ORLANDO, Fla. – Since 1993, the Greater Orlando Sports Commission has been in charge of attracting sporting events that drive economic development in Central Florida.
The organization's latest pitch is to bring NCAA championships to the region, but there are several other big projects in the works, including the highly-competitive push to have Orlando serve as a host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
CEO Jason Siegel sat down with anchor Justin Warmoth on “The Weekly on ClickOrlando.com” to discuss Orlando’s chances to host World Cup matches.
WARMOTH: Where does Orlando stand when it comes to being a World Cup host city? And then what needs to happen moving forward?
SIEGEL: So, quick history. In June of 2017, [Orlando] Mayor Dyer gets a letter from the folks at FIFA/United organizing committee, which was going to be this group of Mexico, the United States and Canada, three countries bidding as a unified group. We went into the Russia World Cup in June of 2018, and Morocco was bidding against the three countries, but it went our way: 66 percent of the vote, 211 nations voting. They elected to take the 2026 World Cup to the United States, Canada and Mexico. When we started there were 52 venues in 47 cities. You had some cities that have multiple venues like Los Angeles, and now in the United States, there are only 17 cities left and there are ten spots. Mexico is expected to get three spots, Canada would get three spots, ten spots in the United States for a total of 16, so seven cities won’t get matches presumably. We’ve been at this three years now and the expectation is [FIFA] won’t make a decision until the first quarter of 2021, so it could be a four-year cycle in which we’re chasing this opportunity that has an economic impact of $800 million to a $1 billion. The Super Bowl has 100 million viewers. The opening rounds of matches in the World Cup has 250 to 350 million viewers around the world. The really neat part of it is that in the past you’ve had 24 nations, then 32 qualify for the World Cup; 48 nations are going to make it in 2026. We expect there will be 16 host cities, and we are poised and excited for the opportunity to be one of those host cities.
WARMOTH: How much communication have you had [with FIFA] over the last three years? Is it a weekly basis? Is it a monthly basis?
SIEGEL: When we first started it was rapid-fire. It was really intense. We got our bid in. We sat back and waited for the vote in Russia. The United bid won, but then it kind of cooled off a little bit. You had a combination of the Russia World Cup, you had the women’s World Cup, which was so exciting for the U.S. women. Now, there’s a lot of communication again. Our original bid was almost 1,400 pages, so there’s an awful lot of work. Sustainability, human rights, venues, marketing, PR, funding opportunities, security, and the great part about our community is that we have an incredibly collaborative environment that we work in. Mayor Dyer, [Orange County] Mayor Demings, all of our government leaders who have come together and been so supportive of this opportunity, along with our tourism community and hoteliers, airport leaders, so many of our private sector leaders, theme parks, all coming together to say, “Let’s go get this thing.” The amount of exposure, what it would for the future, and it’s a soccer legacy conversation. Our community has grown exponentially from the arrival of the Orlando City Soccer team, now they have the Orlando Pride and a B team, and they’re training in Seminole County, they’re training in Osceola County. Youth soccer has doubled in participation. We’re talking about the legacy of the game, but also the opportunity to maybe have China coming here or India coming here, you could have these massive nations coming here. Back in 1994 when Orlando hosted, the Dutch and the Irish, what a great event that was, so it’s an exciting time and an exciting opportunity for our community.
WARMOTH: Miami is also in the running to be a host city. People expect them to maybe get a spot, they’re probably a favorite. Does that hurt Orlando’s chances being just a three-hour drive away? Or does it matter?
SIEGEL: It’s hard for us to handicap and it’s not really a great idea for us to do that. You hear this cliche in sports all the time, we really have to worry about ourselves, but I think they’re a couple of important points. I think that if FIFA is looking to cluster their group stage matches for the ease of travel for the athletes and for their fans, you could see Miami, Orlando, Atlanta as a clustered southeast sort of grouping and that would make an awful lot of sense. I think that Virgin Trains and Brightline is a really, really big deal. I think that the ease of access potentially by 2022 for a three-hour train from Miami to Orlando, I think that’s fantastic. That would weigh in heavily.
WARMOTH: That's important to remember. We're talking about 2026. We're not talking about Orlando and Camping World Stadium as it stands in 2020. Just think about the progress that we've made in the last six years and then think about another six. I-4 will be done.
SIEGEL: No question. Infrastructure alone. I-4 gets done. The downtown community that has completely evolved with UCF and Valencia downtown. The additional terminal at Orlando International. So much of how our infrastructure has changed will come into effect. All of the investments into Camping World, a $265 million investment into the stadium over the last couple of years. Of course, we have the $60 million in new dollars that are going to go into Camping World. The two key things that we took away from the first round that we went through was that no city ranked higher when it came to accommodations. There were only two categories: venue and accommodations, so the fan experience and then the athlete experience. We got a perfect score when it came to accommodations, which didn't surprise any of us, and our venue did really well. I think we rank already really high, but nobody is sitting still. Other markets are going to make improvements, they're going to be doing things. They're having the same conversations. They're aligning themselves, too. It's going to be incredibly competitive.
WARMOTH: You mentioned it, but the first quarter of next year is when we'll know for sure?
SIEGEL: Well, we don’t know. It’s at FIFA’s discretion, but what we’ve been told is there will be site visits. Folks will come into Orlando probably through November, and then we should be getting some news in February, March or April of next year.