Just Maybe Not This Year’s World Cup
SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Chances are, you haven’t given too much thought to the 2018 World Cup. Its start this week in Russia came without a lot of fanfare or enthusiasm in the United States. That’s understandable. Russia is a long way away, hockey only just ended, and more importantly, the U.S. men’s soccer team did not qualify for this year’s tournament.
"Eight years from now, I think that it will be a different story," says Henry C. Boyd III, clinical professor of marketing at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. "The World Cup fanfare will be inescapable."
Not only will the tournament be in North America, it will also be bigger and hosted in a way it never has been before.
On Wednesday, the U.S., Mexico and Canada won the rights to jointly host the 2026 World Cup, beating out Morocco with a united bid that proposed staging the games – 80 in all – across three countries and 16 cities. While there have been World Cup co-hosts before, there have never been three of them. And never have the games spanned so many miles.
“It’s going to be really something - the triumvirate of countries which founded NAFTA will host the Beautiful Game,” Boyd says.
Already, the World Cup is the most-watched sporting event on the planet, drawing more than 1 billion viewers from all corners of the world every four years. But in 2026, the event is going to be even bigger, expanding to 48 qualifying teams, from the current 32.
“By all accounts, greater inclusion will be the hallmark of the 2026 World Cup. Allowing 48 teams to enter is akin to what has happened with the NCAA March Madness bracket expansion,” Boyd says. “I’d imagine there are going to be some exciting Cinderella stories in the offing. And of course, upsets naturally fuel enthusiasm and spur greater viewership. It promises to be a very memorable World Cup.”
The united bid, submitted more than two years ago, envisions 10 games played in Canada, 10 in Mexico and 60 (including all matches from the quarterfinal stage and onward) in the United States. Organizers suggested 23 potential host cities, and says it will narrow those to 16.
Despite a relative ambivalence in the United States to this year’s World Cup, the 2026 tournament in North America is expected to break the World Cup attendance record set in 1994, the last time the United States hosted the event. (Brazil won that year, becoming the first country ever to win a fourth World Cup title when it defeated Italy 3-2 in a nail-biting penalty shootout at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.)
The three-country 2026 World Cup is also expected to deliver record profits to FIFA – the bid promises roughly $11 billion to the organization. Morocco, which lost its bid to host the games by a vote of 134 to 65, had estimated profits that were less than half that.
Seven percent of Americans listed soccer as their favorite sport to watch, according to a Gallup poll in December 2017. That might seem like a small percentage, but it’s nearly twice as many as just four years earlier. The more-dominant American football, meanwhile, was notching declines, as were basketball and baseball.
Traditionally, the World Cup’s host country is granted automatic entry into the tournament, which suggests that all three co-hosts – Canada, Mexico and the United States – will play. And that’s cool – setting the stage as it does for the three countries to both co-host and compete.
Mexico is the only one of the three countries competing this year in Russia’s World Cup. Canada has only been to the World Cup once – back in 1986.
The World Cup always draws a global crowd of travelers. And for those travelers, the continent-spanning tournament offers a chance to explore three countries and multiple cities.
“Rest assured there are die-hard soccer fans around the world already contemplating travel plans that start in Mexico or in Canada, and then continue on to the later matches in the U.S. It’s a golden opportunity to combine love of sport and travel where one could hit the East Coast, West Coast and even the Midwest of the United States,” Boyd says.
It’s a chance, he says, to see places they might not otherwise explore.
“We often talk about the universal appeal of sports and its ability to bring people together from various walks of life and different countries," Boyd says. "This united bid is a testament to that."
GET SMITH BRAIN TRUST DELIVERED
TO YOUR INBOX EVERY WEEK