7 reasons why Baltimore should be a 2026 FIFA World Cup host city | COMMENTARY – Baltimore Sun
FIFA representatives visited Baltimore over the weekend and attended the Ravens’ game Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs to evaluate the city as a finalist to host the 2026 World Cup.
While the odds of FIFA selecting Baltimore are about as good as Justin Tucker missing an extra-point attempt, the committee behind Baltimore’s bid relishes its underdog status. Just check out the video posted on its website, which features a voiceover from Baltimore’s own Mike Rowe.
The governing body of international soccer is expected in early 2022 to pick 16 cities across Canada, the United States and Mexico from a list of 23 that have formally submitted bids, 17 of which are in the U.S.
FIFA considers several factors when picking cities that boil down to infrastructure and commercial elements, with the greatest weight given to the stadium.
Logistically, there are two major dings against Baltimore: its premier venue, M&T Bank Stadium, isn’t the largest and its proximity to Washington, which by all accounts is almost guaranteed a spot on FIFA’s roster. D.C.’s official bid is also downright impressive.
But Baltimore’s distance from Washington might actually be a strength — just one of seven reasons why Charm City should be a FIFA World Cup 2026 host city.
Of all the bids submitted in the U.S., no two cities are closer than Baltimore and D.C. We should assume FedEx Field is a lock for a spot: It seats about 11,000 more people than M&T Bank Stadium, is “convenient” to a major mass transit line and represents the nation’s capital — despite its location in Landover. But there could be a virtue in scheduling games close to one another for the players’ sake. Excessive travel is detrimental to play. It’s a long month for the World Cup — made longer by the planned expansion to 48 teams — and the more rest players get, the better they perform.
FIFA could market several days of games between the two locations, which together boast a massive population and routinely rank among the highest television viewership for international soccer matches nationwide. Not bad considering that Baltimore is the only American finalist that doesn’t have a Major League Soccer team.
Allow me to make a case for Baltimore as the better overall experience.
While M&T Bank Stadium has made multimillion-dollar improvements to its facility since it hosted several international soccer friendlies (at least one a sellout), FedEx Field made headlines recently for an unfortunate leak that drenched fans and was seen by millions online. Comparing stadium atmospheres is a little unfair since the Ravens are perennial playoff contenders and the Washington Football Team has, well, not yet decided on a permanent name while courting controversy along the way.
M&T Bank Stadium boasts the Ravens Walk from a nearby light rail line that extends into the county and could provide sponsorship opportunities and a more enjoyable fan experience. FedEx Field’s Metro stop is about a mile away, and speaking as a fan, is a depressingly long walk that takes some of the wind out of the excitement. I have never seen the Landover walk lined with food/drink and retail vendors and concerts. The Ravens Walk gets fans ready for the excitement.
Another point for a shared-cities proposal, let’s add BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport to the mix. Distance from BWI to The Bank? Eleven minutes. Dulles International to FedEx? Forty-four minutes without traffic. BWI to FedEx? A little over a half-hour. There is also a light rail from BWI to Camden Yards and the many nearby hotels.
Driving and parking aren’t better options in Landover either. Be prepared to sit and wait in your car or ride-share for at least an hour before and after the game if no improvements are made. Despite congestion issues in Baltimore, it’s still a stone’s throw from the interstate and there are ample diversions just blocks away if you don’t feel like sitting in your car in the lot. Which brings me to my next point …
There is nothing around FedEx Field and tailgating is a uniquely American experience. Many of the world’s soccer powers adhere to a pregame pub culture. Ever been to Federal Hill before a Ravens game? Or after a win? Imagine Pickles Pub and Pigtown coming to life in ways the Orioles haven’t been able to harness in years. Imagine the downtown pop-up potential for guests staying in one of the many hotels that essentially overlook the city’s stadiums. Baltimore’s bar scene is pound-for-pound stronger and would carry a greater economic impact than Washington’s. Additionally, the vision for a proposed South Baltimore entertainment district includes Top Golf, a 4,000-seat concert venue, outdoor party space and proximity to Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.
Another area of evaluation concerns a proposed Fan Fest location. D.C. is pitching a Fan Fest on the National Mall, which is cool, but not close to its stadium. Baltimore would likely choose an event space like Power Plant Live, which is certainly within walking distance of the stadium. I could also see a FIFA takeover of the Inner Harbor paired with a new plan for Harborplace that would create equally stunning views. As a backup plan, the Convention Center, also near the stadium, could be a safe bet in the event of rain.
Unlike the so-called “major” American cities guaranteed a space on the 2026 World Cup roster, Baltimore is unlikely to host a Super Bowl or baseball’s All-Star Game anytime in the near future. To that end, earning a spot on the list would be met with unyielding appreciation in the form of incredible TV visuals, a surge in bar/restaurant patronage and a lively downtown scene at a time of year the city could use it. The economic impact on Baltimore would be multitudes greater than D.C., although a two-city solution is still the best bet. And the operating costs would likely be cheaper in a city like Baltimore compared with the nation’s capital.
The accomplishment of making it to the final round of evaluation has already started to bring people together. The bid alone earned bipartisan support from Democratic Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford. (A previous World Cup ended a civil war in the Ivory Coast. Just saying.)
Several gears have already started turning at the organizational level, courtesy of the Baltimore-Maryland 2026 World Cup Host Destination Committee led by Maryland Sports. Members of the group have been pushing to host a game since 2009 when Baltimore hosted the sellout international friendly between Chelsea and AC Milan. But it’s the group’s lofty goals of creating what they call a Legacy Plan to partner with programs around the city that should come to fruition. You can read more about that on the organization’s website at baltimoremd2026.us/legacy-plan/