Could Kansas City be a host city for the 2026 World Cup?
The official proposal to bring the 2026 World Cup to Kansas City is mostly complete. The pitches have been made, the evidence presented, the case best stated.
But as the wait for a determination stretches into 2020 or beyond, the examples of public perception march on. In that vein, international soccer powers FC Bayern Munich and AC Milan will play inside Children’s Mercy Park on Tuesday night as part of the International Champions Cup.
The match won’t be sold out. And that’s after moving into a venue significantly smaller than Arrowhead Stadium, the originally announced host.
With eyes watching, the final attendance numbers — expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000-16,000 — will leave a missed opportunity for Kansas City to cement its status as an elite soccer city.
But the lingering question is this: Should we be concerned about a lasting effect on the World Cup bid?
“Zero concern for me,” said Sporting KC president Jake Reid, who has been heavily involved in Kansas City’s bid. “I don’t think it should affect the World Cup at all. There’s a bunch of data sets that we talk about. Meaningful soccer games, we’ve sold out 95 percent of games — whether it’s Sporting KC, United States national team, it does great. And that’s what the World Cup is — competitive, meaningful games. You look at anything that’s not that category, it’s been a struggle.”
In a late-March press release announcing the game at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs mentioned the city’s World Cup bid, a joint effort between the Chiefs and Sporting KC, along with city entities. David Ficklin serves as the bid’s executive director, working on the project full-time.
Attendance history for the International Champions Cup suggested the Arrowhead Stadium site would be ambitious. The game was placed there because of the tie to Chiefs CEO and Chairman Clark Hunt, according to the press release. Hunt owns Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas, which enjoys a partnership with FC Bayern.
Those originally involved with the game saw an opportunity for Kansas City to market its soccer fan base. It won’t accomplish that, at least in terms of quantity. The bid committee’s hope is the history outweighs the latest example.
“We have an avalanche of positive stuff for the World Cup bid. Could this be deemed a minus? Certainly, it could be interpreted whatever way you want,” Reid said. “But I say pretty confidently I don’t worry about this impacting the bid.”
After a brief pause, Reid interrupted a follow-up question.
“By the way, that’s not posturing. I genuinely believe that,” he said. “Clearly, I’m in a biased seat to tell you that. I just think if you look at the data set of everything else, it will be impossible to say the death nail was this. That’s just not going to happen.
“We’ve got such a good, strong case for the bid. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re going to get the bid. There could be other reasons why. But this would not be one of them.”
Kansas City’s case for the World Cup often highlights several factors, notably its facilities, Sporting’s loyal following and aforementioned examples backing the sport. To that end, Sporting KC social channels promoted the city’s support for this summer’s women’s World Cup. Watch parties inside the Power & Light District aired on TVs across the country. Kansas City also ranked third in TV ratings for the tournament.
That would seem to bolster the case for receiving matches in 2026, when the United States, Canada and Mexico will host the men’s World Cup. On the other hand, how can the support for this year’s World Cup be considered a strength if Tuesday’s showing isn’t considered a whiff?
“My counter to that would be that if the watch parties was a one-off thing, no, it wouldn’t (be a significant factor),” Reid said. “But this goes back to my point of looking back at the last decade of data. We’ve always been a leading market on men’s and women’s World Cup. They’ve always had cut-ins for Kansas City. Always. I’d agree if this was a one-off and the only time we’d done it. But we have a history.”
Kansas City is one of 17 U.S. cities vying to host games in the 2026 World Cup. Those working on the bid believe it is in competition with Denver, Nashville and Cincinnati, with FIFA — the final decision-makers who will likely receive input form U.S. Soccer — unlikely to completely ignore the Midwest.
FIFA originally planned to release its final decisions in 2020, but that isn’t being viewed as a firm deadline.
“I feel better now than I’ve ever felt about the World Cup bid,” Reid said. “I know what some are saying about this game, but truly, I’m not worried about that at all. Being pubbed on national TV around the country during the women’s Word Cup certainly didn’t hurt our case, and couple that with the ratings. Part of this is about perception. That’s the World Cup. When we have a great response to it, that helps.”