Dallas is seeking to snatch the 2026 World Cup final from bigger and more glamorous cities, pitting a paragon of Texas sprawl against mighty New York and Los Angeles.
Dan Hunt, leader of the Dallas effort and scion of a Texas oil tycoon, envisions selling as many as 200,000 tickets across several venues and tapping a pile of state money to seal the deal. According to his proposal, the game itself would take place at AT&T Stadium, home of the National Football League's Dallas Cowboys, one of the world’s most valuable sports teams.
At stake are the bragging rights that come with hosting one of the world’s most beloved sporting events, which according to FIFA drew about 1.5 billion television viewers in last year’s tournament. There’s also the gusher of spending from legions of soccer fans who are expected to crowd into the host cities during the tournament, and the final is the most coveted prize.
The U.S. is co-hosting the tournament with Canada and Mexico, a country whose hulking Azteca Stadium was the site of World Cup finals in 1970 and 1986. But for the 2026 tournament, the three nations agreed that the U.S. will be the sole host for all games as of the quarterfinals, meaning that American cities are vying for the highest-profile matches. Location announcements are expected in the coming weeks.
One part of Dallas’ bid that sets it apart is access to money from a state initiative called the Texas Event Trust Fund Program. That would help pay for a significant chunk of the costs to put on the final, said Monica Paul, executive director of the Dallas Sports Commission, who was instrumental in the city’s bid.
It may not be enough. Dallas is going up against the most famous U.S. cities — the kind of places FIFA naturally gravitates to when it’s choosing a location for its marquee event.
Southern California’s Rose Bowl was the venue for the final in 1994, the last time the World Cup came to the U.S. The Los Angeles area now has SoFi Stadium, which has already hosted a Super Bowl for the NFL.
But SoFi is too narrow for FIFA’s specifications, and the Los Angeles Times has reported that stadium boss Stan Kroenke would probably have to demolish some ground-level suites in the corners to comply. That would reduce the revenue-generating capacity of the 3-year-old, $5.5 billion stadium.
Kroenke Sports & Entertainment didn’t respond to requests for comment, nor did the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission or the city’s host committee for the World Cup.
Besides Los Angeles, FIFA has 10 other U.S. cities to choose from in assigning games, including Miami, Atlanta and the San Francisco Bay Area. But organizers of the regional bids are predicting that the front-runners for the final are stadiums in the suburbs of New York and Dallas.
The venues are close matches in size. MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, has slightly more seating at 82,500. But AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, has an edge when standing-room tickets are included, which can push the capacity to about 100,000.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino was spotted at both stadiums in September. In Texas, he caught a Cowboys game with team owner Jerry Jones and met Gov. Greg Abbott. He followed that up with a New York Jets game at MetLife, where he met with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.
The New York and New Jersey host committee is touting the area’s experience in hosting major events as well as the allure of one of the world’s great cities and a diverse population that includes ready-made fan bases for many countries. Lauren LaRusso and Bruce Revman, co-managers of the committee, also pointed to the area’s comprehensive public transportation system.
The contrast with car-centric Dallas could hardly be sharper. Arlington, which is midway between Dallas and Fort Worth, is famously known as the largest U.S. city without a public transportation system.
To make up for that, getting around to hotels, fan events and matches will be free for participants, staff and media, said Michael Morris, director of transportation at the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Arlington is also getting $17.5 million in enhancements ahead of the World Cup and Major League Baseball’s 2024 All-Star Game, which will be played near AT&T Stadium.
“Early on, I probably thought transportation may be a challenge," Paul said, "but I don’t see that now.”
Another potential downside: Texas summer heat, which might come as a shock to fans from cooler climes. Temperatures in Dallas routinely surpass 95 degrees (35 Celcius) in July, when the final will be played. But AT&T Stadium has a retractable roof and air conditioning, so people attending the game itself would be comfortable.
While the Dallas Cowboys play on artificial turf, the team’s executive vice president of business operations, Chad Estis, said he’s confident in a lighting system the stadium will use to grow grass — a key requirement for FIFA.
The facility is near the current home of Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers as well as a ballpark that housed the baseball team until 2019. Together, the baseball stadiums can seat about 90,000. There’s also an entertainment center with capacity for 10,000 people.
Hunt, the Dallas committee head, is asking why not use all of the venues for a big event centered on the final in AT&T Stadium.
“You could cordon this whole area and do a ticketed event of around 200,000, something that has never, ever been seen in a World Cup, especially a World Cup final, before,” he said. “FIFA wants to continue to innovate, and by doing this, we’re doing something that I’m not sure will ever be done.”