The World Cup is over, and now we enter into the dark period of sports purgatory that lasts until the NFL season kicks off. But to satisfy your last bit of World Cup fever, Westword set out to determine how likely it is that Denver will land a spot as a host city for World Cup 2026.
After FIFA picked North America to host the 2026 games, the Denver Post reported that city officials and private partners would try to bring matches to the Mile High City.
Serving as a host city has its perks. It can put lesser-known cities and countries on the map or solidify an already-established locale's popularity and tourism appeal. And while hosting World Cup games can be an economic boost, matches often require new infrastructure, such as stadiums, which can create massive spending scandals, much like what happened in Brazil before the 2014 World Cup. (One of the reasons North America beat Morocco to host the 2026 games is because of its abundant stadium infrastructure.)
Twenty-three North American cities are vying for games, and up to sixteen will be chosen as host cities. Canada is likely to get two or three cities from its three in contention, and Mexico will likely get all three of its contenders, considering how popular soccer is in Latin America.
Assuming these prediction comes true, that leaves about ten spots for America. Will Denver be in or out?
Denver doesn't have New York or L.A.'s massive sports market, but it does have a seating capacity of over 76,000 at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. A FIFA report that analyzed North America's bid even gave Denver's stadium the highest score in its technical evaluation.
The report also ranked Denver International Airport among the airports with the best flight options. Indeed, Matthew Payne, executive director of the Denver Sports Commission, which brings high-profile sports events to the city, says DIA's status as the fifth-busiest airport in the country and the city's abundance of hotel rooms makes it a strong candidate. Javis Arellano, a presenter on El Templo Futbolero, a Denver-based media organization focused on Mexican soccer, and midfielder for Metropolitan State University's men’s soccer team, believes that Denver's high elevation makes it an attractive choice for teams deciding where to set up base camp, since training at a high altitude can make playing games at sea level much less tiring.
According to FIFA, the continent could be split into three clusters: eastern, western and central-south. The eastern region could include cities like New York and Toronto, and the west would surely include Seattle and L.A. That leaves the central-south category for cities like Denver and Kansas City. Arellano points out that Kansas City has the U.S. Soccer National Training Center, which makes it an intriguing option as a host city. But Denver ranked more highly than Kansas City in the FIFA report's evaluation of accommodations and transportation options.
This could all be a moot point if the residents of Denver decide against hosting any games. The Mile High City notoriously passed on hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics because of concerns over costs and the environmental impact of so many people invading the city. A new cohort of Olympics foes is working to ensure that voters get a say in any future Olympic games coming to Denver.
Payne says local officials are likely to know more about Denver's chances for hosting games in 2026 within the next three months, noting that the North American bid committee is transitioning from focusing on winning its bid to figuring out logistics of the tournament.
"That's what we’re waiting on," he says. "Then we’ll really know a lot more."
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