Arthur Blank built it and, in 2026, they will come.
Soccer fans from around the world will flock to Atlanta, to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, as part of the quadrennial global pilgrimage to the men’s World Cup finals.
Atlanta was one of 11 U.S. cities — along with two in Canada and three in Mexico — announced June 16 as World Cup venues by the sport’s international governing body, FIFA (the Federation Internationale de Football Association).
Along with Atlanta, the U.S. cities were New York/New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle. In Canada, Toronto and Vancouver were selected; in Mexico, the venues were Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara.
This is what Blank had envisioned from the time that the Mercedes-Benz Stadium was conceived, said documentary filmmaker David Lewis.
“In 2016, when I started ‘Rising Up’ — my film about the stadium and the West Side — Arthur Blank said repeatedly that the stadium was designed so that it could meet FIFA specifications,” Lewis recalled. “That meant building a stadium with a wider pitch than either an MLS or NFL team needed. There was no World Cup on the horizon, Atlanta United didn’t exist and the stadium location was nothing but a field of dirt, but he was thinking ahead and thinking big just in case a World Cup came to the U.S.”
FIFA has yet to announce which games will be played in which cities, but speculation has included Atlanta hosting a semifinal match and perhaps early-round play.
Four years out, Jewish soccer fans in Atlanta already are bursting with anticipation.
“Excited is an understatement,” Abby Shiffman said. “I am thoroughly ecstatic. I cannot wait to be as involved as possible in helping with whatever the Atlanta committee will allow me to do.”
Shiffman is a leader of The Faction, one of the primary Atlanta United FC supporters groups.
“We are hoping that FIFA and the Atlanta Sports Council (ASC) will utilize our Atlanta United supporters groups to assist, however we can, in making the games that are played here in Atlanta the best environment for everyone coming in from all over the world and making it the most successful World Cup,” said Shiffman, who played soccer on her high school team, on a college club team (before there were women’s intercollegiate teams) and, after having children, stopped only because of leg surgeries.
Information about tickets may not be available for another couple of years. The lowest-priced tickets for first-round group stage games at the 2022 men’s World Cup, being played Nov. 21 to Dec. 18 in Qatar, for example, run from $70 to $216. Tickets for the final run from $594 to $1,579. Ticket prices for the 2026 Cup likely will be significantly higher.
Atlanta had been among the cities favored to be selected. Atlanta United, also owned by Blank, leads Major League Soccer in attendance, this season averaging about 46,000 a game, some 10,000 more than the next closest team. A FIFA delegation attended an Atlanta United game last September.
In a news release from the ASC, which coordinated Atlanta’s successful bid, Blank said: “This is an incredible opportunity for the city of Atlanta to continue to show the world what we have to offer. I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Atlanta World Cup Bid Committee, especially the Atlanta Sports Council, Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau and our AMBSE [Arthur M. Blank Sports Entertainment] leadership team, for their diligent work over the past few years that has led us to today’s announcement. There is still more work to be done, and I look forward to working with our public and private partners, FIFA and our local community to bring these spectacular global games to Atlanta.”
The playing surface at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium is artificial turf. Per FIFA regulations, a grass field will be installed in advance of the World Cup. The stadium’s field measures 115 yards in length and 75 yards in width (105 meters by 68 meters), easily meeting FIFA’s requirements.
The downtown Atlanta stadium, which cost $1.6 billion to construct and opened in August 2017, features a camera lens-like retractable roof. The seating capacity is about 72,000 when all three tiers are in use and can reach 73,000-plus when standing room is included. FIFA requires that stadiums accommodate 80,000 for a championship final and 60,000 for a semifinal.
For a city that constantly seeks to burnish its reputation as an international destination, hosting the World Cup is a notable credential.
During the 2017-18 bidding process to select the host nations, the Boston Consulting Group estimated a net benefit to Atlanta of $415 million were it to be a venue, according to the ASC. Each match held in Atlanta would generate global media exposure estimated at $4.6 million. Not immediately available was an estimate of how much the city and other entities would spend in support of FIFA as a host city.
It also is possible that the World Cup’s international media center could be located in Atlanta. Fox Sports and Telemundo hold the U.S. broadcast rights for the 2026 World Cup telecasts in English and Spanish, respectively. The men’s World Cup generates a global television audience numbering in the hundreds of millions.
“It’s the most watched sporting event in the world,” said Aaron Shiffman, 24, echoing his mother’s enthusiasm. “I’m excited to see the biggest stage in the world be in the city I grew up in. The greatest trophy, the greatest sport being played in the greatest city — what’s not to love?”
Shiffman’s soccer resume includes multiple years as a member of Team Atlanta, competing in the national JCC Maccabi Games, as well as playing on high school and college teams.
Whereas this year’s World Cup will have a field of 32 national teams, the 2026 finals will feature 48 teams. The number of games will increase from 64 this year to 80 in 2026 (60 in the U.S. and 10 each in Mexico and Canada). Traditionally, the host nation qualifies automatically. The expectation is that the U.S., Mexico and Canada will be included in the expanded field, though FIFA has yet to make an official announcement.
To date, the largest international soccer event held locally was the men’s and women’s competition during the 1996 Olympics, with Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia hosting the semifinals, bronze medal match and the championship match. In the first Olympics to include women’s soccer, the U.S. won the gold medal, while Nigeria won the men’s gold medal.
The first men’s World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930. The last men’s World Cup held in the United States was in 1994. Mexico hosted in 1970 and 1986. Canada will debut as a host in 2026. The last women’s World Cup in the U.S. was in 1999, when Sanford Stadium hosted a semifinal match.
- David Ostrowsky
- Arthur Blank
- World Cup 2026
- Mercedes-Benz Stadium
- New York-New Jersey
- Kansas City
- Los Angeles
- the San Francisco Bay are
- Mexico City
- Monterrey and Guadalajara
- David Lewis
- Rising Up
- Abby Shiffman
- Atlanta United
- The Faction
- Major League Soccer
- Aaron Shiffman
- University of Georgia
- Sanford Stadium
- Atlanta Sports Council