(ATR) Baltimore, Maryland is the only one of the 17 U.S. cities bidding to host matches for the 2026 FIFA World Cup that does not have a major professional soccer team.
But Terry Hasseltine, president of the Baltimore-Maryland 2026 bid, tells Around the Rings that not having a Major League Soccer franchise could help the city win hosting rights.
"One of the things I believe is beneficial to FIFA is the bigger footprint that they could potentially leave on our market," Hasseltine says.
"The legacy could be major professional soccer landing in Baltimore, whether leading up to or leading out of hosting the World Cup. I think it gives them a little bit more flexibility with how they can address things within the Baltimore market, how we establish our legacy plan and our goals beyond ‘26."
The other 16 candidates in the running for the 10 U.S. host slots are: Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
All of the candidates, including Baltimore, plan to use venues that are primarily for American football, either at the professional or collegiate level.
Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium is home to the Ravens of the National Football League and, like almost all of the NFL stadiums being presented as venues, will have to undergo some modifications to host World Cup matches.
Hasseltine says that was one of the issues brought up by FIFA during workshop meetings earlier this month focused on technical aspects of the stadium, field of play, sightlines and infrastructure.
"Obviously we’re an NFL football stadium so how are we going to potentially raise the pitch to make it, as we like to call it, more table top than arched," he says.
The size of the soccer pitch is also larger than that of American football, which means that spectators in most NFL stadiums can’t see the corners of the pitch because the stands are too close to the field.
Hasseltine says that the bid team is exploring ways to improve the sightlines but that some of the problem can be solved by technology.
"The HD boards at our stadium are some of the biggest in the NFL so those who might not be able to see, their line of sight, will be able to see the boards at each end of the stadium," he tells ATR.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which was designed to host games for both the NFL and MLS, does not have any sightline issues. But like several other candidates, it also has an artificial rather than natural grass pitch which will need to replaced for the World Cup.
M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore is one of the venues with a natural grass field.
Baltimore is likely to score well in terms of transport, hotels and other local infrastructure. The tens of thousands of fans following their teams from city to city will be able to travel from the Baltimore airport to the stadium on light rail. The fanfest and the downtown Baltimore area would be walking distance from the stadium.
"I think our footprint from the fanfest connecting to the stadium atmosphere is unmatched in the United States. People can literally come in, check into Baltimore and never touch a vehicle the entire time they’re here," Hasseltine says.
The next round of meetings between FIFA and the bid cities is scheduled for late April and early May. Hasseltine says the agenda would likely include discussions on the costs involved in preparing the stadium to FIFA’s requirements as well as the cost structure tied to the rental agreement that FIFA would sign for use of the stadium.
The site visits are expected to take place between July and September, with the schedule dependent on what travel restrictions might be still in place due to the pandemic.
Though subject to FIFA approval, there is no competition for the host cities in Canada and Mexico. The 2026 co-hosts each have three venues and both have put forth only three candidates.
Mexico choseGuadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey while Canada went with Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto.
Montreal, however, faces a tougher road than the others after losing the financial support of the province of Quebec in January.
FIFA wants to finalize the 16 host cities by the end of the year.
The 2026 World Cup will be the first with 48 teams, 16 more than any previous tournament. Canada and Mexico will host 10 matches each, while the U.S. will host 60, including the quarterfinals, semifinals and final.
Homepage photo: Baltimore-Maryland 2026
Written and reported by Gerard Farek
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