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North America’s World Cup Sprint Begins

How Cities Prepare for Major Sporting Events and the Legacy They Leave Behind


Beginning June 20th, the best talent that North and South America have to offer will take the field for the 48th Copa America, a quadrennial men’s soccer tournament that includes qualifiers from throughout the Americas. With 14 cities hosting throughout the United States, this year’s Copa America is equal parts competition and trial-run. The big event, 2026’s FIFA World Cup jointly-hosted by the United States, Mexico, and Canada, looms ahead just two years from now. Host cities are already making short and long-term investments in their infrastructure to maximize the tournament’s economic impact, which is estimated at over $5b across the 3 countries. Cities are focused on the visitation potential and reputational benefits they can garner for the coming decades and beyond.



Why Host Major Sporting Events?


It is commonplace for countries and individual cities to vie for the hosting rights to major sporting events, such as Olympic Games, World Cups, and one-off annual events like the NFL’s Super Bowl or UEFA’s Champions League Final. These events can drive economic impacts through visitor spending, an influx of air travel, and the creation of financing methods that give governments unprecedented spending power ahead of large-scale events. Many perceive the benefits of major sporting events as reputational too: if visitors come to a new country or city and are met with compelling culture and amenities, maybe they’ll come back, recommend the trip to a friend, or even move to the area. 


Yet, the economic impact of hosting these major events is questionable. Many countries lack the infrastructure to host these events and their attempts to build out new stadiums, promenades, and other attractions for the event itself ultimately result in money lost and vacant, blighted assets. AngelouEconomics notes that for the 2022 World Cup, Qatar fell around $15b short of meeting their initial projection of $20b in total economic impact. Venues from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing are infamously vacant, with the abandoned venues and buildings signifying the lack of return on investment China saw on its tens of billions of dollars in capital investments ahead of the games.


Despite these risks, countries and cities continue to bid. After the upcoming Summer Olympics in Paris and the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan, North America will be the next host country for a major sporting event. With this in mind, how are cities preparing for the World Cup, and what can be expected in terms of economic outputs from the month-long tournament?


How Are Cities Preparing for Host Status?


North America is in a strong position to host the 2026 World Cup for one primary reason: no city has to build a new stadium to accommodate the tournament. With stadiums typically being the largest financial commitment of host nations and cities, governments can instead focus outwards on improvements to their existing infrastructure, transportation systems, parks and parkways, and leisure and hospitality areas. This focus presents an immense opportunity for widespread investment and implementation for community and economic development projects.


Photo of the Beltline in Atlanta, GA.


For example, Atlanta announced in April a plan to complete new sections of their urban trail, The Beltline, ahead of schedule for the 2026 World Cup, which the city projects will bring $415m to the city. In Canada, Vancouver received $116m in financial contributions from their federal government to implement improvements to their transportation infrastructure, an endeavor in which Fourth Economy’s parent company, Steer, is actively engaged. Vancouver hopes to see $224m in total economic impact from the tournament and an additional $1b in visitor spending between 2026-2031, making the $580m cost of hosting the games well worth it from the city’s perspective. In Monterrey, Mexico, the new FIFA Corridor will enhance mobility around the city, prioritizing pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation riders hoping to see increased access to the city’s public spaces and tourist attractions.


These cities, and the 13 others hosting games for the 2026 World Cup, are ultimately aspiring for not only short-term economic impacts, but longer-term legacy benefits. Legacy benefits look at infrastructure investments and other projects surrounding major events and ask, “how can we sustain these benefits in our communities long-term?” For example, improved highway safety for a major event may see better public health outcomes over time. Investments into cultural attractions can uplift traditionally underrepresented voices and perspectives, while increased public and green space in cities can improve quality of life and place, impacting the physical and mental health of residents. 


These legacy benefits are where many city leaders see the real value of hosting these events. Hosting responsibilities come with up-front expenses to develop new assets and programs, but yield longer term opportunities for the city through a modernized built environment and the improved public reputation that comes with successfully hosting. These benefits may include population and business attraction, improved health outcomes, and more socioeconomic opportunity for all.


 

Interested in learning more about how major sports events impact cities, regions, and even countries? Fourth Economy helps governments and other entities assess economic impacts for a variety of industries, events, and developments. Steer assists these same entities with event planning for transportation, infrastructure, and more. Reach out to [email protected] to chat with us!

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