Hard Rock Stadium chosen as host for World Cup 2026 matches, FIFA announces

Hal Habib
Palm Beach Post

The world is coming to Miami.

Hard Rock Stadium will host matches for World Cup 2026, FIFA President Gianni Infantino announced Thursday in New York.

“We are thrilled," said Tom Garfinkel, the Dolphins' president, vice chairman and CEO. " ... This selection was a culmination of collaborative work from multiple stakeholders including Stephen Ross, Miami-Dade County officials and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. We are excited to showcase our community on a worldwide stage and deliver an amazing experience and best in class event for players and fans.”

The 2026 tournament will be the largest in FIFA’s history, expanding the field to 48 teams and 80 matches. It also will be the first tournament hosted by three countries, with Mexico and Canada joining the United States.

“The biggest show on Earth,” Infantino said.

FIFA will announce ticket information and sites for the highest-profile matches — including the coveted final — at a later date.

“We will take our time with decisions,” Infantino said.

This will be the first World Cup staged in the United States since 1994, when Florida’s matches were assigned to Orlando instead of Miami.

U.S. star Christian Pulisic said he’s looking forward to seeing matches in Miami because his family has moved there.

“That’s going to be amazing for sure,” Pulisic said.

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Other U.S. cities and regions selected were Arlington, Texas (AT&T Stadium); East Rutherford, N.J. (Met Life); Los Angeles area (SoFI); Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz); Foxborough, Mass. (Gillette); Houston (NRG); Kansas City (Arrowhead); Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial); Santa Clara, Calif. (Levi’s); and Seattle (Lumen).

U.S. cities just missing the cut were Baltimore/Washington and Nashville.

Canadian sites chosen were Vancouver and Toronto, while Mexico’s matches will be staged in Guadalajara, Monterrey and Mexico City.

Fans wait along 6tt Ave. for FIFA's announcement of the names of the host cities for the 2026 World Cup soccer tournament, Thursday, June 16, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

During FIFA’s telecast, celebrities connected with each city touted their selection. They included Magic Johnson (Los Angeles), Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City) and Jon Stewart (New York/New Jersey).

Miami’s announcement was celebrated by singer Gloria Estefan.

“This is my home, a multicultural community where people come to live, work and play,” Estefan said. “And now we will be the home to World Cup 2026. So get ready, because the rhythm is gonna get you.”

The news comes on virtually the four-year anniversary of FIFA’s overwhelming selection of North America as World Cup host. The United States, bidding along with Canada and Mexico, received 134 votes to Morocco’s 65. At that point, 23 stadiums were seeking matches.

Hard Rock Stadium had been viewed as a contender for a quarterfinal or third-place match. But in May, as the venue was preparing to host its inaugural Formula One race, Garfinkel revealed that he told FIFA representatives during a recent visit that he wanted the championship match. There were 1.1 billion viewers for the most recent World Cup final, approximately five times that of the Super Bowl.

FIFA’s reaction?

People wait and watch before FIFA announces the 2026 World Cup host cities, Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

“You know,” Garfinkel said. “Probably everybody else wants it, too. But I think they’re impressed with the venue. They understand the importance of Miami as a global city and as a great soccer city and as a dynamic city.”

FIFA Vice President Vittorio Montagliani and Tournaments & Events Officer Colin Smith toured South Florida in September 2021, including a stop at Hard Rock, where they acknowledged ticket demand will far exceed supply. So they stressed the importance of a fan fest to involve as many fans as possible. That was considered another plus for Miami, which has hosted the most Super Bowls (11) and their accompanying fan fests.

Hard Rock Stadium’s reputation for staging large events didn’t hurt. In 2017, Ross was able to land a sold-out exhibition between Real Madrid and Barcelona featuring Lionel Messi and marking only the second time soccer’s greatest rivalry was staged outside Spain. It also hosts the Miami Open tennis tournament.

FIFA’s criteria for host cities included geography. South Florida obviously is a gateway to Latin America and boasts three international airports within 60 miles of the stadium.

South Florida also offers options for team training facilities. The Dolphins have a new, $135 million training complex on stadium grounds. Up the road in Fort Lauderdale, Inter Miami has DRV PNK Stadium, eight fields and a 50,000-square-foot training facility. Other training possibilities include Freedom Park Stadium, which should be completed by then and will become Inter Miami’s permanent home in Miami.

People wait and watch before FIFA announces a 2026 World Cup host cities on Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Joe Robbie built Hard Rock Stadium with the expectation it would land matches for World Cup ’94 in the United States. But scheduling conflicts with the then-Florida Marlins triggered a decision to send matches instead to Orlando.

The obvious question now: tickets. Officials haven’t announced the ticketing procedure for World Cup 2026 but in 1994, fans purchased blocks of tickets for all matches at a particular venue, not for a particular team.

Hal Habib covers the Dolphins for The Post. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.