NEW YORK — The 16 host cities of the first World Cup spread across three nations were revealed Thursday, and FIFA's president made a bold statement summing up the goal of the 2026 tournament, which will be played largely in the United States.
"By 2026, futbol — soccer — will be the No. 1 sport in this country," Gianni Infantino proclaimed.
Roughly four years before soccer's global showcase comes to the U.S., Mexico and Canada, there already were winners and losers Thursday: Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle and Kansas City, Missouri, were picked after missing out on hosting in 1994, the last time the quadrennial event came to North America.
Arlington, Texas; East Rutherford, New Jersey; Foxborough, Massachusetts; and Inglewood and Santa Clara, California, were the holdover areas from the World Cup that boosted soccer's prominence in the U.S. three decades ago.
Mexico City's Estadio Azteca, which hosted the 1970 and 1986 finals and will become the first stadium in three World Cups, was selected along with Guadalajara's Estadio Akron and Monterrey's Estadio BBVA in Mexico.
In Canada, Toronto's BMO Field and B.C. Place in Vancouver were picked while Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium was dropped.
Baltimore, Cincinnati, Denver, Nashville and Orlando, Florida, missed the cut among U.S. hopefuls for a World Cup that will expand the field from 32 teams to 48.
"We're disappointed. Anybody that knows me, I'm a pretty competitive SOB. I don't like losing," said Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper thanked the host committee that included the Tennessee Titans' president and CEO and both the owner and CEO of the Tennessee capital's MLS team, Nashville SC. Nashville's bid was centered around Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL's Titans.
"Not the news we wanted, but on to the next thing," Cooper said. "And it was quite an elite group of cities that they were picking from."
After the withdrawl of outmoded FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, Baltimore's omission means this will be the first World Cup with no matches in the vicinity of a host's capital, though Infantino promised a fan fest on Washington's National Mall.
"The story is always who doesn't get chosen," said Cindy Parlow Cone, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Atlanta's host site will be Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the NFL's Falcons and Atlanta United FC of MLS, with both teams and the venue owned by Arthur Blank.
"Atlanta is a soccer town, and we're excited to bring the game's best athletes to the world's best city," Mayor Andre Dickens said in a release on the stadium's website. "Atlanta has already been home to the Super Bowl and the Olympics, and through our strong collaboration with the state and our business community, we will welcome folks from all over the world to fill every seat in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2026."
Said Blank in the release: "This is an incredible opportunity for the city of Atlanta to continue to show the world what we have to offer. Our stadium was built to host world-class events, and we would be honored to continue that tradition in 2026 with the World Cup."
Infantino's goal of reaching the top of U.S. sports appears to be quite a reach. The NFL averaged 17.1 million viewers for television and digital outlets during its 2021 season, while the 2018 World Cup averaged 5.04 million in U.S. English- and Spanish-language television.
"I know it was giggles and laughs," Victor Montagliani, president of the Canada Soccer Association, said of the reaction to Infantino. "He wasn't joking."
The 1994 tournament set records with a 3.59 million total attendance and an average of 68,991. The capacities of the 11 U.S. stadiums for 2026 are all 60,000 or more.
"Will be much, much, much bigger," said Infantino, the 52-year-old Swiss-Italian elected in 2016. "I think this part of the world doesn't realize what will happen here in 2026. These three countries will be upside down. The world will be invading Canada, Mexico and the United States."
The bid plan envisioned 60 games in the U.S., including all from the quarterfinals on, and 10 each in Mexico and Canada.
Specific sites for each round will be announced later, and Infantino said worldwide television times were a factor for the final, which makes the Eastern and Central times zones more likely. FIFA has gradually moved back the kickoff time of the final from 3:30 p.m. Eastern to 10 a.m. for this year's tournament in Qatar, which is 10 p.m. in Beijing.
The U.S. selections included none of the nine stadiums used at the 1994 World Cup. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and Orlando's Camping World Stadium were the only ones remaining in contention, and they were among the sites dropped in the final round.
New stadiums were selected in five areas used in 1994. AT&T Stadium in Arlington replaced the Cotton Bowl in nearby Dallas, SoFi Stadium in Inglewood took over for Pasadena's Rose Bowl in the Los Angeles area, and it's Levi's Stadium instead of Stanford Stadium in the San Francisco area.
Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Masschusetts, replaced torn-down stadiums that were adjacent, Giants Stadium and Foxboro Stadium.
Orlando's Camping World was dropped among existing 1994 venues. The Detroit area, where the old Pontiac Silverdome hosted games, was cut in 2018 and Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium was dropped after FedEx Field dropped out. Washington's RFK Stadium was used in 1994.
Chicago, which hosted the 1994 opener at Soldier Field, refused to bid, citing FIFA's economic demands.
In contrast to the 1992 site announcement during a news conference, the 2026 announcement was made during a televised show from Fox's studio in Manhattan.