The City of Baltimore is one of 17 U.S. cities in the running to host 2026 FIFA World Cup matches, but with only 10 U.S. cities slated to host matches, Baltimore is looking to make a strong case to be selected before the announcement is made in December 2021.
With that in mind, Maryland Sports Commission executive director Terry Hasseltine believes Baltimore will stack up well against the competition in the next few months.
“Right now it’s about making sure that we continue to put a positive footprint on Baltimore and our storyline,” Hasseltine said on Glenn Clark Radio April 12. “Events like the Cycling Classic, the BMW Championship and the 5 Star are in our market, and making sure that they are addressed and handled with the right treatment [is important].”
On Sept. 5, Baltimore is set to host the inaugural Maryland Cycling Classic as part of the UCI ProSeries. Caves Valley Golf Club (Owings Mills, Md.) will host the BMW Championship Aug. 26-29. Fair Hill International in Cecil County will host the inaugural Maryland 5 Star, a major international equestrian competition, in October.
The slew of international sporting events could line up to display that the Baltimore area is qualified to host World Cup matches.
“That is a nice thing to put on your resume for when decisions are being made about our destination in late 2021,” Hasseltine said.
The Maryland Cycling Classic will feature cyclists from more than 30 countries cycling in Baltimore County and in the city. The race will be broadcasted in more than 100 countries worldwide, and Hasseltine hopes Baltimore will be displayed in the right light.
“It is a made for TV, awesome event that just will tell great stories,” Hasseltine said. “We can provide the right commentary so that those who are watching from home, because they can’t make it here, get a good sense of what Baltimore truly is. We’re named Charm City for a reason.”
But according to Hasseltine, the Maryland Cycling Classic will be more than a race. The Maryland Sports Commission is aiming to have a whole weekend of events leading up to the race. Those events will include community outreach to schools and parks; engagement with the pro athletes, and charity events such as Bridges of Hope, which will raise money to battle homelessness.
The potential of these festivities is something Hasseltine believes will help market Charm City and bring in a lot of revenue for the community.
“It just has the potential to bring a lot of people into the community to spend some money and have a good time,” Hasseltine said. “It gives us a chance to showcase Baltimore as a premier sports destination city that really gets how these big events impact the overall markets.”
Despite the excitement that comes with sports fans from all over the world making the trip to Baltimore, there will be an adjustment period for these supporters to be able to come see the competitions live, as Maryland officials are still in the process of reopening sporting events to full capacity.
The Orioles hosted their home opener at Camden Yards April 8 at just 25 percent capacity (around 11,000 fans), and the Ravens did not have fans at M&T Bank Stadium for much of the 2020 season. The uncertainty of the pandemic creates challenges for Maryland Sports officials in planning for big international events in the months ahead.
“There’s still the mystery of the unknown, in all fairness,” Hasseltine said. “It’s just the thing we’re dealing with right now, and it rears its ugly head at times when you hope it wouldn’t. Our job is just to stay ahead of it.”
Regardless, hosting World Cup matches in 2026 would be monumental for Baltimore, which did not host any games when the men’s World Cup (1994) and the women’s World Cup (1999 and 2003) were held in the U.S. years ago. Neighboring Washington, D.C., hosted matches in each instance.
Even if Baltimore doesn’t get selected to host any matches, it can still play host to other events during the World Cup, such as team workshops or base camps. (Hasseltine described that information more in depth here.)
But Hasseltine believes the events coming up in 2021 will help bolster the argument to be selected. And if Baltimore is selected, he’s hopeful about how it’ll impact soccer in the community.
“What’s really big about the World Cup and the Cycling Classic is we’re talking about legacy,” Hasseltine said. “How are we engaging the next generation of kids in the community from cycling and from soccer, to enjoy the beautiful games that we all enjoyed as kids? And how do we leverage those to make sure that we’re leaving Baltimore at a better place because of these opportunities?”
For more from Hasseltine, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Maryland Sports Commission