Innovative Houston bullish on bid to host 2026 World Cup games

·8 min read

Houston is one of 16 cities across the United States of America who are currently bidding to host games at the 2026 World Cup, and they’re bullish about their chances.

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10 of those 16 U.S. cities will succeed and Houston, the fourth largest city in the USA, believes it has plenty of advantages over its rivals.

From a stadium with a roof to keep out the summer storms, plus having facilities close together downtown and a long history of hosting the biggest events in the sporting world, the biggest city in Texas is going all-in on hosting 2026 World Cup games.

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Ahead of the official site visit from FIFA to Houston in late October, ProSoccerTalk spoke to Chris Canetti, the president of Houston’s 2026 World Cup bid.

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What gives Houston an edge?

Canetti is one of the leading soccer executives in the country and was president of the Houston Dynamo from 2010 to 2019, before taking this unique role to lead Houston’s World Cup bid.

That means that Canetti wakes up every single day with one goal: to bring 2026 World Cup games to Houston.

Asked about what gives Houston the edge over other U.S. cities to host games, Canetti highlighted its international feel and innovative heart as being integral to the ‘Spirit of Houston’ they want to showcase to the world.

“Houston is the fourth-largest city in the USA and the largest in Texas, so we are a big city of 7 million people and also considered to be the most diverse city in all of North America,” Canetti explained. “That is something very important when you’re bringing the world’s game into a city. You want to have an internationally diverse culture that exists, and that is something very strong here in Houston.”

“As a result of being an international and diverse city, it is a football loving city,” Canetti continued. “The passion for the game is incredible and so is the passion to bring a World Cup here. I feel like I have the full weight of community behind me in this effort…

“With our bid, everything is in our city. Everything takes place in Houston. From the airports, to the stadium, to the hotels, to the training sites. It is all under one jurisdiction and there is a united front and everyone is working in sync. We’ve got the key officials all behind this. Everybody is aligned.

“And if you look at history, over the last decade or slightly longer, any time promoters are bringing major football events to this country, Houston has been a designated stop. It is because this city rises to the occasion.”

From NASA and the huge energy companies that call Houston home, innovation is at its core and that’s also true with this 2026 World Cup bid.

How will Houston stand out from its competitors?

As Canetti said, Houston is no stranger to these big games, as it has hosted more major sporting events than any other U.S. city since 2004.

Be it Super Bowl’s, NCAA Final Four’s, All Star Game’s, Gold Cup’s and Copa America Centenario games, Houston has been there, done it and got the t-shirt.

But the jewel in Houston’s crown for this bid is NRG Stadium.

It sits at the heart of NRG Park, a campus which has training facilities, a convention center and an indoor arena all connected, and there are also five separate training facilities for teams within 15 minutes of the stadium, which act perfectly as a base.

As for the stadium itself, NRG has a 70,000 capacity and a fully retractable roof.

Why is that fact about the roof so important?

Houston
Houston

Well, that gives Houston a huge advantage over its competitors as it can guarantee games will take place regardless of summer storms which are commonplace across the USA in June and July when World Cup games will take place.

Of the 16 host venues in the running in the USA, Houston is one of just three (Atlanta and Dallas the others) to have a retractable roof.

Having games in Houston will give FIFA certainty that no issues will arise when it comes to planning and logistics. Don’t underestimate that.

“I think the retractable roof is a unique feature and brings huge value to the event,” Canetti said. “190 million people worldwide watch these games on average. To be able to protect the integrity of that broadcast window and stay on time via a retractable roof, I think that is very valuable in this country with the climate being the way it is… It is fantastic to have climate controlled protection and only a small number of us that have that and it provides value.”

What will the legacy be?

Every single World Cup city wants the tournament to leave behind a legacy.

Houston is no different and Canetti believes the impact this World Cup will have is going to be off the charts, across the USA, Canada and Mexico.

“If you look at how much the game has grown in this country from 1994 to 2026, it is massive,” Canetti continued. “Now there’s more attention to it. More acceptance to it. More connection and involvement. What the impact will be, well, it almost seems immeasurable at this point. It is going to be so grand.”

It is estimated that Houston will benefit economically by over $1 billion from hosting World Cup games, but Canetti is also focused on how local youngsters will benefit, long-term, from seeing the best national teams in the world heading to Texas.

The host bid have set up the Houston Soccer Innovation Institute, which is already helping youngsters in underserved communities get access to the Houston Dynamo in MLS and the Houston Dash in the NWSL, among other initiatives.

Columbus Crew v Houston Dynamo
Columbus Crew v Houston Dynamo

“Legacy has been at the forefront of everything we’ve been doing since day one,” Canetti said. “We’ve launched the Houston Soccer Innovation Institute and it is a truly one of a kind program which our host committee will manage. This institute will handle the legacy portion of this bid. Our legacy is based around growing the game, fan experience and social and environmental responsibility. And we will focus on how all of those things can make the community better.

“Houston is an innovative place. We have NASA here, we have the largest medical center in the world here and we are the energy capital of the world. We are using these innovative pieces of our community and resources to help the growth and impact of the game.”

What does that mean?

Well, if FIFA wants help in how to reduce head injuries in the game, create more energy efficient stadiums, help with ideas on how to improved human rights globally and wants anything from NASA, this institute will get leaders from across Houston together in one place to come up with answers.

Where does Houston rank among potential host cities?

Houston wants to host knockout games as well as group stage games, and they know they can host clashes up to the quarterfinal stage with the size of their stadium.

How does Canetti rank their chances of being successful in bringing the World Cup to Texas’ biggest city?

“That is the magical question,” Canetti said. “I know rationally and in my heart that Houston is among the top 10. Does that mean we are guaranteed a spot? No. I don’t approach it that way whatsoever. I know there are lots of things that go into this. Lots of moving parts.”

With the likes of New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Atlanta and Washington D.C. all expected as locks to be six of the 10 host cities in the USA for the 2026 World Cup, it looks like Houston is in a straight battle with the likes of Denver, Philadelphia, Boston, Orlando and Kansas City to host games.

Canetti is up for the battle to bring the world’s game to Houston.

“It is hard for me to predict where we stand. Lots of people like to ask me ‘who is your competition?’ but it is hard to state that. We know we have a strong package and the experience of what it takes to do this but we aren’t going to take anything for granted. We’ve been working hard since day one to create points of differentiation from the competition and we are going to fight for this and put everything we have behind it.”

Innovative Houston bullish on bid to host 2026 World Cup games originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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