World Cup Host Cities: A Magnet for Meetings and Events

Skift Take

North American destinations are getting ready for the 2026 World Cup, and the investment they make in their cities can help attract meetings and events. 

North American destinations are getting ready for the 2026 World Cup, said city officials at a session titled “On the World Stage: Leveraging the 2026 FIFA World Cup Across North America and Beyond” at the Destinations International 2023 Annual Convention.

The 2026 World Cup will take place in 16 destinations in Mexico, U.S., and Canada. The U.S. will have 11 of the host destinations. 

FIFA has also expanded the number of teams playing from 32 to 48, increasing the number of matches destinations will host. Kansas City, for example, may potentially host eight or nine matches, instead of five to seven, said Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of Visit KC. The tournament will be held from June 11 to July 26, 2026, across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

U.S. destinations are raising money to host the games. “At this point, we’re all in revenue generator mode as we eagerly wait this fall to learn exactly how many matches we’ll be hosting,” Nelson said.

Plus, the biggest U.S. cities have their eyes on one big price: Hosting the final match. 

The contenders are most likely Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York’s surrounding area. Only three stadiums are large enough to host the final game, said NYC Tourism+Conventions President and CEO Fred Dixon. “It’s LA’s new SoFi Stadium, which is a nice shiny new object, the Cowboy Stadium, and MetLife in New Jersey,” he said.

FIFA is expected to release the match schedule and locations in September.

Eye on the Finals

More games can make up for not having the finals in terms of economic impact, but it won’t make up for the prestige. “Whether you fill it for 80,000 for the finals, or 80,000 for a semi or a quarter, the more games we get, the more economic impact ultimately,” said Dixon. “There’s still the prestige of getting the finals.”

The FIFA Fan Festival, a free watch party for the tournament to watch games in host cities, will bring large visitation and energize locals.  “We’ve proposed fan fests in every borough,” said Dixon. “We want every local to have access.”

New York City and New Jersey’s hosting committee needs to raise around $100 million between now and 2026, said Dixon.

Host cities will also get new attention.  “A lot of people may come to LA because of a major event, but it wasn’t on their list before, or maybe they weren’t thinking of it for meetings and conventions,” said Adam Burke, president and CEO of Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Breau.

No wonder destinations are hungry for the match schedule. “Right now, it’s a little bit sit and wait, but there’s a little poking and prodding, we all like to have a little fun in the sports world,” said Monica Paul, executive director of the Dallas Sports Commission.

A big difference for U.S. destinations will be how the event is paid for. When Russia and Qatar hosted the World Cup, their federal governments covered a large share of the costs. Canada has a sports ministry that supports its host destinations, said Jennifer Stoll, principal of Stoll Strategies and Sports ETA.

“A lot of times for international events, the federal governments of other countries pay for the majority of it, where that’s not the case here in the United States,” said Paul.

Politics Must be Navigated

Kansas City, which sits on the Missouri and Kansas state line, has to navigate politics. “We have two governors that we’re trying to appease and ask for money from, multiple mayors, multiple county administrations. Everyone has an agenda,” said Nelson. “It’s the most political hot button I’ve ever been around.”

Kansas City, which has never hosted a major event that needs a governing body in the city, formed a nonprofit called KC 2026 with an appointed board of directors and is hiring staff, said Nelson. Questions on who sits on the board and who votes have become political.

The 2026 World Cup is expected to generate $695 million of economic activity in Missouri. “People are going to be staying in hotels as far out as Columbia, this is going to boost the entire Western side of the state,” said Missouri Senator John Rizzo.  “This will provide a huge economic impact for Kansas City and a big economic impact to Missouri.”AT&T Stadium in Arlington will be hosting FIFA World Cup games and cities all across North Texas will benefit. “We planned for a week, but we’ve got 30 to 45 days straight of World Cup action going on,” said Paul.

Photo credit: Agustin Marcarian / REUTERS