FIFA have released the host cities for the 2026 World Cup, where NFL stadiums will shape the play

Organisers unveiled the 16 venues for the tournament in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, with all 11 American stadiums home to NFL teams.

AT&T Stadium in Texas will be a feature stadium at the 2026 North America World Cup. Picture: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images
AT&T Stadium in Texas will be a feature stadium at the 2026 North America World Cup. Picture: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

As world soccer’s governing body announced the host cities for the 2026 World Cup on Thursday, it became clear that one force was shaping the tournament above all others—and it was the one that organises the other kind of football: the NFL.

Three years after FIFA pulled the joint bid by the U.S., Mexico, and Canada out of the envelope, it confirmed that all 11 of the American cities where games will be played are NFL buildings, including New York, Boston, Seattle and Los Angeles. The Washington, D.C. area and Nashville were among the more surprising markets to be shut out.

“All cities have done an amazing job,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said, “but we had to take decisions.”

Mexico and Nigeria showcased how the round ball game may look on AT&T Stadium in an international friendly last month. Picture: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images
Mexico and Nigeria showcased how the round ball game may look on AT&T Stadium in an international friendly last month. Picture: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

And those decisions were irrevocably shaped by the reach and financial might of NFL teams, whose owners have come to view welcoming World Cup games as a major prize.

FIFA didn’t announce which cities would receive knockout games, but the focus now will turn to jockeying for the final. Two venues in prime position, according to people familiar with FIFA’s thinking, are MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, home to the NFL’s Jets and Giants, and the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. Back when the three countries were bidding for the tournament, in 2019, the organising committee had proposed MetLife for the final and Dallas for one of the semis, along with Atlanta.

The inclusion of SoFi Stadium, the $5 billion palace built by Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke, came as a surprise to some insiders who predicted that issues with the size of the field could present issues, people familiar with the matter said. SoFi, perhaps the most opulent sports venue on the planet, will be the centrepiece of the Opening Ceremony for the 2028 Olympics and just hosted Kroenke’s own Rams when they won the Super Bowl.

SoFi Stadium in LA played host to the Super Bowl LVI in February. Picture: Focus on Sport/Getty Images
SoFi Stadium in LA played host to the Super Bowl LVI in February. Picture: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

But FIFA inspectors had some early concerns with SoFi, the people said. Among them was the pitch size. The venue, as it stands, is a touch too cramped to accommodate the FIFA-mandated footprint for a soccer field and array of installations that need to go around it at a World Cup, including camera positions and advertising displays. Making enough room could require millions of dollars’ worth of refurbishment—a task made more difficult by the unique design of the stadium, which is built inside a bowl below ground level.

Plans to retrofit the stadium to accommodate FIFA’s needs were ultimately hashed out and agreed upon by the two sides, another person familiar with the matter said.

Whether SoFi gets games late in the tournament is still a question—which may simply boil down to SoFi’s location on the West Coast. FIFA isn’t inclined to repeat the experiment of organising a World Cup final in the Pacific time zone, as it did with the men’s tournament in 1994 and the women’s event in 1999, which were both at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. For a global audience, FIFA would prefer not to go west of the Central time zone, according to people familiar with the organisation’s thinking.

Soldier Stadium was a key venue at the 1994 World Cup, playing host to the opening ceremony. Picture: Philippe Caron/Sygma via Getty Images
Soldier Stadium was a key venue at the 1994 World Cup, playing host to the opening ceremony. Picture: Philippe Caron/Sygma via Getty Images

That requirement would boost the case for Dallas—or, at least, not harm it. AT&T Stadium faces many of the same issues around pitch size as Kroenke’s project in California. But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones earned plenty of credit with organisers by promising to spend whatever was necessary to comply with FIFA’s requests.

The event couldn’t be any more different from the last time the tournament came to the U.S. in 1994. Back then, the World Cup was a 24-team event that required just nine venues. All nine were college or NFL stadiums, from Soldier Field in Chicago to the now demolished Silverdome near Detroit. To an extent, all the choices were obvious at a time when FIFA viewed the U.S. as an emerging market in the days before Major-league Soccer.

Three decades later, the U.S. isn’t just primed for soccer—it’s one of the world’s largest consumers of the sport. Networks pay top dollar for broadcast rights, European leagues have entered the mainstream of American sports, and MLS boasts 28 clubs. So hosting rights for 2026, with an expanded field of 48 teams, were hotly contested by markets with organic soccer followings.

MetLife Stadium plays host to the New York Giants and Jets in the NFL. Picture: Elsa/Getty Images
MetLife Stadium plays host to the New York Giants and Jets in the NFL. Picture: Elsa/Getty Images

The major cosmopolitan cities were back, but this time others that have embraced MLS were also in the hunt—the final list included Kansas City and Seattle. Others that made the cut included Houston, Miami, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Boston—at the New England Patriots’ stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

Outside the U.S., the tournament will also visit three cities in Mexico (Monterrey, Mexico City, and Guadalajara) and two in Canada (Vancouver and Toronto).

Miami, in particular, was far from a lock after people close to the process said that its bid left many officials unimpressed. Its presentation to the FIFA panel had none of the pizzazz the city is known for or the thoroughness of other candidate cities, according to several people in attendance.

Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca Stadium was one of three stadiums selected from Mexico. Picture: Hector Vivas/Getty Images
Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca Stadium was one of three stadiums selected from Mexico. Picture: Hector Vivas/Getty Images

The FIFA inspectors were initially stunned, those people said, since Miami has spent the past few years focused on making the city’s sports offering more global, driven in large part by the Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. In 2019, the Miami Open tennis tournament grew in stature with a move from Boca Raton to the Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. And this year, the venue was at the heart of a Formula One circuit for the inaugural Miami Grand Prix.

But when it came to the World Cup, Miami seemed to assume that it would get in almost automatically, on the basis of its large international population and its experience in hosting Super Bowls, people who saw the presentation said. As it turned, the city was right.

-The Wall Street Journal