After nearly four years of planning, Houston will finally find out on June 16 if it will be one of the host cities for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
FIFA organizers will formally announce the 10 US host cities for the 2026 month-long summer event on that day, selecting from a list of 16 finalists. Those 10 cities, along with three cities in Mexico and three in Canada, will host a total of 80 matches, the most ever for a World Cup.
Seven of the 16 US cities in contention seem like locks to host — Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/New Jersey, and Seattle. Cincinnati and Nashville appear to be long shots.
That leaves Houston in a group of seven cities vying for the final three spots. Denver, Kansas City, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington/Baltimore (joint bid) should be viewed as the biggest competition to Houston’s World Cup hopes.
“We feel optimistic about the outcome of FIFA’s decision on June 16,” Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee President Chris Canetti said. “The concept we have built together with so many stakeholders over the past three-and-half years is very strong. From our proven track record in successfully delivering international events, and our world-class infrastructure, to our hosting credentials and vast transport network, we are confident that our concept meets FIFA’s criteria.”
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Diversity is a Plus in Fourth Largest City
Houston is the fourth most populous city in the nation with 2,378,146 people. Only New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago are larger.
However, what Houston is most proud of is its diversity. Several reports over the years have named Houston the most diverse city in the nation. According to the 2021 census, 44.5% of Houston residents come from Hispanic or Latino heritage. Caucasian (24.1%), African American (22.8%), and Asian (6.9%) heritages are also well-represented in the city.
In all, over 20 ethnic and racial groups are represented, and more than 145 languages are spoken.
With a melting pot like that, it would make a natural fit for the US to select Houston as one of its 10 representatives to the world.
Domed Stadium Helps Beat the Heat
Eight of the 16 finalists feature stadiums with a capacity larger or expandable to NRG Stadium’s 72,220. However, only three others can offer a potentially game-changing feature — a retractable roof.
In previous years, namely when NRG hosted the 2016 Copa America semifinals, Houston showed it could install and maintain a grass field while also controlling the temperature on game days. The climate-controlled environment could make for better contests, as players are less likely to see the effects of the hot summer months in the US.
Been There, Done That
NRG Stadium is no stranger to marquee events, having hosted two Super Bowls (2004, 2017) and two NCAA men’s basketball tournament Final Fours (2011, 2016). It is also set to host the 2023 Final Four and the 2024 College Football National Championship.
And don’t forget about the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The three-week event drew more than 2.4 million visitors in 2022 to NRG Park.
Houston Airport Can Handle Traffic
With two major international airports, Houston averaged more than 4.9 million passengers a month prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes an average of 24,000 plane landings a month.
Houston’s biggest airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, is 20 miles from downtown. However, its 56,000 hotel rooms spread throughout the entire city give visitors plenty of options.
A lack of a strong mass transit system will need to be addressed in the four years leading up to the World Cup. Out of all of the factors, that is likely to be the biggest drawback to Houston being a host city.
Will Houston Be Selected?
With all the positives Houston has going for it, it seems like it should be a shoo-in to host. However, there are some doubts.
In a study done in 2021 by 42 Floors, Houston was ranked 14th out of the 16 cities. The study considered stadium, airport, fan venue capacity, broadcasting, hotel rooms, public transport, and training facilities.
The study was especially unkind to the city’s potential fan venues, where the official bid put the venue capacity at just 30,000. That could be solved, though, if Houston can create a fan environment at NRG Park similar to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Big-D Equals Big Trouble?
The presence of Dallas also creates a difficult situation.
With its crown jewel, AT&T Stadium, Dallas will not only be selected as a host but also likely to be named as a site for the semifinals or finals.
Texas is a big enough state to have two host cities. However, FIFA may elect to spread the love throughout the country by selecting Denver and/or Kansas City. And what about the nation’s capital? It may be tough for FIFA to select Houston and leave out the Washington/Baltimore joint bid.
H-Town Should Make the Cut
Houston and the other city finalists will find out officially on June 16 who the 10 hosts will be.
Trying to predict the thinking of FIFA officials is always risky, but the upside Houston can provide hosting the World Cup should win out. The city has shown it can successfully put on the biggest sporting events in the world, and the US would be missing out if Houston wasn’t given the opportunity to do so again in 2026.
AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith