On July 9, 2020, Kathy Nelson — the president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission — logged into her computer and prepared to make the pitch to FIFA as to why Kansas City deserved to be one of the host cities for the 2026 World Cup.
Kansas City may not be the first city that pops into a sports fan’s mind, but for those of us who have spent countless Saturday nights in the Caldron at Children’s Mercy Park cheering on the team until our voices give out or stood crammed into the Power and Light District, praying for the 86th minute John Brooks header that would put Team USA through to the knockout stage — we know one simple truth — sports do indeed mean more in Kansas City.
And go back as far as you want: Kansas City has always been a sports town. The only thing longer than our history is our memory.
Case in point, I bet many of you remember Joe Montana leading the Chiefs on a two-minute drive on Monday Night Football to beat the Broncos as clearly as you remember Patrick Mahomes asking, “Do we have time to run wasp?”
Going into the presentation with FIFA, Nelson and her team had two goals: to prove that Kansas City has a track record of hosting major sporting events and that the city is committed to growing the game of soccer in our community.
“We presented a strong, cohesive vision that demonstrates Kansas City’s experience hosting major sporting events as well as our ability to unite an entire region around those events,” said Nelson. “Hosting World Cup matches in 2026 would allow us to cement our legacy as the Soccer Capital of America.”
According to Kansas City Chiefs Team President Mark Donovan, when Nelson and her team began the meeting, Kansas City was on the outside looking in. FIFA listened to the pitch, but KC wasn’t expected to make the cut.
“There was a moment where FIFA’s team went around to all 18 cities that were bidding, and they had a presentation — it’s your opportunity to shine,” recalled Donovan to reporters on Friday. “And the feedback that we got on that presentation, which was led by Kathy and her team... [there] were two key points going into the meeting, we were on the bubble or just outside. [We were] probably not getting it.
“Coming out of the meeting, we were firmly in and most likely going to get it. It was a great day for us as a city, to come together and just show how special we are and how prepared we are for this.”
People don’t realize what an exceptional sports town Kansas City is until they see it with their own eyes, and then it’s so apparent there is no denying it.
“We like to think that as the Chiefs and operating Arrowhead Stadium — that we’re one of the best in the world,” explained Donovan. “We take a lot of pride in the fan experience — but Sporting’s success. The fact that this city, with the Royals, hosted an All-Star game, the fact that we had the World Series is a factor. We’ve had championship games again, and again, and again. All those things matter — Kathy’s experience in having the Big 12 championship.
“It was an opportunity to shine a light on all that, and I will tell you that the FIFA people walked away very impressed, and I think that was really the tipping point that got us in the mix.”
The World Cup is the largest single-sport competition in the world— 3.57 billion people watched the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Everything Kansas City has done up until this point pales in comparison. We’ve never seen anything like this from an exposure perspective.
Picture this for a moment: a group of children huddles around a television in the streets of Nigeria to watch the latest World Cup match.
Or perhaps a group of 20-something-year-old friends has gathered for a watch party in Tehran.
Or an entire Columbian neighborhood takes to the streets to watch their team play.
In all of these scenarios, the stadium on the screen is Arrowhead — and includes hundreds of millions of eyes from every country around the globe, watching the “beautiful game” being played in Kansas City.
“The World Cup puts Kansas City on a map it’s never been on before,” said Donovan proudly. “When you think about the importance of the event and the fact that the team that we were a part of got that event, [it] should be noted and acknowledged... it’s going to be amazing when people see it, and it’s going to be really exciting to be part of it as it relates to the stadium.”
The Chiefs and Nelson still have a lot of work to do to make this dream scenario a reality. Donovan said the first order of business is to remove a few thousand seats so that the pitch can be widened to meet FIFA standards.
“It’s actually a two-year construction process,” explained Donovan. “It’s five or eight rows — a couple of corners that we gotta do some work on, so it doesn’t seem like a big project, but I would tell you that when you get into the architecture of the building and the age of the building, it’s an enormous project.
“We’ve mapped out a plan where we can actually do some of the work... our goal at this point is to make sure that every single seat is replaced... and [that we will] not lose a single seat for football. FIFA is actually pushing us a little bit aggressively to try to reduce the number of seats we take out, which creates a little bit of a better opportunity for us. It will be an enormous challenge for our operations and construction crew, [but it’s] one that we will be up for.”
Donovan explained that construction on Arrowhead will begin after the 2024 season is complete, “We’ll do it the summer of ... and then after the  season, [we’ll] take it out.”
Whatever improvements are made to Arrowhead, Donovan said that they will not impact the team’s decision on whether or not they will leave the Truman Sports Complex in the coming years to seek out a location for a new stadium.
“I would tell you that it’s its own separate discussion. We’ve got to think of the stadium as its own entity and we’ve got to do whatever we do right, and I think that’s the recurring theme here. We got a big decision to make in a number of years and we got to make sure we’re doing all the due diligence, and have all the information.”
Donovan said that there are other challenges at play as well.
The Chiefs and the city will need to figure out how to provide public transportation to and from the surrounding areas to Arrowhead, as well as build up the area around the stadium so that there are more places to eat beyond Taco Bell and the continental breakfast at the Best Western.
“We definitely have things that we got to pay attention to and put some effort behind. There’s some fundraising we need to do. We’ve got to convince people that we can do this. We can, but we need to show them how we’re going to do that.”
Kansas City is at a fork in the road. We are moving down the path into uncharted territory. Soon, all the bright lights of the global stage will be shining directly on Arrowhead Stadium.