“How proud are you today to be from Kansas City?” — Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas
Kansas City is sitting on top of the world – the World Cup 2026, that is. On Jun. 16, soccer’s international governing body, the Fédéral Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), named Kansas City as one of the event’s 11 US host cities, along with three in Mexico and two in Canada.
That announcement propelled the mayor’s exhortation to the crowd gathered at Kansas City Power & Light. But now a few big questions hang in the air. How to get Arrowhead Stadium up to par for the games? And more specifically, how much will that cost and exactly who will pay for it?
On Friday, Jun. 25, Mayor Lucas tweeted on social media that the stadium will require an estimated $50 million in improvements. “Look to an ask to the state on that in addition to private fundraising to fund that step,” the mayor tweeted.
The work necessary to bring Arrowhead Stadium’s GEHA Field up to snuff for World Cup 2026 includes raising and widening the field. Widening requires removing seats. Turnstiles also have to be added, not to mention improvements to infrastructure and to mass transit to handle the crowds.
2026 is four years away. By that time it’s hopeful Missouri sports betting will be available and offered legally to residents. And how much more fun would it be if you can attend a match and bet on a game?
Passing the bucks?
Following the announcement, Gov. Mike Parsons said it’s “way too early” to know if state leaders will be asked to foot the bill for upgrading the stadium. “We haven’t gotten into any of those preliminary discussions or anything like that.”
Jim Rowland, Executive Director of the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority (JCSCA, GEHA Field’s taxpayer-funded landlord), responded to a question of whether the JCSCA would be asked to pay for improvements, saying “the Authority would have no source of funds.”
At a meeting the same week, JCSCA board member Mark Bredemeier relayed the question people ask him most. “Who pays for [renovations] and who pays to restore it back to where it was?” Rowland replied, “Great question. Call Kathy Nelson of the Kansas City Sports Commission.”
He was referring to the president of the Kansas City Sports Commission and Visit KC. Nelson had set her sights on securing the World Cup host position along with the upcoming 2023 opening of the new Kansas City Airport terminal.
Shortly after the hosting announcement, she commented, “To see it all come together now is just bizarre, but it’s so fascinating and fantastic.” She hasn’t yet commented on any possible payment plan for the renovations, though.
Nelson did not attend an initial planning meeting with FIFA following the announcement. Other representatives from Kansas City Sports Commission and Visit KC, along with reps from the Chiefs, the City of Kansas City, and Sporting Kansas City did, however.
According to reports, Mayor Lucas’s $50 million estimate comes in low. Toronto will pay out some $290 million to get its playing field in compliance with FIFA standards for their 2026 participation.
Rowland says he assumes that before the next meeting, he’ll be able to provide “a detailed list of when things will happen, where they’ll happen, etc.”
A dollars-and-sensational opportunity
According to FOX4KC, in 2018 a combined 3.572 billion viewers watched the World Cup, and so this presents a chance to “transform Kansas City’s image” to the world.
In terms of dollars and cents, the benefits of hosting World Cup 2026 could prove enormous. One study found that host cities may see up to $620 million in incremental economic activity.
A press release put out by Missouri Senate Majority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence) boosts that estimate to $695 million. US Soccer’s estimates come in a little lower but still substantial at $90 million to $480 million.
Along with international exposure, hosting the World Cup brings international visitors. Rizzo told the Missouri Times that he expects those traveling soccer fans to stay in hotels “as far out as Columbia, providing a boost to the “entire Western side of the state.” That must come as welcome news to a hospitality industry still recovering from the pandemic.
“We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that will flow back into Missouri,” he said. And he’s expecting plenty of Kansas City residents to show up at the World Cup 2026 games as soccer grows in popularity in the area.
Kansas City’s National Women’s Soccer League plans to build the first stadium specifically intended for women’s soccer.
Hopefully, people in Kansas City will not experience the disruptive downsides that other host cities have seen. For example, in 1994, host city Chicago displaced citizens dwelling in homeless camps. Increased rents displaced many Brazilians in 2014 when the games were hosted there.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said:
“For me, it’s about how do we expand and spread opportunity better, rather than perhaps what you see in other cities, like moving unhoused populations or hiring a number of workers at poor pay levels.”
FIFA says “Oui!” to the Paris of the plains
The hosting victory for Kansas City follows what members of the Kansas City 2026 FIFA World Cup Bid Executive Committee have called “many late nights on the phone” trying to secure the deal. One of FIFA’s conditions for hosting is a tax-exempt status on ticket sales for state and local municipalities.
Rizzo proudly took credit for sponsoring Senate Bill 652 which allows the sales-tax exemption. He also acknowledged that bipartisanship played a part in the bill’s successful passage.
“I think if we had not passed the legislation, we wouldn’t have had the celebration we had…,” he told FOX4KC. Bid Director Katherine Holland echoed this sentiment, saying the fact that the legislature granted this tax-exempt status before the host city announcement “strongly supported our bid.”
The mayor pointed out that most of the revenue the city will see would come from things other than taxes on ticket sales, anyway, such as hotel and motel taxes. And dare we say, potentially sports betting.
Hosts with the most
Forty-eight teams will play in the 2026 World Cup, up from 32 in 1998. Besides Kansas City, hosting cities and their stadiums will include:
- Seattle, Lumen Field
- San Francisco, Levi’s Stadium
- Los Angeles, SoFi Stadium
- Dallas, AT&T Stadium
- Atlanta, Mercedes-Benz Stadium
- Houston, NRG Stadium
- Boston, Gillette Stadium
- Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field
- Miami, Hard Rock Stadium
- New York/New Jersey (East Rutherford, NJ), MetLife Stadium
- Guadalajara, Estadio Akron
- Monterrey, Estadio BBVA
- Mexico City, Estadio Azteca
- Vancouver, BC Place
- Toronto, BMO Field
This will be Arrowhead Stadium’s second facelift in the 2000s, having undergone a $375 million previous renovation in 2010. Arrowhead seats 76,416, making it the 27th largest US stadium and the sixth-largest NFL stadium.
The last word…for now
It’s not a surprise to witness a lot of celebration despite the financial uncertainty of preparing to host. Mayor Lucas foresees a “brand benefit” to hosting the event, saying this is an “opportunity to have Kansas City really on a distinguished list of cities in our country.”
“We have a lot of work to do over the next four years, but we will be the best damn hosts in the history of the world,” he declared. Or at least in the history of the World Cup, if he’s right.