We all know it’s true – there are those around our own town, let alone the country, and, of course, the globe that would see Kansas City as a possible host for the world’s biggest sporting event and first perhaps say “Where?” and then, certainly, “No.” (with a possible shake of their head) and move on.
Thankfully, the members of Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) who awarded the United Bid from Canada, Mexico, and the United States of America the right to host the 2026 World Cup on Wednesday are not as ill-informed as some. The 2026 FIFA World Cup will be the first for which the field of teams will be expanded to 48 from the current 32 finalists. Sixteen host cities across the three countries is the widely-believed number to make the final cut, with three each for Mexico and Canada, leaving 10 out of the current 17 possible host cities in the United States to host up to five games from the group stage through to the title match. The final determination of host cities will be made by the chiefs of the United Bid – one representative from each country – and FIFA themselves likely by 2020.
However, surely there are some of that contingent who remain unconvinced that Kansas City is a worthy host and ask the question, “Why Kansas City?”
Yes, the convenience and efficiency of the airport and public transportation around the city currently are weaknesses, but cities don’t remain in the bidding for this long without having the necessary elements of infrastructure in place or a convincing plan to have them in place by 2026, like that new airport that will be in place in by 2026.
Yet the remaining facts reverse the question to “Why not Kansas City?”. Undeniably.
800 Million Dollars … and more
David Ficklin, chair of Kansas City’s organizing committee and the vice-president of development for Major League Soccer side Sporting Kansas City, stated that Kansas City has spent over 300 million dollars in soccer infrastructure since 2010, with much of that being created by Sporting Kansas City.
“That puts us as the region in this nation that spent the most developing soccer,” said Ficklin. “And we have close to another half-a-billion dollars of soccer complexes on the board in this region from Olathe to Grandview to north of the river [to Lee’s Summit], planned or having broken ground.”
Pinnacle – the national development center housing training, coaching, and medical centers – is the newest gem in the Sporting KC and Kansas City crowns, and, along with Swope Soccer Village and the Wyandotte Sporting Fields and Sporting KC’s home pitch at Children’s Mercy Park, they represent the finest foursome of soccer facilities in the country.
But World Cup matches would be held at the Kansas City Chief’s Arrowhead Stadium.
“[Arrowhead Stadium] is pretty great though [too]. It’s the loudest stadium in the world. It has amazing sightlines. It has great charisma of a collegiate facility, but with the renovations, this facility can stand toe-to-toe with any other NFL stadium as far as the premium hospitality that is so important,” pointed Ficklin, who has visited five continents and 23 cities as a part of his job.
“We didn’t get in the [World Cup] bid book, within the last year. We got into the bid book over a decade when Jackson County voters decided to spend money to renovate Arrowhead, when we approved the airport, when we approved the starter line for the streetcar (and hopefully we will approve next week the continuation), when we approved the convention center hotel, when we invested in downtown to give ourselves a critical mass of an urban core,” continued Ficklin. “There are so many things that we’ve done as a region, not just building soccer facilities, but building great things for our city, that put us in the position to be successful when this came around.”
“Our infrastructure, I’d put up against anybody in our league. The city and the support we have gotten from the public sector as well,” said Sporting Club President and CEO Jake Reid. “I can’t think of another MLS city that has outdone us on facilities or anything else. That’s a massive part of our pitch to FIFA. And it’s hard to ignore.”
Infrastructure is no question in Kansas City.
Putting FIFA’s mission into play
Beginning in 2010, FIFA was rocked with accusations of corruption coming to a head in 2015 with seven arrests and the eventual resignation of longtime president Sepp Blatter. Since then it has undergone renewal and rebirth, including the formation and publication of its new model and vision in 2016.
It is assumed that any decision by FIFA regarding host cities will be guided in part by its stated mission – to promote football, protect its integrity, and bring the game to all – and the vision – the hows, strategies, and principles to help achieve that mission.
Relevant hows – grow the game and enhance the experience.
Including teams and 66 clubs from across Missouri and into five surrounding states, Sporting Kansas City’s Academy and Network is the epitome of growing the game. In addition, Sporting’s marketing, presentation of the game, and on-field success have spread the game to all demographics, including the American sports fan who would not have given soccer a sniff years ago. Over 110 straight home sellouts are proof enough of that. Lastly, Kansas City has long had one of the highest per capita participation rates of youth soccer in the United States that growth is only promoted by Sporting KC’s building of futsal courts throughout the area. Kansas City has grown, and will continue to grow, the game from the ground up.
