© 2023 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Qatar gives Kansas City a preview of the World Cup 'heavy lift' ahead

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Community watch parties like this one at St. John's Catholic Club on Dec. 9, where fans of the Croatian team gathered for the upset quarterfinal win over Brazil, are expected in 2026.

The countdown to Kansas City co-hosting the world’s biggest single-sporting event begins on Sunday, after the World Cup’s final whistle in Qatar.

A group of Kansas Citians traveled to the World Cup in Doha, Qatar, this year with preparations in mind for the next tournament. Kansas City will be one of 16 North American host cities in 2026.

Between pool play and a match or two in the knockout round, there could be as many as three weeks of soccer-related activities around Kansas City that summer. And it won’t be just Arrowhead Stadium at the center of attention.

FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, has been impressed with the metro’s training facilities, according to people in Sporting Kansas City’s front office.

“Some of those (facilities) are Sporting-owned and -operated,” said Josh Blackford, the team’s vice president of operations. “The Kansas City Current has been a huge asset, having the women’s team, their facilities, and the new stadium coming for the women’s team in the River Market area.”

Greg Echlin
KCUR 89.3
Diego Gutierrez, a Rockhurst University professor and former professional soccer player, observed fan activities during his trip to Doha for the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament.

Still, the fact that multiple teams will play in Kansas City in 2026 requires an understanding of the needs and the wants of each specific team, accommodations included, said Diego Gutierrez, marketing and management professor at Rockhurst University and a former midfielder for the Kansas City Wizards.

How Kansas City rates as a host will also depend on the non-sporting venues that entertain visitors when matches aren’t being played, he said.

“The engagement level of multiple countries, tens of thousands of people — maybe potentially hundreds of thousands of people — that will congregate in and around our city,” Gutierrez said. “Outside the stadium, in our restaurants, at our hotels, this is going to be a heavy lift.”

Gutierrez traveled to Doha for the World Cup this year through his association with the U.S. Soccer Federation. He paid close attention to the fan activities outside the eight venues in Qatar.

In Kansas City, fans of the American and Mexican national teams gathered in the Power and Light District for games, but there are other parts of the city being identified as possible watch-party locations on a larger scale.

“There are three or four different sites that will be really, really interesting to hold fans, and really provide a good experience for anybody involved,” said Gutierrez.

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Fans of the Mexican national soccer team have gathered many times at watch parties like this one on Nov. 22 in the Power and Light District.

The Union Station area, site of the 2023 NFL Draft, is one that’s under consideration, along with the open area at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, near the Country Club Plaza.

Arrowhead considerations

Though it’s still too early to know which national teams may play in Kansas City in 2026, fans from all over the world are certain to scoop up tickets to the matches at Arrowhead Stadium.

Matt Kenny, executive vice president of stadium operations and events, also traveled to Doha, and knows he’ll have his hands full with what’s planned on and around the Truman Sports Complex.

“It’s anything from transportation, to the logistics, hospitality, broadcasting, media requirements, media standards — the experience when people are there,” he said.

It’s a big chance to put our sports community on the international map, according to Kenny, and an excuse to give those visitors a taste of one important Kansas City tradition outside Arrowhead Stadium.

“Tailgating will absolutely be part of that,” he said. “We have no doubt.”

People wearing fan gear walk on a street in front of a large parking lot where cars are parked and tailgating with red and yellow tents in the background.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Bengals and Chiefs fans mingle as they walk into Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. The Truman Sports Complex will host World Cup games in 2026.

Other gathering sites

Smaller gatherings and events will pop up along the way, too, if a recent watch party at St. John’s Catholic Club in Kansas City, Kansas, is any indication.

More than a week after the U.S. national team was eliminated from the 2022 World Cup, hundreds of people showed up there to cheer on another national team.

Largely dressed in the red-and-white checkers at the center of Croatia’s flag, the crowd erupted with joy when their team upset Brazil in the quarterfinals.

Jordan Haas, an attorney from Lenexa, was among those enraptured in the celebration.

“My family is Croatian. We grew up in a Croatian neighborhood, which is just along this street, next to where we are right now,” he said. “I’m actually applying for my Croatian citizenship, and I’m a huge soccer fan.”

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Soccer fans, rapt by the Croatian national team's play, gathered Dec. 9 for a watch party at St. John's Catholic Club in Kansas City, Kansas.

Haas said he wants to see Kansas City scale up its current soccer infrastructure before the 2026 World Cup kicks off, including more community-run watch parties.

“I definitely think we’ll see more of that,” he said. “Even if it’s some team from Africa and Europe playing at Arrowhead Stadium, (Kansas City fans) are going to be talking about it.”

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.