By Amanda Yeager | Baltimore Business Journal

As with most things these days, Baltimore’s pitch to host 2026 FIFA World Cup matches didn’t look exactly as Terry Hasseltine originally envisioned.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Hasseltine and other state and city representatives making up Baltimore’s World Cup host destination delegation were supposed to travel to Dallas in mid-March for workshops and an in-person meeting with organizers of the tournament. Site visits were set to follow during the summer.

The pandemic changed those plans, postponing presentations until July — and pushing them online. Hasseltine, the executive director of the Maryland Sports Commission, joined Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Visit Baltimore CEO Al Hutchinson and others on a Zoom call July 20 to make the case for Baltimore as one of the hosts for the tournament.

The team had about 10 minutes to present the area’s selling points to a group that included representatives from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, and U.S. Soccer, which oversees the sport in the states.

The pitch touched on “everything from our eclectic neighborhoods to our history,” Hasseltine said, as well as the “close connectivity” between M&T Bank Stadium, the proposed venue for matches, and the tourist draws of the Inner Harbor and downtown. It also offered an update on new developments — including $120 million of investment into the stadium, as well as improvements to the South Baltimore Gateway and Stadium South areas — that have progressed since the city first submitted its bid three years ago.

Baltimore is one of 17 American cities vying for FIFA matches in 2026. Tournament organizers have said they will choose 10 U.S. hosts for the event, which will also feature games in Canada and Mexico. Other U.S. contenders include nearby Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, as well as New York City, Boston, Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles.

Potential revenue for the tournament is projected at $14 billion, with $400 million to $600 million in revenue possible for each host city.

Hasseltine said Baltimore’s pitch, which also included participation from Roy Summerhof, the senior vice president of stadium operations for the Ravens, and Michael Frenz, the Maryland Stadium Authority’s executive director, earned “really great reviews from the folks at U.S. Soccer and a really great appreciation from FIFA post-presentation.”

The delegation doesn’t know when exactly it’ll hear back from FIFA about its selections — Hasseltine said the decisions are likely to be made sometime in 2021. In the meantime, there’s still work to do. One key task will be to follow up on questions from FIFA officials on topics like rent, training sites and the tournament’s footprint.

Long-delayed site visits are also in the works. Hasseltine said tournament officials are looking to come to town sometime in late 2020 or early 2021; a nine-hour tour will highlight the city’s hotels, transportation options, M&T Bank Stadium, potential training sites and more.

“That’s really where we’ll have to bring it all together,” Hasseltine said. “Our job is to put the right teams together so we can show Baltimore in the best light.”

How can you help bring the 2026 World Cup to Baltimore? Click here to sign the petition and be counted among those pledging their support.

Photo Credit: Kevin B. Moore

Issue 264: September 2020


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