It might seem far away, but Atlanta is keeping its sights squarely on its goals for hosting key matches during the 2026 World Cup, betting that its newfound soccer bona fides will pay off in an effort to welcome the world — and their tourism dollars.
What is settled so far is that the United 2026 bid has succeeded in swaying FIFA to bring the tournament to multiple countries for the first time, with matches set to be spread across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
But still up for grabs are 10 available host city slots in the U.S., which is predicted to see about three-fourths of the tournament’s 80 matches, the rest being slated for three cities in Canada and Mexico.
Atlanta had been floated as a semifinal destination along with Dallas in the initial bid. If that comes to pass, the city could anticipate a total of five to seven matches and an economic impact that has yet to be estimated but would likely be huge and lasting, Dan Corso, president of the Atlanta Sports Council, told reporters after the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s annual meeting at the Alliance Theatre Tuesday.
Atlanta’s pitch within the pitch, so to speak, is that it’s a diverse community with a history of hosting big sporting events and a growing community oriented toward soccer.
“We should all be thankful for Atlanta United for what they have done to raise our soccer profile not only nationally but globally, Mr. Corso said.
He pointed to the recent honors for Major League Soccer champions that have brought notoriety to the city. Atlanta United President Darren Eales this week was honored as best executive at the World Football Summit in Madrid. And at the same event, Mercedes-Benz Stadium was named best venue globally. That makes two milestones: the first best venue honor for an MLS team, and the first time ever a single team took home two awards.
Atlanta, the hometown of CNN and former Olympics host, is also in the hunt for the World Cup’s International Broadcast Center, which would be the home base for more than 2,000 journalists estimated to stream into the U.S. to cover the World Cup.
“To me, that’s the holy grail,” chamber President Hala Moddelmog said during the post-event briefing with reporters, noting that she covets the branding power of a flood of broadcast references to Atlanta.
“All over Canada, Mexico and the U.S. for these eighty-something matches, I want them to say, ‘…and back to Atlanta,’” Ms. Moddelmog said.
Mr. Corso said the hospitality impacts of Atlanta’s World Cup aspirations could be greater than similar sporting events in the past, given the protracted length of the tournament. The chamber is working with the Georgia Department of Economic Development to entice travelers who could be in town for multiple days or weeks to see other parts of the state.
He also said the chamber will be working with to enlist the city’s 70-plus consulates, honorary consuls and foreign trade offices as ambassadors for Atlanta back to their home countries.
“We’re going to engage them in our bid,” Mr. Corso said. “One of the advantages that we have in Atlanta is just a complete collaboration amongst partners and everybody pulling the rope in the same direction to make sure that this goes the way we want it to go.”
The World Cup is expected to confirm its U.S. host cities by early 2021.