By Reg Clause: Jefferson, Iowa
Maybe we can get along after all.
That was my first thought after hearing the welcome news that the United States, Canada, and Mexico will co-host the World Cup in 2026.
This three-way achievement comes at a low-point in North American relations, as our trade diplomats haggle over the renegotiation of NAFTA.
I’m hopeful that their sparring will produce something good—after 25 years, NAFTA would benefit from an update—but we’ve also witnessed political leaders on all sides express annoyance with each other and threaten new tariffs.
So the World Cup announcement comes at just the right moment. Only once before has more than one nation hosted a single World Cup - Japan and South Korea were co-hosts in 2002. The men and women who secured the event for North America referred to their effort as the “United Bid.”
If nothing else, the 2026 World Cup should remind us of how much we can accomplish when we unite for mutual advantage—whether it’s for a sporting event or a trade agreement.
I won’t pretend to be America’s biggest soccer fan. I grew up playing baseball and it remains my favorite sport. But neither will I act like a curmudgeon who sneers at soccer because other countries have better national teams.
For me, soccer has become a family affair. My granddaughters play the sport—and you can bet that I’m always cheering for them. I’ve also enjoyed my son-in-law’s passion. He’s Swiss, and so he grew up with soccer. He also traveled to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It electrified him. On his return, he couldn’t stop talking about how much he enjoyed it.
Yet the World Cup is about much more than fun and games. It’s really about economic opportunity.
Soccer is catching on in America. Cable channels increasingly broadcast big-time matches from Europe. Major League Soccer is here to stay, with 23 teams this season and plans for more. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Jason Gay joked that soccer has become “one of the most popular participation sports in the U.S., behind basketball and screaming at each other on the internet.”
The truth is that soccer was popular long before anyone expressed outrage on Twitter—and that’s one of the key reasons behind North America’s acquisition of the 2026 World Cup.
In 1994, when the World Cup came to the United States for the first and only time, an average of nearly 70,000 people attended each match. This set a record that stands today, even though soccer fans have watched five World Cup tournaments since then, not to mention the propensity for sports spectacles to grow bigger over time
And 2026 will be the biggest World Cup yet, as the number of participating teams increases by half, from 32 to 48. That means more matches and more revenue. FIFA, which is soccer’s international governing body, anticipates profits of $11 billion.
But that’s only a fraction of the total spending. Fans will purchase plane tickets, book hotels, rent cars, eat at restaurants, and buy souvenirs. Most of that money will stay right here, in North America. Teams will play 80 games, and analysts expect that 60 will take place in the United States and 10 each in Canada and Mexico.
Perhaps best of all, nobody has to build shiny new stadiums. The 2026 World Cup won’t turn into a public spending spree of Olympic proportions because the infrastructure already is here. So is the expertise. I’ve spent my life in farming—and my mind turns to the jobs in turf management, which is a specialized form of agriculture. Specialists will prepare the fields for games and help them recover afterward.
Taken as a whole, the 2026 World Cup ought to generate economic activity across borders for the benefit of everyone. It’s like a really good trade deal.
Maybe it will even inspire our NAFTA negotiators—and convince them that when the United States, Canada, and Mexico collaborate, we win as a team.
Reg Clause is a Jefferson, Iowa farmer and business consultant. He serves as Chairman and volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org) where this column originally appears.