Brace yourself, South Florida, for the longest, wildest, most global party this area has ever seen. FIFA, the world soccer governing body, announced on Thursday the long-awaited list of cities and venues that will host the 2026 World Cup, which is being held in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. As expected, Miami and Hard Rock Stadium made the cut. Miami was one of 11 U.S. cities to make the list along with Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, and New York/New Jersey.
A spirited crowd of fans and elected officials packed popular soccer pub Fritz & Franz Bierhaus in Coral Gables - a venue that has often been a hot spot for soccer watch parties - to watch the televised announcement on big screens. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, and Rolando Aedo, Chief Operating Officer of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau were among the dignitaries in attendance.
South Florida is known for its soccer-savvy fans, many of them immigrants from Latin America, Europe and the Caribbean, so landing a World Cup bid is huge news. Longtime local soccer promoter and former Miami Toros and Fort Lauderdale Strikers player Tommy Mulroy has been waiting decades for this moment. He was part of the 1994 failed Miami bid and was jubilant on Thursday.
“This is a long time coming,” Mulroy said, as fans chanted and rang cowbells in the background. “We fit every criteria. It’s a bicycle kick every criteria for us. It’s time and we’re going to do a great job. In 1994 people here didn’t know what a World Cup was. I had to convince people they would sell tickets. Even now, people think it’s another Super Bowl coming, but it’s so much bigger. I anticipate we’ll have five games and each game will bring a whole new group of tourists.” Miami is used to big sporting events, having hosted 11 Super Bowls – six at Hard Rock Stadium and five at the Orange Bowl -- but never has South Florida had an opportunity to reach a larger audience.
The 2022 Super Bowl drew a T.V. audience of 208 million. The 2018 World Cup from Russia had a combined 3.57 billion viewers, nearly half of the global population aged four and over. The final between France and Croatia was watched by 1.12 billion viewers, and over the 64 matches, the average live audience was 191 million. The 2026 World Cup field is expanded to 48 teams, which means there will be 80 matches. Sixty of the games are expected to be played in the United States and 10 each in Canada and Mexico. Canada has games in Vancouver and Toronto while Mexican cities are Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City, where Azteca Stadium hosted two World Cup finals. Each U.S. city’s bid committee was told to prepare for as many as six games, but they will not find out how many games they will host until next year. Miami committee members will meet with FIFA officials in New York City early next week, but no decisions on schedule or other details will be made until after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which is being held in November and December.
“This is a generational opportunity,” said Suarez, who was wearing an Inter Miami jersey. “The U.S. hasn’t had a World Cup since 1994, and in those 30 years, Miami has become a dynamic, global city. All the people who live here from all the countries will be rooting for their teams. A lot of hard work was done by a lot of people to make this happen. I feel like I played a game, I am all sweaty.” FIFA evaluated the proposed sites based on a complicated point system that included stadium (35 percent), Airport/transport/mobility (13 percent), estimated revenue from tickets/hospitality packages (10 percent), estimated revenue from media/marketing rights (10 percent), predicted organizing costs (10 percent), proposed international broadcast center (7 percent), accommodations (6 percent), team/referee facilities (6 percent), proposed FIFA Fan Fest locations (3 percent). Miami’s bid committee built a strong case to check the boxes.
Hard Rock Stadium (capacity: 67,518) is not as big as Dallas’ AT&T Stadium, L.A.’s SoFi Stadium, New York/New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium or Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium but it is one of the nation’s premier soccer venues.
It was built to FIFA specifications by original Dolphins owner Joe Robbie, a diehard soccer fan who also owned the Miami Toros and Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The grass field is world-class, fan areas are covered, and the stadium was renovated by current Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to resemble a European soccer venue. The Miami Gardens stadium has drawn sellout crowds for international matches involving marquee European clubs FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich, and national teams from South America. Hard Rock Stadium also has a reputation for hosting global sporting events, including the Miami Open tennis tournament, and, most recently, the Miami Grand Prix Formula One race. Miami was not a host city for the 1994 Cup because of schedule conflicts with the Marlins, who played at the stadium at the time.
As for airports, Miami International rates high for accessibility. It recently became the busiest U.S. gateway for international passengers, according to 2021 airport rankings published by Airports Council International (ACI). MIA welcomed more than 13 million international passengers in 2021, moving it from 2nd place in 2020 to the top ranking in the U.S. and 11th place in the world. World Cup teams can train at FIU, home of the USL’s Miami FC; Barry University, which has hosted training for the U.S. national team and big-name clubs; the Dolphins’ new training facility adjacent to the stadium; and Inter Miami’s soccer complex in Fort Lauderdale, which features eight full fields, a 50,000-square foot training facility and the 18,000-seat DRV PNK Stadium. If all goes as planned, Inter Miami’s Freedom Park Stadium in Miami will be ready in time for 2026 and could be used in some capacity. Inter Miami co-owner Jorge Mas, wearing a team scarf, said he hopes the area can host six games at Hard Rock Stadium, plus pre-tournament games at Freedom Park, and also be the home base for at least two national teams. Lummus Park, the Miami Beach Convention Center and Bayfront Park in Downtown Miami are the proposed Fan Fest sites. “It was very unified,” Levine Cava said of the bid. “We worked across all the cities, and we put this bid together, obviously with the Dolphins, Hard Rock and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, unifying across our cities as well. We are a natural fanbase. We have the strongest soccer presence in the country, we’re the capital of Latin America, and it’s going to create new opportunities to grow the sport here.”
Aedo added: “We have been working on this since 2017, and until 8 o’clock Wednesday night we were working on this deal. It’s historic and the benefits start today. We’re going to have a series of events leading up to game day over the next four years so as a tourism office we are ecstatic.” The cities that did not make the cut were: Edmonton, Nashville, Orlando, Baltimore/Washington D.C., Cincinnati, and Denver.