NEW YORK — Just after 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Philadelphia’s place in the sports world changed forever.
After many years of waiting, the city for the first time officially became the host of a men’s football World Cup, the biggest and most famous sporting event on the planet.
In 2026, Philadelphia will be part of a group of co-hosts of a sports spectacle: 48 national teams combine to play 80 games across the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The other 15 host cities will be Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco (Santa Clara, actually) and Seattle in the United States; Toronto and Vancouver in Canada; and Guadalajara, Mexico, and Monterrey in Mexico.
Boston’s offer was the surprising inclusion. Washington’s joint bid with Baltimore was the most surprising exclusion. Cincinnati, Denver, Edmonton, Orlando and Nashville also missed the cut.
The announcement was made by FIFA, world football’s governing body, during a television broadcast broadcast from Manhattan to the world. Hershey’s Christian Pulisic, the biggest star on the American men’s team, was part of the show. And there were jubilant celebrations by a crowd at LOVE Park in Center City that included fans, local youth players and city, Eagles and Union officials.
Among them was Union captain Alejandro Bedoya, who played for the United States in the 2014 Men’s World Cup. Some of his current and former colleagues – including Pulisic, Downingtown’s Zack Steffen and Brenden and Paxten Medford’s Aaronson – could play in the 2026 tournament. Pulisic, Steffen and Brenden Aaronson are on course to play in this fall’s edition in Qatar, and they play for some of the most famous club teams in the world.
They all know a song popularized by Union supporters, then adopted by the Eagles, drawn from the culture of English football fans: “Nobody likes us, we don’t care”. These words turned out to be wrong. The most popular sport in the world loves Philadelphia very much.
“Philadelphia has just shown what it is,” said FIFA vice-president and Concacaf president Victor Montagliani, praising how hard the city has shown it wants to bring the event to town.
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Philadelphia has also embraced global play in recent years to a far greater degree than it ever has. The city regularly ranks among the top for viewers of the English Premier League, German Bundesliga and other major football competitions, and it has (albeit slowly) integrated the Union into its professional sports scene.
In the 19 years since the opening of Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles stadium has become a hotbed of football. In fact, it was from the start: its inaugural event was a Barcelona-Manchester United exhibition. Later that year, the stadium helped host a Women’s World Cup on short notice when it was moved from China to the United States.
(And remember: 2026 will not be the first World Cup played in the city, it will be the first Men’s World Cup.)
Since then, the pristine Linc grass has hosted a wide range of football events, from national team competitions to European club exhibitions. Union’s Subaru Park has also helped put the area on the football map since it opened in 2010.
As befits the place where America was born, the Philadelphia area has given U.S. national teams an edge on the home court. Both the men’s and women’s teams have a combined record of 25-6-4 in games played here over the years.
Just blocks from City Hall, Philadelphia’s largest business is one of the greatest proofs of football’s popularity and profitability. Comcast has spent some $4.5 billion over the past 10 years buying the broadcast rights to the World Cup and English Premier League, with matches on its biggest TV networks and streaming platforms. The World Cup deal began in 2015 and includes Spanish language rights for 2026 games here, with America’s most famous football broadcaster, Andrés Cantor, leading the coverage.
It’s no secret that Comcast’s influence helped Philadelphia’s bid succeed. When Montagliani came to town last September for a tour, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Telemundo Chairman Beau Ferrari were at key meetings to make the case for the town.
“It’s probably hard to underestimate what a great moment this is,” Roberts told The Inquirer at an event at Comcast’s headquarters in Rockefeller Plaza. “When we were with them, there was just a positive energy from when they were in Philadelphia. … Philadelphia stood out, and that’s the highlight of that effort.
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Football’s presence in Philadelphia has also grown with Philadelphia’s growing diversity. Immigrants from around the world fueled the city’s population growth from 2010 to 2020, the largest such increase in 70 years. Just as they built the region’s world-class restaurant scene, they built global gaming prominence here.
From now on, Philadelphia will join one of the most exclusive sports clubs, with a coronation as a metropolis on the world stage.
And thousands of football fans here can dream of Italy playing their first men’s World Cup game in a dozen years in a place where tricolor flags are plentiful. Or the Irish team bringing their sea of green-clad supporters. Or Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea and other football powerhouses coming to town.
They may even dream of throwing the biggest party in the country for America’s 250th birthday, as many people have already done.
A World Cup quarter-final between the United States and England on July 4, 2026, just a few miles south of Independence Hall.
READ MORE: The dream came true for Brenden Aaronson, with Leeds United and the USA men’s soccer team