Kansas City will host World Cup soccer matches in 2026

Fans celebrate at Kansas City's Power & Light District on Thursday after FIFA announced Kansas City is one of the cities selected to host 2026 World Cup matches. Photo credit Grace Logan.

By Greg Echlin 

Kansas City will host World Cup tournament soccer matches in 2026, FIFA announced Thursday afternoon.

Kansas City is among 16 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico that will host matches in the world’s biggest singular-sports event. It will be the biggest sports event ever in the Kansas City area.

“The city is going to show out in 2026,” Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said in a pre-recorded message that accompanied FIFA’s announcement. “We can’t wait to welcome fans from across the globe to the heart of America and to the world’s loudest stadium.”

FIFA officials said 2026 will be the first time three countries host the World Cup. The other U.S. cities are Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle. In Mexico, host cities are Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey. In Canada, Toronto and Vancouver will host.

In a newly expanded format, the total of 48 teams and 80 matches will be the largest FIFA World Cup in history, FIFA officials said.

Though the teams and dates for 2026 have yet to be determined, the tournament is expected to have an enormous economic impact on the Kansas City region when it takes place, most likely in the month of July.

“We definitely presented the best argument for Kansas City,” said Jeff Sittner, Burns & McDonnell’s project manager for global facilities, who worked with the city’s organizing committee for more than two years to create a unique experience when the FIFA delegation visited Kansas City in October 2021.

Arrowhead Stadium hasn’t hosted a soccer match since 2015, when the national teams from Mexico and Paraguay squared off in a friendly match. But when FIFA delegates arrived in the fall, a team from Burns & McDonnell greeted them with Oculus headgear designed to give them a 3-D virtual reality look into Arrowhead in 2026.

When the FIFA committee members donned the headgear, they saw a soccer pitch image from an end zone view at Arrowhead. Because a soccer pitch is wider than an NFL football field, some lower bowl grandstand seats would be temporarily removed from one side.

“I think the Oculus and the presentation definitely is a wow factor,” Sittner said.

Through his 25 years in the sports venues design business, Sittner has worked with FIFA before. But he had never given FIFA a virtual reality picture of what was going to happen in the future.

“It was definitely the first time that FIFA has been presented concepts in this manner,” said Sittner. “They were very complimentary about that.”

A fan reacts to the announcement that Kansas City will be one of 16 North American cities to host matches in the 2026 World Cup. Photo credit Grace Logan.

The presentation required some last-minute adjustments after the delay of a meeting that was scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. with an Oculus device that was sensitive to sunlight. It didn’t start until two hours later.

“By that time, as you can imagine, the sun was changing positions we had set up on the field,” said Sittner. “It was starting to get rather warm. We moved from the field up to the press box. We tried to in advance (know) where they’re going to be and prepare for when they were going to see the VR. Our team was scrambling to put them in the right position.”

On Sunday, representatives of the Chiefs, Sporting Kansas City, the Kansas City Sports Commission and the Visit KC bureau will travel to New York for a series of FIFA workshops and meetings. FIFA is expected to relay a business model for each host city to follow during the next four years leading up to the 2026 matches.

More celebration at Kansas City Power & Light District on Thursday. Photo credit Grace Logan.

In each of the U.S. cities, the venue will be an NFL football stadium, and some investments will be necessary to bring the stadiums up to FIFA standards.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said the World Cup’s economic impact would make it worth the investment.

“This is definitely something which is a fair compromise taking into the interest of the sport, the interest of the host countries,” he said. “I think working together, everyone can benefit.”

“Modifying existing stadiums certainly come with its own set of challenges,” said Kansas City bid director Katherine Holland. “But at least you’ve got the infrastructure there from which to work and that’s been a lot of the conversation that we’ve engaged with them (FIFA) during the bid process, insuring them that Arrowhead can support these modifications.”

Sittner, of Burns & McDonnell, was also confident of Kansas City’s ability to create the reality he showed FIFI officials on Oculus.

“When you consider what we’ve done when the Royals won the World Series, when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, all those events and the NFL Draft coming to Kansas City,” he said, “there is a team of people that do an amazing job to make sure that people who attend those events have no idea how complicated and how much energy goes into it.”

Jackson County Executive Frank White said the World Cup could be the most glorious event to take place in Kansas City.

“I really feel like if everybody steps up and puts their best foot forward, we can make this happen,” he said.

KCUR 89.3 is Kansas City’s NPR affiliate public radio station. You can read and listen to more of their reporting at kcur.org.