Bay Area business leaders, mayors, and the 49ers are lining up to woo a group of FIFA representatives who are coming to visit this weekend to scope out Levi's Stadium as a potential host arena for the 2026 World Cup.
As you may have heard, all of North America — the U.S. along with Mexico and Canada — were selected to host the quadrennial soccer tournament in 2026, marking the first time that the World Cup has been hosted by more than two countries at once. The three countries submitted a joint bid to host back in 2017 and the only other country that bid was Morocco, and the North American bid was chosen in 2018. (Under rules established in 2016, the tournament has to keep moving around the globe, and therefore Europe and Asia were out of the running for 2026, with Russia and Qatar serving as hosts in 2018 and 2022 respectively.)
In total, FIFA plans to select 16 cities to host matches, which will be occurring from June 8 to July 3, 2026. And the San Francisco Bay Area has a pretty good shot at being one of them, given only 22 cities are putting in bids. As the SF Business Times reports, the other U.S. cities in the running are Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, New York/ New Jersey, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Atlanta, Nashville, Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas, Miami, Orlando, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Houston. Only two cities in Canada are putting in bids, Toronto and Edmonton. And in Mexico, three cities are vying to be hosts: Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara.
Out of the 80 matches set to be played, there will be 10 each in Canada and Mexico, and 60 across the U.S. And each match is expected to draw at least 60,000 fans.
FIFA leaders are landing in the Bay Area on Friday, after visiting Kansas City and Cincinnati last week, Dallas on Saturday and Sunday, and then Houston and Denver on Monday. And there to greet them will be the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland, along with the 49ers brass, and execs from Levi Strauss & Co., Visa, Google/Alphabet, Lyft, SAP SE, Salesforce, Airbnb, and Peet's Coffee & Tea.
"The 49ers have been proud stewards of the Bay Area for decades, and we’ve seen time after time how one of the most diverse regions in the world gets excited about major sporting events," said 49ers President Al Guido in a statement. "The excitement and community spirit unique to the Bay Area has been directed at soccer for generations, going back to the FIFA World Cup matches the area hosted in 1994 and 1999, which were a huge success."
Guido continued, "There's no doubt in my mind the 2026 FIFA World Cup would inspire an even bigger response, and we're honored to be leading the Bay Area's bid to host this exciting, crowd-drawing event."
Guido is serving as president of the World Cup bidding body, called the Bay Area 2026 Board.
"Hosting the FIFA World Cup would be an honor for the Bay Area, and something I believe would benefit our community for years to come," said SF Mayor London Breed in a statement.
The Bay Area last hosted World Cup matches in 1994, when the U.S. last served as host country. The Bay Area also hosted the semi-finals of the 1999 Women's World Cup, which happened at Stanford University.
Soccer has been a natural fit for Levi's Stadium, which has already hosted a major soccer tournament since it opened, the 2016 Copa América Centenario.
The stadium seats 68,500, but it is expandable to about 75,000 seats.
As the Business Times notes, FIFA reps will be here to do a site tour, and will be asking about infrastructure, training facilities, and more.
The official site for the Bay Area's bid features a quote from the board's honorary chair, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:
"The FIFA World Cup is the ultimate unifier in international sport. I am honored to have the opportunity to champion the Bay Area’s rich cultural offerings, innovative spirit and passion for hosting premier events – and excited to work with U.S. Soccer, FIFA, and our community leaders to harness the power of this event to encourage positive social change through various legacy initiatives. I am confident the Bay Area will make an incredible host for the tens of thousands of national and international visitors that will travel to celebrate the most prestigious soccer competition in the world."
Selected cities will be announced early next year.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images