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Metro Denver loses out on playing host to 2026 North American World Cup games

Regional rivals Kansas City, Houston and Dallas trump the Mile High City 

John A. Babiak

What started as a high hopes morning for Colorado soccer fans end with deflated emotions yesterday afternoon when Denver learn that was not selected to be one of FIFA’s host cities for the 2026 World Cup Tournament, which will be played in both Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Denver’s compelling bid was displaced to even more attractive proposals from regional competitors- Kansas City, Missouri, Dallas, Texas and Houston, Texas.

In July of 2019, a coalition of representatives including Colorado Governor Jared Polis, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, and representatives of the Colorado Soccer Association, the Colorado Rapids, and the Denver Sports Commission hosted a press conference at the footsteps of Mile High Stadium to formally announce their collective intent to compete and sell the virtues of both greater Denver and Colorado as a whole to FIFA as one of the host cities for the future tournament.

Metro Denver has regularly hosted international soccer events at Mile High Stadium and Dick’s Sporting Good Park including friendly and competitive Concacaf games. In 2013, 2017 and 2019 Empower Field at Mile High admirably welcomed major soccer events, including Concacaf Gold Cup face-offs.

The 2019 Gold Cup tournament drew a crowd of more than 52,000, and led Concacaf’s Chief of Football Officer Manolo Zubiria to proactively comment- “Denver for us for the Gold Cup and for Concacaf it’s worked great... and if it works for the Gold Cup, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for the World Cup. He elaborated, “It’s more than just a stadium. It’s training facilities, hotels, airports, public transportation to get to venues, and the quality of the field, the stadium itself, and everything that it has to offer… not just in Denver, but everything nearby.”

In 2021, Denver played host to the inaugural Concacaf Nations League Finals to a rambunctious crowd in Mile High Stadium.

In early 2017, 41 cities across the United States, Mexico and Canada entered into the bidding process. The bids to host matches. with the selection committee cut the list down to 23 finalists including Denver and sixteen competitive US cities.

FIFA’s site inspection team conducted three rounds of visits to prospective host cities.

Denver, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Monterrey, Mexico, San Francisco, and Seattle were toured between October 21–November 1, 2021.

Going into 2022, it appeared that Denver had checked off all the boxes that the representatives sought from a foursome Mountain Time mid-America bid metropolises.

FIFA ultimately passed over Denver’s bid and selected 16 host communities- 11 in the U.S, three in Mexico, and two in Canada, including Denver’s nearest challenger- Kansas City.

After learning that Kansas City was selected, Kathy Nelson, President, and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission and Visit KC stated, “To be named a host city for not only the biggest single-sport event in history but as part of the most competitive selection process FIFA has ever facilitated is an incredible accomplishment for our city, our bid committee and everyone involved. She added, “This is an important milestone in our work to make Kansas City an international destination for sports tourism and I could not be more proud.” Kansas City boasts that it is the Soccer Capital of America. At least five games will be played in GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, home to the NFL Kansas City Chiefs.

Greater Kansas City’s soccer framework includes Arrowhead Stadium, MLS and NWSL’s Children’s Mercy Park, and the impressive soccer-specific Compass Minerals National Performance Center, a state-of-the-art complex that is employed by both U.S.Soccer and national amateur youth programs alike.

Yesterday, Denver’s bid team sponsored a FIFA 2026 World Cup city selection television viewing event near Coor’s Field. On hand was the co-chair of Denver’s bid committee and former president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, Bob Contiguglia. He was questioned by Colorado Public Radio if Denver’s public and private monies influenced FIFA’s decision-making process. Contiguglia said, “It may, I don’t know for sure, because I’m not FIFA. The economics of the World Cup are important to FIFA and whether or not that played a role, I don’t know.”

According to an extensive research report published by 42Floors Inc [ ] in February 2022 concerning the strengths and weaknesses of each potential host city ability to meet FIFA’s Selection criteria- public transportation use, hotel rooms, distance to venues from airport and airport volume, broadcasting capabilities, potential fan fest venues, stadium capacity, and team training facilities, Denver ranked 4th out of the 17 potential host cities.

Only Los Angeles, New York/New Jersey and Dallas topped Denver.

It is estimated that the host cities can expect up to $360 million in economic impact as a result of the World Cup.

Regrettably, Denver will miss out on a slice of those revenues. More so, Colorado’s ravenous soccer fans will miss a golden opportunity to watch 2026’s world’s best soccer teams play in the Mile High City.

During his interview with Colorado Public Radio, Colorado Rapids head coach Robin Fraser summed up the sentiments of thousands of passionate soccer fans in Colorado. “I’m so disappointed. And I feel like it would’ve been an ideal place, and I look at some of the other cities and I would say no disrespect to the other cities, but Denver is one of the greatest cities in this country, I think. Fraser continued, “And to not have the opportunity to have a World Cup come here, I think is incredibly disappointing.”