ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando is still lobbying to be a host city for the 2026 World Cup, but local officials are confident in the lure of Central Florida.
The United Bid, a joint effort between the United States, Mexico and Canada, was awarded the right to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Greater Orlando Sports Commission CEO Jason Siegel said assuming three cities from Mexico and three from Canada make the cut, the United States will have to cut seven of its 17 potential host cities when the list is narrowed to 16 in 2020.
“There isn’t a community group that isn’t behind us right now,” Siegel told Pro Soccer USA Thursday night before the U.S. men’s national team’s 1-0 victory over Ecuador at Orlando City Stadium.
He added, “We have an organizing committee of over 300 local leaders in this community who are coming together to strategize. To organize. To do everything that we need to do to show our community in the absolute best light. That includes a big marketing team that we’ve already put in place. We’re excited.”
Matches in Orlando would be hosted at 65,000-seat Camping World Stadium. Siegel said there are “probably” two more conversations the organizing committee will have regarding the stadium during the next few months.
“The dimensions of the pitch is certainly that’s going to come up for conversation,” he said. “And, I think, the idea of overhangs or some sort of a roofing system is another opportunity that’s going to come up in conversation over the next few months, as well.”
Siegel added the organizing committee is still looking at costs associated with those potential stadium upgrades.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has been a longtime supporter of Central Florida’s involvement for the bid. He was at the USMNT’s match against Ecuador Thursday night and was the only mayor present for the 2017 Host City Workshop in Houston.
“We host everything here in Orlando,” Dyer said Thursday. “The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the entire world, so I think Orlando ought to be part of that.”
Miami is another Florida city involved with the United Bid. Siegel said he doesn’t see the two cities as competitors for where matches in Florida will be hosted. He said Orlando is doing everything it can to ensure World Cup matches will be hosted in Central Florida, but he doesn’t believe Orlando won’t get to host if Miami does.
“I think that you could very well see a cluster situation where it would make an awful lot of sense — for the ease of travel, for fan travel, for athlete travel — where you could see a Miami-Orlando-Atlanta scenario,” Siegel said. “I don’t think it’s one or the other.”
U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, an Orlando City season ticket holder, said she remembers seeing a 1994 World Cup match in Washington D.C. and the excitement of that match is something she wants to see in Central Florida.
She attended Thursday’s match and the U.S. men’s national team’s World Cup qualifier against Panama in Orlando City Stadium in 2017.
“Orlando is used to welcoming visitors from all over the world,” she said. “I know that this community is going to get rallied up around a sport it loves so much. It’s going to be so important for economic impact for our community and our city and it’ll give us an elevated place on the international stage to showcase what makes Orlando amazing.”
Siegel said Thursday’s match, which was played in front of an announced crowd of 17,442, was an important step toward showcasing Orlando’s viability as a host city. After the match, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter praised the atmosphere in the stadium.
“I think that having great showings every time U.S. team comes here — they know they’re going to have a decided advantage — is another feather in our cap,” Siegel said. “It started with the ’94 World Cup and Copa [America] and ICC and the success of City soccer and the success of the Pride, all of those things wrapped up. All of the youth soccer that we have and the grassroots soccer that we have here in this community, all of that is helping us build our résumé.”