FC Cincinnati’s founding partners dreamed up Major League Soccer aspirations before there was even a franchise or a defined expansion process, and less than three years later, the club earned an invitation into America’s top division.
After that, not even a bid to host the World Cup seems too daunting.
Cincinnati is among the 23 cities that could hold World Cup games in 2026 after the 68th FIFA Congress voted 134-65 in favor of the United Bid of Canada, Mexico and the United States hosting the month-long tournament. Morocco was the other finalist.
“There’s been lots of national publications referring to us as the ‘Soccer Capital of the United States,’” FCC president and Cincinnati Local Organizing Committee co-chair Jeff Berding said Wednesday evening at a press event to address the World Cup bid. “How can you have the soccer capital of the United States not hosting the World Cup?”
A total of 16 cities are expected to be chosen — with at least 10 of them likely coming from the U.S. – and the Cincinnati LOC said a decision should be made by June 2020. If selected, Cincinnati would hold games at the 65,000-seat Paul Brown Stadium, and several local colleges have agreed to be used as practice facilities.
Earning the right to host won’t be easy. The Queen City is competing with much bigger markets such as Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Miami, but Berding maintains Cincinnati still has a good chance, thanks to its tremendous support for soccer and proximity to many of the other potential sites.
“We were a part of the United Bid winning the World Cup,” Berding said. “There was a tremendous amount of work that went into winning the bid, but that was to win the bid. Now it’s how do we put on the best event ever?”
Berding said Cincinnati already has shown it can hold big events through successfully hosting the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The city has the hotels available to accommodate the crowds coming in from out of town and other countries, and travel logistics make sense for visitors and participating teams.
Fundraising efforts would be necessary to raise money for improvements – such as the natural grass that would need to be installed at Paul Brown Stadium and the practice faciltiies — and other costs associated with hosting a major sporting event.
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The World Cup is expected to generate more than $360 million in new economic activity and result in a net benefit of $270 million for cities the size of Cincinnati.
“This is like a mini Olympics,” Berding said. “The number of visitors that will come to Cincinnati over that two- to four-week period, depending on what we have, is going to be in the hundreds of thousands. It’s going to be the whole world putting their eyeballs on Cincinnati, regardless of the teams.
“The reason we pushed so far for this opportunity because any chance we have an opportunity to promote our city globally, we are going to raise our hand and sign up and try to make that happen. The reach this sport and this event, this World Cup, offers our hometown is one we’re very excited about and we’re going to work very hard to get it over the goal line.”
The tournament field will expand from 32 teams to 48 for the 2026 World Cup, and there will be a total of 80 games played.
Those cities not selected to host matches could still serve as a base camp or a place to hold other events surrounding the tournament, but Berding is looking at the big prize.
“One of the things that drives me is winning, and it’s always going to be that way,” he said. “We fully intend at the end of this effort to have Cincinnati having been chosen to participate in the World Cup. Obviously, the World Cup is a month-long event, so there’s different levels of participation throughout the tournament. We certainly intend for Cincinnati to participate in the tournament.”