Mercedes-Benz Stadium was lit up last year to welcome FIFA officials during a tour of potential 2026 World Cup stadiums. FIFA announced June 16 some of the soccer matches will be played in Atlanta. (FIFA)

The men’s 2026 World Cup soccer tournament is headed to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a goal city officials and sports fans have been hoping to achieve for years.

The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the governing body of the World Cup, announced the host cities for one of the most popular sporting events in the world on June 16.

FIFA also selected Boston, Dallas, Guadalajara, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Miami, Monterrey, New York / New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver as 2026 World Cup host cities.

FIFA estimated more than 3.2 billion people watched at least some of the 2018 World Cup.

‘It’s a perfect match’

The Atlanta Sports Council, a division of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, led the bid process to bring the 2026 men’s World Cup to Atlanta, one that began roughly four years ago.

“The biggest sporting event is coming to Atlanta,” Dan Corso, president of the ASP, said during a press conference at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after announcements of the host cities concluded. Also speaking were Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens.

“The global event is connecting with an international city with our international diversity and our connectivity to the world to our airport,” Corso said. “It’s a perfect match, if you will pardon the pun.”

The 2026 World Cup will be the first played in the U.S. since 1994. The tournament is also the first time three countries are co-hosting. There will be 48 teams playing, up from the traditional 32, so the tournament will produce more games than ever

Gov. Brian Kemp said the World Cup is returning to a much more thriving and popular U.S. soccer culture than existed in 1994. Atlanta United, the city’s championship professional soccer team, is a perfect example, he said.

“No city embodies this transition more than Atlanta, which has wholeheartedly embraced soccer and supported its growth,” he said.

City and state officials were joyful after learning Atlanta would be a host city for the 2026 men’s World Cup. From right are: Katie Kirkpatrick, Katie Kirkpatrick, president and CEO of Metro Atlanta Chamber; Mayor Andre Dickens; William Pate, president and CEO at Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau; and Gov. Brian Kemp. (Dyana Bagby)

“Since their inaugural season in 2017, our very own Atlanta United have set attendance records for soccer matches in the U.S,, with an average attendance rivaling some of the biggest clubs in the world,” Kemp said. “I look forward to the day when we will be united in this state for one of the most impactful events in our state’s history.”

Kemp also noted he signed legislation in May that eliminates sales tax on World Cup tickets. Georgia also set aside $250,000 in next year’s budget for security if Atlanta won the bid. More money will be needed for security, Kemp said. But the budget line item let FIFA know the city and state were serious about bringing the World Cup to Atlanta.

Kemp thanked former Ambassador Andrew Young and Olympic Committee Chair Billy Payne for their work to bring the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta. Kemp said the bipartisan public and private partnerships forged at that time “laid the groundwork” for Atlanta being selected to host two Super Bowls, three NCAA men’s Final Four tournaments, the College Football National Championship and now the World Cup.

“It’s exciting to think about the impact that this premiere event will have on so many hard working Georgians,” Kemp said.

Dickens also praised the success of Young and Payne to bring the Olympics to Atlanta. Hosting the global event ensured Atlanta as a major player in the sports world.

And now the world now knows Atlanta is a “soccer town,” Dickens said. One of the city’s best selling points is MARTA’s direct access from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to the Georgia World Congress Center/CNN Center Station, he said. The transit station serves the dozens of hotels and tourist sites near Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Atlanta is ready to welcome folks from all over the world and fill every seat in this beautiful stadium, just like we do for our Atlanta United matches,” he said.

Dickens said over the next four years , the redevelopment of The Gulch into Centennial Yards would replace acres of asphalt surrounding the stadium with hotels, office towers, restaurants and retail. These new amenities are selling points for people visiting from around the world, Dickens said.

“Atlanta is ready to welcome folks from all over the world and fill every seat in this beautiful stadium, just like we do for our Atlanta United matches,” he said.

The recent voter approval to extend a sales tax to fund infrastructure improvements would be used to beef up public transportation, repair streets and sidewalks and add bike lanes over the next several years, Dickens said. The Atlanta Beltline runs near Mercedes-Benz Stadium and will be a huge draw for tourists, he added.

“This area in the next four years is going to look a little different,” Dickens said. “Some of those areas where there are gaps in infrastructure, you’re going to see buildings and connectivity, places where good fanfare is gonna take place during the World Cup.”

FIFA won’t decide until mid-2023 what matches will be played in what cities. Corso said Atlanta is expected to host semi-final matches, but that hasn’t been confirmed. Dickens said his goal is to convince FIFA that Atlanta is the best place to stage biggest matches.

“I’m excited …, but I still want to make sure that we continue to go and try to host the biggest game the biggest matches,” Dickens said. He also said the city plans to work hard to bring the 2026 World Cup media headquarters to the Georgia World Congress Center.

The Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United both play home matches at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened in 2017 and seats about 75,000. The stadium has a retractable roof and artificial turf. FIFA requires World Cup tournaments be played on grass. Stadium officials said there is a plan to convert the stadium to grass for the World Cup in February 2026, after the NFL season. When the World Cup is over, the stadium’s field will return to artificial turf.

A study by the Boston Consulting Group said the 2026 World Cup could mean up to $4 billion in net revenue to North America, or about $90 to $480 million per city after accounting for potential public costs. Atlanta is estimated to get $415 million in benefits.

From left, Gov. Brian Kemp, Mayor Andre Dickens, and Atlanta Sports Council President Dan Corso. (Dyana Bagby)

Shortly after the announcement, the Atlanta City Council released a group statement: “Atlanta certainly has experience hosting top-tier sporting events in our city, including three Super Bowls and the Olympics, so it’s very exciting to add this incredible event to that rich history. Our city has the venues and the fan base for a truly special atmosphere. This a wonderful opportunity to showcase our city to the world once again.”

This story has been updated with comments from the press conference held by Gov. Brian Kemp, Mayor Andre Dickens and Dan Corso following the announcement.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.