Playing Around: What a World Cup in Baltimore Means for the Region
As the 2018 FIFA World Cup got underway in Russia, Baltimore was looking ahead at being a host city in 2026. At the start of this year’s tournament, FIFA announced that North America had won the bid for the 2026 games. In a joint bid by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, the U.S. will host 60 of the 80 games in the 2026 tournament.
While the cities have already been selected for both Canada and Mexico (three in each country), the U.S. has the task of narrowing down its 17-city list to just ten. Spread across the country, the west has Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver on the list, while the East Coast ranges from Boston to Miami and includes Baltimore. Competition is tight and the race is on, with American cities scrambling to get their bids finalized.
If Baltimore is selected to host, the games will be held at M&T Bank Stadium. And neither Baltimore nor M&T Bank Stadium are strangers to hosting soccer. In 2009, the first World Football Challenge was held here. The stadium was again selected as the venue for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which ultimately drew a crowd of almost 75,000 to watch its quarter finals doubleheader.
“Baltimore is well set-up as a destination to host World Cup activities,” said Terry Hasseltine, Executive Director of Maryland’s Sports Commission. “Our hospitality inventory in proximity to our stadium creates a winning sitemap that FIFA and our guests will truly appreciate.”
A 2014 Economy Watch report estimated that previous World Cups “would generate a positive economic impact of US $9 billion (2002); US $12 billion (2006); and US 5% billion (2010).” Prior to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, forecasters predicted that the economic impact of those games would range from US $3 billion to US $14 billion. And the 2018 games were reported as having had 98 percent of the stadiums sold out; three billion global viewers on TV; and seven million fans who visited the fan fests.
“To host the 2026 FIFA World Cup in Baltimore would be a major win for the city,” said Al Hutchinson, President & CEO of Visit Baltimore. “Not only would the international event drive economic impact to Baltimore City and the region, it would also showcase our special city and its rich sports history on an international stage.”
Yet with infrastructure costs increasing, the long-term economic benefits of hosting games continues to be debated. Preparation costs for the 2014 games were originally estimated to be $1.1 billion, but came in totaling $11.6 billion. And an estimated $14.2 billion was spent on the 2018 games—the most expensive World Cup in history.
Even so, the games draw global attention and dedicated fans the world over take part in the festivities, whether on the ground, watching in local venues, or following online. The images projected of a city, state, and country during the World Cup can be a way to create positive associations, as well as encourage continued tourism well after the games end.
“The visibility would be priceless and hopefully encourage more international and domestic visitors to come experience Charm City themselves,” said Hutchinson.