Bay Area launches bid to host World Cup games in 2026

FIFA officials pay San Francisco a visit as they tour prospective venues

It’s official. The Bay Area has launched its bid to host games for the 2026 World Cup, meeting with FIFA officials this week to tout the region’s bonafides for welcoming the world’s largest sporting event.

To be clear, all the games wouldn’t be played here. The Bay Area is hoping to become one of 16 communities — spread across the U.S., Canada and Mexico — to be chosen as hosts. The regional bid centers on Levi’s Stadium, where the local matches would be played.

“We appreciate FIFA and US Soccer allowing the Bay Area to present details about the design and infrastructure that make Levi’s Stadium an incomparable host for what will be the largest, highest-attended, and most inclusive FIFA World Cup event ever staged,” said Patricia Ernstrom, Bay Area Host Committee executive director, via news release Wednesday. “As FIFA’s Host Community Selection Committee expands its review to our overall hosting concept in the coming months, we look forward to working with our partners throughout the region to share our exciting plans with the passionate soccer fans of Northern California.”

This wouldn’t be the first time the Bay Area would host a World Cup game, if it comes to pass. Games were held at Stanford Stadium in the past, with the men playing there in 1994 and the women in 1999. And this wouldn’t be Levi’s Stadium’s first shot at international soccer, either. The venue has hosted the Copa America Centenario, the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final and the International Champions Cup.

The Bay Area was originally chosen as a possible venue back in 2018, when FIFA awarded the tournament to a joint bid put forward by the the three North American countries.

This will be the only visit from FIFA officials to hear the Bay Area pitch before they make their decision on which 10-12 U.S. cities will be part of the overall plan. That call is expected to happen in early 2026. Seventeen other U.S. cities are angling to play host, as well.

Bay Area host committee officials will meet with FIFA officials in San Francisco on Friday, and then tour Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Saturday.

If the Bay Area prevails, organizers say the region would host between six and eight “Super Bowl-sized events” over the course of one month, which they believe would bring a significant economic windfall.

“The 49ers have been proud stewards of the Bay Area for decades, and we’ve seen time after time how one of the most diverse regions in the world gets excited about major sporting events. The excitement and community spirit unique to the Bay Area has been directed at soccer for generations, going back to the FIFA World Cup matches the area hosted in 1994 and 1999, which were a huge success,” said Al Guido, 49ers president and Bay Area 2026 board president, in a statement. “There’s no doubt in my mind the 2026 FIFA World Cup would inspire an even bigger response, and we’re honored to be leading the Bay Area’s bid to host this exciting, crowd-drawing event. Levi’s Stadium is a world-class venue that has shown it’s capable of hosting premier national and global events, and we would be a fantastic stage for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.”

Like previous big events held at Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco would likely receive much of the tourism and hospitality benefits, as visitors tend to visit the tourism capital of the Bay Area to have fun before heading south on game day.

“Hosting the FIFA World Cup would be an honor for the Bay Area and something I believe would benefit our community for years to come. San Francisco has long stood as an open city and top international destination, playing host to the events and moments that inspire the leaders of tomorrow. We’re ready for 2026,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed, via press release. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf echoed those sentiments.

Tech giants Google, Salesforce, Airbnb and Lyft are also on board, providing sponsorship dollars and corporate influence to the Bay Area’s bid.

Rounding out the region’s impressive slate of boosters on the host committee is former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who is serving as honorary chair.

“The FIFA World Cup is the ultimate unifier in international sport,” said Rice, via the committee’s web site. “I am confident the Bay Area will make an incredible host for the tens of thousands of national and international visitors that will travel to celebrate the most prestigious soccer competition in the world.”

asaracevic@sfexaminer.com

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