Kansas City got the World Cup. Now it's got a world of work to do
From improving public transit to renovating a 50-year-old NFL stadium, the city is about to undertake four years of intense planning that could change the future of the region.
A years-long effort among elected officials and regional sports leaders paid off on Thursday, when FIFA announced that Kansas City would be among 16 cities in North America to host the 2026 World Cup games.
What comes next for Kansas City? Four years of preparations for the largest sporting event in the world — the single biggest sporting event ever to be held in Kansas City. It’s a great undertaking — one that will entail massive resources, including $50 million of improvements to Arrowhead Stadium, where the games will take place, and spending on investments in public transportation, infrastructure and more.
Kathy Nelson of the Kansas City Sporting Commission said hosting the World Cup will have a positive financial impact on the city and lift up the entire region.
“When we have tens of thousands of fans in our city, when you think about the hoteliers, the housekeepers that will be needed, the transportation people, all of that matters,” Nelson told KCUR’s Up To Date on Friday. “It matters that we're employing people. It matters that we're leaving a positive financial gain.”
With the announcement now official, Nelson said the city will establish a business entity to oversee the logistics of running the World Cup tournament. It’s still unclear how many games Kansas City will host.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said the World Cup will bring direct economic and financial benefits to the city. He believes hosting the games will also bring long-lasting benefits beyond 2026.
“Then there's also the brand benefit long-term, the opportunity to have Kansas City really on a distinguished list of cities in our country,” he said.
But while a World Cup presents a huge opportunity for Kansas City to be recognized on an international stage, history has also shown such large events can have negative effects — particularly on marginalized communities. During the 1994 World Cup — the last time the tournament was held in the U.S. — law enforcement in Chicago conducted sweeps of homeless camps. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil resulted in increased rent that displaced many poor and working-class Brazilians. And with the influx of potentially tens of thousands of international visitors will come increased law enforcement presence.
Lucas says some of those issues won’t be a factor in Kansas City. He says already having an established stadium to host the matches would avoid some of the issues of disruption, exclusion and human displacement that has been documented in previous host cities.
“You don't actually have a gigantic swath of, let's say, the core of the city — downtown or in Midtown — that is closed off to residents,” Lucas said. “A lot of the concerns that have happened in other events, nationally and around the world, have been when you have, for example, an Olympics Village where only certain people can go, where you need credentials or access, or tickets.”
Lucas said that as Kansas City builds up over the next four years, it will be important to ensure that residents can still access and rely on basic city services.
“For as long as we have games, whether it's over a few weeks or if it's even a shorter timeframe of events, we make sure that, for example, we're still able to respond to 9-1-1 calls,” Lucas said. “(That) we have enough folks to ensure that the city's being cleaned at its normal rate, among other things.”
In anticipation of the 2026 announcement, the Missouri legislature preemptively passed a bill this year exempting tickets to the FIFA World Cup games from sales taxes. The bill has yet to be signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson.
Lucas said he’s not concerned about missing out on the local sales tax. He says much of the revenue generated from the games will come from outside the arena.
“Game day generations are not actually most of what we get from economic activity,” Lucas said. “What we are often receiving for example is all of our sales taxes from actual purchases at the facility itself, hotel/motel taxes generated, other economic activity taxes that are part of what you're getting from the weekend.”
Lucas said improving public transportation, particularly to Arrowhead Stadium, will be important in the coming years, in addition to ensuring that the economic benefits are equally spread throughout the city.
“For me, it's about, how do we expand and spread opportunity better, rather than perhaps what you see in other cities, like moving unhoused populations or hiring a number of workers at poor pay levels,” he said.