Atlanta makes pitch to host 2026 World Cup matches

Dan Corso, president of the Atlanta Sports Council says the economic impact of hosting World Cup games would be ‘significant.’

Emil Moffatt/WABE News

For Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief of tournaments and events, actually being on the ground at Mercedes-Benz Stadium gave him a clearer picture of what Atlanta can offer.

“It’s just reinforced the compact footprint, especially around the stadium. With the locations next to the stadium, obviously the convention center as well,” said Smith.

Atlanta hopes to be one of 16 cities in North America to host World Cup matches in 2026. Smith and other officials from soccer’s governing body were in town Friday for a visit. The continent hasn’t hosted a World Cup since 1994.

Officials toured Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which holds most of Major League Soccer’s attendance records. The retractable roof facility will have to convert its playing surface to natural grass for the tournament, but FIFA officials said that wasn’t a big deal.

“That’s not a concern, the technology is there, the capability is there, it just needs the proper planning, care and timeline to do it properly,” said Smith.

Being a World Cup host city goes beyond just soccer games. Atlanta United President Daren Eales says it’s about the fan experience as well.

“Imagine if Atlanta gets it for a month, you’ve got Centennial Olympic Park, you’ve got Piedmont Park to do fan viewings,” said Eales. “You’ve got 12,000-plus, hotel rooms within a half-mile walk of the stadium, so to have that campus effect is a huge plus.”

Dan Corso, head of the Atlanta Sports Council, said the event could have a larger economic impact than the 2019 Super Bowl.

“It’s significant when you have a global event for a long period of time with visitors from all over the world,” said Corso. “And then you also have the legacy and community impact of things that we are maybe able to create in the community that go beyond just economics.”

Final site selections are expected early next year.