Denver poised for World Cup bid

City is one of 17 in the U.S. hoping to land part of 2026 event

Steve Smith
ssmith@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 10/25/21

There are a lot of things that go into Denver’s efforts to land part of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.  There’s the overall interest in youth soccer. There’s a desire to be part of an expanded …

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Denver poised for World Cup bid

City is one of 17 in the U.S. hoping to land part of 2026 event

Posted

There are a lot of things that go into Denver’s efforts to land part of the 2026 FIFA World Cup. 

There’s the overall interest in youth soccer. There’s a desire to be part of an expanded tournament field in 2026 (48 countries will earn spots), And there’s a desire to show off Denver to the rest of the nation and the world. 

“This will be 10 times the size of the Euro Cup,” said Manny Rodriguez, the co-chairman of the committee making the bid to bring the World Cup to town. “It’s the world’s biggest sporting event. It drew 3.5 billion viewers in 2018. Our biggest sporting event is the Super Bowl, and 150 million people tune in. 

“Soccer is the world’s game.”

Three North American nations – Canada, the United States and Mexico – are bidding to host part of the World Cup. In the U.S., 17 cities are expected to submit bids. Ten will make the first round of cuts.

Eventually, three cities will win out, organizers said.  

Matthew Payne, the executive director of Denver Sports, said Denver has hosted other big-time sporting events, including this summer’s Major League Baseball all-star game. 

“We have the infrastructure. We have the stadium, the hotels, the arenas,” he said. “We’ve hosted high-capacity matches at Empower Field at Mile High (where most of the matches would take place). It’s a global city. When people visit, businesses often end up here.” 

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City has hosted World Cup qualifying events, including a snowstorm-laced contest in 2013 between the United States and Costa Rica. But the home of the Colorado Rapids isn’t part of Denver’s bid. 

“It’s not large enough,” Payne said. “With the anticipated crowds, we’d need a place that seats above 50,000 people. The average attendance in 1994 (the last time the U.S. hosted a World cup) was 70,000. Dick’s could be used as a training site.” 

Rodriguez said the economic benefit to the area could approach $360 million from hotels, restaurants, lodging and tourism-related activities. 

“We have 52,000 hotel rooms and 12,000 in the downtown core,” Payne said. “Most are within walking distance of the stadium. Think of the number of hotels that weren’t here four years ago. Then think of the number of hotels that will be built between now and when the World Cup comes.”

“In 2026, the field expands to 46 teams. Folks who travel to see their teams play have economic power,” Rodriguez said. “They come for days at a time. Some come for weeks.”

Area taxpayers won’t have to foot a bill, other than buying a ticket of admission.

The altitude isn’t as big a problem as one might think. Rodriguez said three cities in Mexico are higher in elevation than Denver. The weather could work to Denver’s advantage, too. 

“Denver has unique things to offer,” Rodriguez said. “We have the best airport in the world. If you think about some of the coastal cities in New York, Miami, they have higher humidity. Our average temperature is in the 80s. It doesn’t rain a lot in the summer here.” 

The timing of games that start in the Mountain Time Zone may not matter to people who love their soccer. 

“If a country is playing at 4 a.m., people will get up and watch. Or they will record it,” Rodriguez said. “People in some countries will stay up regardless of what time it starts.” 

Rodriguez said soccer is the No. 1 participatory sport in the state, thanks in part to youngsters who take part in youth soccer.

“Youth soccer could grow exponentially,” Rodriguez said. “This community is diverse. Soccer is going to grow with people who love the game more and more.”

The target months for the 2026 World Cup are sometime in June or July. The 2022 World Cup will take place in about a year in Qatar, owing to the extremely hot summers in that part of the world. Rodriguez said next year’s event will be the first to be contested outside the summer months.

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