them, will need to be worked out after the 2022 World Cup takes place in Qatar.

Seven of the top 10 U.S. metropolitan areas will host the World Cup — New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Miami — but Kansas City belongs too. As Reid said, “We knew we had to stand out.” And Kansas City did it.

“I’m not worried about filling Arrowhead,” Holland said.

When the bidding committee had to find two local celebrities to provide video congratulations for the elimination show, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Modern Family star Eric Stonestreet performed. (Jason Sudeikis, star of Ted Lasso, has been linked.)

“Kansas City, we have the World Cup!” Mahomes said in his message.. The city will open in 2026. We can’t wait to welcome fans from all over the world to the heart of America and the loudest stadium in the world. Let’s go to!”

Nelson and Holland burst out laughing as they told the story of hosting FIFA representatives last October for a tour of the city and some of its facilities. The tour included lunch, of course, and lunch, as is often the case in Kansas City, included a world-famous BBQ, this time from Joe’s.

Grilled meats are best enjoyed outside on a paper plate with beans, coleslaw and cold beer, but at this dinner, barbecue for foreign guests was served on china with wine. Kansas City’s past and its immediate future were reflected. “It was wonderful,” Nelson said.


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