Yesterday’s Seattle Times headline “Hosting 2026 World Cup would cost Seattle millions, but almost all money would be recovered, city says” was bound to catch my eye, especially given that several North American cities had already dropped out of consideration after complaining that FIFA’s demands were too steep. So how does Mayor Jenny Durkan get to a break-even estimate for hosting the World Cup?
Providing stadium security and police escorts, arranging practice fields, holding fan festivals and covering permit fees would eat up about $7.7 million for three games and about $10.5 million for five games, say the projections by Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office…
The memo says FIFA would reimburse Seattle for the stadium, police and field costs. That expectation would appear to clash with World Cup 2026 bidding guidelines released last year, which said FIFA would ask the host governments to take responsibility for security costs.
Um, yeah, seriously. Durkan’s office implied that she received assurances directly from FIFA that security costs would be covered somehow, but didn’t provide specifics beyond saying that “the mayor has knowledge of a range of very complex contracts and projects.”
Okay, so what about the pair of 20,000-seat open-air venues for World Cup watch parties that FIFA is demanding? The Durkan memo says that FIFA would allow the city to charge for admission and collect sponsorship money to cover these costs, which, maybe?
And what about the big holdup for cities like Chicago and Minneapolis, which was that FIFA was looking for a full exemption on sales taxes, ticket taxes, and the like on all its activities and that of its contractors for the entire run-up to the 2026 World Cup?
Seattle’s memo doesn’t account for potential costs related to security liability and tax breaks.
In short, it looks like Mayor Durkan’s office didn’t actually conduct a study of costs of hosting the World Cup; it merely conducted a study of costs of holding a big event like the World Cup (“These projections are preliminary and not based on information given to us by FIFA or US Soccer Federation, but rather by reviewing similar historic events using institutional knowledge and estimates for stadium game day operations”) and left it at that.
So the reassuring headline shouldn’t be very reassuring, and Seattle residents should still be concerned about being left holding a large bill for hosting the World Cup. And since Seattle, with possibly the best large stadium in North America for hosting soccer, is uniquely well equipped to be a host city, the other 22 cities on the list should still be afraid, be very afraid.