Strategies – ownership, investment, innovation
Ownership – see Lamar Hunt’s pioneering work in soccer and Sporting Kansas City’s continuation of that. They have taken personal ownership for the success of soccer in Kansas City. Check. Investment – see above. Check.
Innovation – “We opened Children’s Mercy Park seven years ago, so we are not the newest, shiniest toy anymore,” said Ficklin. “We opened Pinnacle, and it raised the bar again in a different way. We envisioned Pinnacle to win the World Cup. We have great stadiums, and great MLS stadiums. What are the other things we need to win the World Cup? You have to be able to look at the kids and have a whole generation of kids that are coached better. And the best way to do that is to get a National Coaching Center for where every coach you touch, he or she is touching hundreds, and, over years, thousands of kids and getting them better.” And Ficklin’s comments don’t even touch the astounding fitness and performance technology at Pinnacle. Check.
Relevant principles – cooperation and inclusivity
Cooperation has been fostered by Sporting Club with its Sporting Club Network. More significant to the bid, however, the Kansas City bid committee is the epitome of various factions coming together to grow the game as states, cities, counties, and teams [Sporting Kansas City and the Chiefs] came together “to showcase the power of our people” as stated by Kansas City, Kansas Mayor David Alvey.
All cities in the world can do, and should do, better to include and accept all races and genders and ways of life in all facets of their communities. Yet KCMO and KCKS may be uniquely structured and positioned to impact and increase its inclusivity through hosting World Cup matches.
“Kansas City is big enough that we have the infrastructure… but we are also just small enough that the World Cup will probably have a greater impact in Kansas City, and therefore the Midwest, than any other American city,” said Ficklin before expanding the idea. “Remember the summer of 2012 when the Major League Baseball All-Star game was here? It was transformational for the city. The city was decorated across from the Plaza to the airport. It stretched out into Kansas; different neighborhoods had watch parties. So it really brought the whole city together to celebrate. We’re small enough that the World Cup would have a massive impact here. So that festival that every city talks about would actually happen here and everyone would feel it.”
Seven of the 17 US cities will need to be eliminated, leaving 10 to host the likely 60 matches on US soil.
ESPN, in its early prognosis, eliminates Houston, Nashville, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Denver, Philadelphia, Orlando, giving Kansas City a nod as one of the host cities mainly due to its central location and the absence of Chicago as a possible host city.
Odds are both Orlando and Miami will not be chosen due to proximity, likewise for both Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and Houston and Dallas. That’s three cities eliminated. Four to go. Philadelphia is one of three remaining relatively proximate East Coast cities, and the least likely of all to be awarded matches. That leaves Cincinnati and Nashville as Midwestern competition for Kansas City as Chicago dropped out early on, then Denver contends.
“You’ve got two teams that are coming into the league [Cincinnati and Nashville], but we are a proven commodity,” said Reid. “In the next two years, they can have a good start in the league… We have the facilities; we have the infrastructure; we have all those things right now. Their sales pitch is ‘It’s coming.’ I like our chances.”
And, yes, it’s true that Kansas City was one of the last cities cut from the final host city list in 1994, when the United States was the sole host of the world’s biggest tournament.
“There was a plan [for 1994] to, instead of our plan to widen the field [at Arrowhead], the plan was to raise the playing field up on scaffolding podium. That was a lot of risk… the other thing was market size,” said Ficklin. “If you look at the cities that were there, those are big American cities where there was the least amount of risk.”
The pioneering and years of persistence from Lamar Hunt; the investment and insistent innovation of Sporting Club; and the caring-for-their-community character and cooperation of the Chiefs, Sporting Kansas City, and the Kansas City area people have made Kansas City a no-risk and turned the true question of the World Cup 2026 host cities across the United States into ‘Why not Kansas City?’.
But yes, the stigma must be overcome of those who still look at Kansas City and say, “No.”
“We love the chip on our shoulder – 33rd media market. We are viewed as flyover country to some. But when you come here that perception goes away very, very quickly,” Reid stated. “But until you come here, that is some people’s perception. But with the committee we’ve put together, it’s our job to knock down any of those barriers. We’ve done a good job so far.”
Indeed, they have. But it’s time to shed the inferiority complex and the fear that KC just isn’t good enough and confidently present the case because the right to be proud, to boast, and to host global events has been earned. Undeniably.