Why the time is right for a North American World Cup

Whilst the footballing world is heavily focused on Russia 2018, in less than one week FIFA will congregate on Moscow to announce the destination of the 2026 World Cup.

Football’s governing body will decide whether the joint bid by the USA, Mexico and Canada is successful or whether the tournament is heading to the North African region of Morocco for the first time.

The 2026 tournament will see football’s showpiece event usher in a new format, with 48 teams entering the competition. Therefore, hosting the event in eight years time comes with an added level of prestige.

In an interview released by the MLS, former England captain David Beckham strengthened his support for the joint bid: “A football competition as big as the World Cup deserves to be in great places.

“And if the US, Canada and Mexico get that, it will be very special. I know the passion that runs through all three of those countries – I played in LA for six years and when we travelled to Canada, I have seen that passion.

“And don’t get me started on Mexico! There are not many nations that are as passionate as Mexico. I went to a couple of games the last time America hosted the World Cup (1994) and it was incredible.

“Now, there are more people who understand the game and get excited about the game. The infrastructure will be there and, more importantly the excitement and the passion will be there.I think a joint bid is important and it is three places where football runs deep.”

Analysing how much potential a World Cup in the US would have for betting operators, President of Don Best Sports Benjie Cherniak underlined his belief to SBCAmericas that by 2026 the US is: “likely to have widespread legislated wagering across multiple and perhaps even the majority of US states. With some European operators in the space providing increased betting options for soccer, the sport will already have grown its profile significantly in the betting space.  

“You throw the world’s biggest sporting event into the mix across a country where betting is not just permitted but likely being promoted via partnerships with leagues and federations?  This would without question be a massive event at sports books across the country. One can rest assured that the summer of 2026 will not be a quiet one for the betting operators if the North American entry is fortunate enough to win this coveted bid.”

Emphasising how much hosting the tournament could increase the levels of interest in football in the US, he continued: “The last time the US hosted the World Cup was in 1994 and it raises the profile of the sport significantly as it was the trigger to kickstart a new professional league in the MLS.

“That was then and this is now. Each World Cup since has arguably added to the popularity of the event and sport in the US, albeit much more so when the US team participates in the tournament, which embarrassingly is not the case this coming June.

“2026 is a long way off so we should see some continuing popularity growth between now and then, such that a North American hosted World Cup could conceivably be a catalyst to migrate the sport from secondary interest to mainstream, particularly if the US fields a competitive team that makes a deep tournament run.”

Furthermore, a World Cup will undoubtedly have hugely positive implications on the nation’s top football league, The MLS: “Interest has been on the rise in general, particularly in select regions and some of the more recent new markets such as Atlanta, Orlando and the new LAFC teams. These franchises have seen new soccer-specific stadiums being built and 60-70k crowds (as per Atlanta). The Pacific Northwest as an example has always been a hotbed for the sport, led in large part by Seattle and Portland’s passionate fan base.  

“The interesting component of this World Cup bid is that it is North American wide, which includes Mexico and Canada. With a number of Canadian MLS teams in addition to the US, and with more big name players like Zlatan – but critically also younger talent like Sebastian Giovinco –  migrating from European leagues to the MLS, the 2026 World Cup has the potential to invigorate the sport in an unprecedented manner. Continued success of the men and women’s national teams are co-related to the success of the MLS – though the MLS has matured considerably.”