SEATTLE — Behind all the confidence, all positive vibes, and all the smiles, there are reasons to be cynical about the possibility of the World Cup coming here in 2026. Seattle taxpayers will end up footing some of the bill, almost inevitably. Some of that will come in the form of things like police overtime or infrastructure that will have little use once the tournament is over. Some of it will be the very real dollars that FIFA will demand — something that drove away cities like Vancouver — as well as the moral cost of doing business with an organization that doesn’t exactly have the best reputation.
But if you can come to peace with all of that — and let’s face it, if you’re a regular reader of this site you will probably find a way — there are plenty of reasons to share in the optimism put forward by the five people on the dais for Wednesday’s press conference.
Just looking at FIFA’s evaluation of the “United” bid, Seattle stood up quite well. FIFA scored each of the 23 potential host cities on stadium, accommodations (both for fans and “core“ personnel) and transportation on a five-point scale. Seattle ranked eighth overall and sixth among U.S. cities when considering the average of all three categories (4.1).
While we may bemoan the traffic and wish that our mass transit were further along, the reality is that visitors will have a reasonably easy time getting around, at least in comparison to other North American cities. By 2026, light rail will be running all over the Eastside, as far north as Lynnwood and as far south as Federal Way. Trains will likely be capable of carrying as many as 800 people each and running as frequently as every three to five minutes. That doesn’t even take into account the improved bus rapid transit or Sounder service that will be online by then.
Of course, most of the visitors will probably be mostly concerned with the ease of getting from the airport to their hotels and from their hotels to the stadium. The good news is that virtually all of the hotel rooms in King County — of which there should be more than 50,000 by 2026 — will have good rail connections to CenturyLink Field. In fact, accommodations for fans were where Seattle scored the best, checking in with a perfect 5.0 score by FIFA’s metric.
Similarly, Seattle’s relative geographic isolation doesn’t strike me as particularly problematic. SeaTac is already among the most visited airports in the country and has direct flights going all over the world. It’s also just about an hour-and-a-half to the Bay Area and about two hours from Southern California by plane, making those trips no more difficult that virtually any other trio of cities outside the northeast.
The other major point of apparent concern is that CenturyLink Field’s artificial turf will be seen as virtually disqualifying. Again, this is dramatically overblown. First off, 10 of the 23 bid cities — including all three of the stadiums put forward as hosts of the final and semifinals — currently have artificial turf. FIFA clearly does not consider the need for temporary grass to be particularly problematic.
Beyond that, CenturyLink Field has plenty of experience bringing in temporary grass. It hasn’t always been perfect, but the most recent use of it — during the Copa America Centenario — went just fine, as did the World Cup qualifier it hosted in 2013. By the time 2026 rolls around, technology will likely be improved to the point that placing some sort of tray system over the artificial surface for the entire NFL offseason will likely be perfectly doable, if something that extreme is even deemed necessary.
Another aspect of Seattle’s bid that makes it attractive is the ample world-class training space. The Seattle Seahawks’ VMAC is most often used by visiting European clubs, but the University of Washington and Seattle University also have immaculate facilities that would work just fine. There’s also a very good chance that Starfire Sports Complex will be dramatically updated by then, and this might just be the thing to kickstart that project.
The final elements working in Seattle’s favor are the things that got us into the official United bid video: Seattle’s skyline looks absolutely breathtaking on TV and our fans are as passionate as any in the country. For my money, there’s not a city in the world with a better summer than us and the World Cup will be played smack dab in the middle of it. Don’t underestimate how important things like that are to the folks at FIFA, who will ultimately be making this decision.
Mind you, I don’t think Seattle is a slam dunk. Using those same metrics that put Seattle among the Top 6 in the USA also leaves Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington D.C. outside the Top 10. Los Angeles is a virtual lock to be included and it’s not too hard to imagine a domino effect that sees Seattle pushed aside.
But given what we know today, I’m inclined to believe in the confidence exuded by local leaders on Wednesday. If you can hold your nose at doing business with FIFA, it’s safe to be excited.