The U.S. will co-host the 2026 World Cup: Here's everything you need to know
MOSCOW -- The World Cup is coming back to North America.
The "United Bid" comprising Canada, Mexico and the United States prevailed in a vote against Morocco on Wednesday, and it represents something familiar and something unfamiliar. Familiar in that Mexico will be hosting the tournament for a record third time after hosting the 1970 and 1986 editions. Meanwhile, the vote marks the second time the U.S. has won the honour of hosting the tournament, and it was the highly successful 1994 World Cup that in part helped the Americans land the tournament this time. For something unfamiliar, you have Canada hosting the men's edition for the first time, though it has hosted other FIFA events, including the 2015 Women's World Cup.
What does it all mean? Let's try to fill in the blanks.
Q: When will the tournament be?
A: In all likelihood, the tournament will run from mid-June to mid-July, though given the increase in teams from 32 to 48 (more on that in a bit), the timeline for the tournament might be stretched a bit longer. Yes, that falls smack in the middle of summer, and those who recall the 1994 World Cup remember that a few games were played in searing heat. But with more indoor stadiums to pick from, the hope is that will be mitigated to a degree.
Q: How many teams will take part?
A: Barring a change of heart by FIFA as it relates to 2022, this will be the first World Cup to feature 48 teams. That decision might have actually aided the United Bid's cause, given that the three nations have a host of World Cup-ready stadiums to pick from, with more sure to be built. Morocco couldn't say the same.
Q: How will this impact World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF? Will the three hosts get spots automatically?
A: The expanded field will see CONCACAF get allocated six guaranteed slots with the possibility of more via a playoff. As for the question of whether three spots will be set aside for the hosts, that won't be decided until next year's FIFA Congress in Paris. But FIFA certainly seems to be leaning toward granting automatic spots to all three countries. Former U.S. Soccer Federation president and current FIFA Council member Sunil Gulati told ESPN FC colleague Sam Borden that he would "fully expect" that all three countries would get automatic bids.
Q: Why didn't the U.S. bid on its own?
A: Because the odds of winning the bid jointly were greater. Each country could have bid on its own, but a combined bid was viewed as a bid for the entire region, as opposed to one for an individual country. Had some combination of the U.S., Mexico and Canada bid, it might have fractured the vote within CONCACAF, bolstering the bid from another confederation.
Q: How much did the political climate impact the decision to bid jointly?
A: Even in the best of times, geopolitical considerations have an impact on a World Cup bid. That was true when the U.S. lost out on hosting the 2022 tournament when Barack Obama was president. It's also true now that Donald Trump is president. Simply put, there is plenty of anti-American sentiment around the world that would have hampered a U.S.-only bid. The inclusion of Canada and Mexico made the bid more palatable to voters.
Q: Has a World Cup ever been co-hosted?
A: Yes. Japan and South Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup, and while the tournament generally came off without any major glitches, it was very much a forced marriage. Both countries wanted to host the tournament, but the bids were so even that FIFA was loathe to select one over the other. FIFA hit upon a compromise, but one that was ultimately unsatisfying, so much so that afterward, FIFA swore it would never go for such an arrangement again. Then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter said having two host countries required twice as much effort in terms of organizing, which led to twice as much cost with no additional money heading FIFA's way.
The vibe of the United Bid was different in that from the beginning, the decision was made to join forces, and that helped sway voters.
Q: What's the breakdown of games by country?
A: The U.S. is hosting the bulk of the games: 60 out of 80 and every match from the quarterfinals on.
Q: Are Mexico and Canada OK with this?
A: There is some grumbling, for sure. Mexico in particular feels that given that it has hosted the tournament twice, it should get more games, but at present, this is the arrangement the three countries have agreed upon.
Q: What will be the expected crowds?
A: Really big. The 1994 edition of the tournament set records for total (3,587,538 fans) and average attendance (68,991 per match) that stand to this day. This is despite the fact that it was a 24-team tournament that contained just 52 games, as opposed to the 64 that have been played in each edition since. The larger stadiums in all three countries, as well as the additional games, should see those records shattered. The United Bid is projecting average crowds of 72,500 over the 80 games.
Q: How much money will the World Cup bring in?
A: The official bid book submitted by the United Bid touted $14 billion in revenues and $11 billion in profits for FIFA. Exactly how much of a cut the host countries will get isn't known exactly, and there has been some skepticism that the numbers listed in the bid book are inflated. But USSF president Carlos Cordeiro has said that he wants the USSF's annual budget to increase from $100 million to $500 million, and winning the bid was a major part of his plan for getting U.S. Soccer to that level.
Q: Where will the games be played?
A: Ultimately, there will be 16 host cities. For now, 23 host cities -- 17 in the U.S., three in Canada and three in Mexico -- have been selected. All three cities in both Canada and Mexico are likely to be chosen, which will leave the United States to pick 10 remaining cities from its preliminary list of 17. There appears to be some wiggle room, though. CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani said that his hometown of Vancouver -- which opted to take itself out of the running over concerns about, among other things, security costs -- might have a way back in. We'll see.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.