Kansas City’s streetcars have been adorned in special “Bring the World Cup to Kansas City” wrap.
Last August, ahead of a U.S. Women’s National Team game in Kansas City, superstar Alex Morgan saw a huge “We want the World Cup” banner hanging from a downtown building and shared the image on her social media accounts.
“If that doesn’t say that this city is full of soccer fans, I don’t know what does,” Morgan said.
Kansas City’s quest to play host to World Cup matches in 2026 started more than a decade ago, when the three North American countries — the U.S., Canada and Mexico — announced their plan to bid jointly for the 2026 World Cup.
Kansas City, with a decent track record of attracting national sports events — the NFL Draft comes here next year — wanted in from the start. Conversations between Sporting KC, the Chiefs and city officials started in 2015 as the U.S. began planning its bid.
By 2017, a year before FIFA awarded the 2026 World Cup, 32 U.S. cities had submitted bids to take part as hosts. The list went through a series of cuts and withdrawals; Chicago pulled out citing financial concerns, for instance, but Kansas City continued to advance in the process.
That came as no surprise to Sporting Kansas City star Graham Zusi.
“With Kansas Citians, their knowledge of the game has grown so much, they absolutely understand the impact the World Cup here would have,” he said. “And Kansas City’s infrastructure as grown so much in recent years … throw in the Midwest hospitality and what this part of the country is all about. I think about the way Kansas City (supports) soccer. Multiply that by 100 if you’re hosting a World Cup.”
When FIFA officials came to Kansas City late last year, they met with Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Kansas Lt. Gov. David Toland, as well as mayors of cities from both states. With hotel rooms needed not only throughout the Kansas City metro but also an extended radius around KC — remember that notion of playing games in Missouri (at Arrowhead) and training in Kansas (at the Compass Minerals center in KCK)? — regional cooperation wasn’t just desired, it was required.
“It speaks to our market that we’re collaborative and used to working together on these big proposals,” said Katherine Fox, director of the KC2026 FIFA World Cup Bid group.
The financial rewards for hosting the event would be unlike any revenue Kansas City has realized for a sporting event. Big-time games, such as those during the World Series and NFL playoffs, don’t add new, incremental spending as much as they reallocate it — the number of visitors for those events isn’t all that substantial.
The World Cup is in another league, figuratively speaking, altogether. Fans arrive from home nations near and far to possibly spend weeks in town.
Consider the Americans’ experience at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where the U.S. team included Zusi and Sporting KC teammate and Overland Park native Matt Besler.
The team lodged and trained in Sao Paulo and played four games in four different cities, “and every game we played felt and sounded like a pro-U.S. crowd,” Zusi said. That’s because Americans purchased more than 150,000 tickets for the games, a figure second only to the number scooped up by host nation Brazil.
For the 2018 World Cup in Russia, 72,000 tickets were sold to Brazilians, and more than 60,000 each to fans from Colombia and Mexico.
When Honduras qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, then 23-year-old Roger Espinoza — now 35 and another longtime Sporting Kansas City veteran — marveled at his nation’s travel contingent.
“We must of have had 15,000 fans there,” said Espinoza, in his 13th season with Sporting KC. “Fans never know when they’ll see their team again on the World Cup stage. The fans who have money will go. Some will go without tickets. They just want to be there.
“You always want to do well because people will give their life’s savings to come watch us.”