Kraft Group is teeing up a nonprofit organization that would enable Boston to take a shot at being a host city for the FIFA World Cup in 2026.
The owner of the New England Patriots and Revolution has formed Boston Soccer 2026 to put Boston in the mix. The United States Soccer Association and its counterparts in Mexico and Canada submitted a bid to FIFA with 23 possible host cities, including Boston, earlier this month.
Kraft Group chief executive Robert Kraft is honorary chairman of the North American bid committee.
The list had been winnowed down from nearly 50. Leaders in Chicago, Vancouver, and Minneapolis withdrew from consideration this month, citing concerns they could get saddled with cumbersome FIFA requirements.
The local games would be played at the nearly 66,000-seat Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. But Boston would be the primary host city, in part because many fans would travel through Logan Airport and stay in the city.
Boston Soccer 2026, city officials said, will eventually reimburse Boston for staff planning expenses and any other costs incurred. Boston Soccer 2026 would also sign the host-city agreement with FIFA, they said, ensuring Boston doesn’t get stuck with World Cup-related financial and legal stipulations.
“The FIFA requirements are that there’s a host city entity or authority that would be responsible for the overall management of any games that are played here,” said Phil Buttafuoco, Gillette Stadium’s executive director of special events. “That would include the training sites, coordination of fan festivals, and branding of FIFA throughout the region. So for us, the best method to achieve all of that was to form Boston Soccer 2026.”
For now, Kraft Group is the only company backing Boston Soccer 2026. Buttafuoco said the nonprofit eventually would try to raise an unspecified amount of money for Boston’s role in hosting as many as six games at Gillette in mid-2026.
“This effort, Boston Soccer 2026, basically ensures that we’re not going to ask for any public funding in operating these games,” Buttafuoco said.
Significant fund-raising, though, won’t begin until it is certain that Boston will be a host city.
FIFA, the sport’s international governing organization, first needs to choose between the North America proposal, known as the United Bid, and a rival offer from Morocco. That decision is expected in June. If North America wins, FIFA would narrow the list of host cities down to as many as 16 by sometime in 2020.
One big selling point of the United Bid: There are more than enough existing stadiums to accommodate the games. The same is not true in Morocco.
Buttafuoco said no extra infrastructure would be needed in Massachusetts. Kraft Group’s motivation, he said, is partly aimed at showing off 16-year-old Gillette Stadium on a global stage. Plus, he said, the games could provide a significant boost for the local economy.
“This would have a tremendous short- and long-term benefit for Boston and the region in welcoming the world,” he said.
Kraft Group officials said their on-again, off-again plans for a soccer-specific stadium to accommodate the Revolution would proceed separately from the World Cup bid. The Major League Soccer stadium, if it comes to fruition, would be about a third of the size of Gillette.
Their quest for a soccer arena site in Greater Boston has gone quiet ever since a proposal at UMass Boston’s Bayside Expo Center property in Dorchester fell apart last year. If the Revolution gets a soccer stadium by 2026, it wouldn’t be essential to the bid but “would become a very unique asset that we could incorporate into our overall programming,” Buttafuoco said.
The World Cup has come to this country before, in 1994. That event was considered a seminal moment. It inspired legions of new fans and led to the formation of Major League Soccer. The Patriots’ previous stadium in Foxborough was one of the host venues.
The 1994 World Cup was so successful that it left a $50 million surplus to a newly formed charity, the US Soccer Foundation.
Victor Matheson, an economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, said the net financial impact of the 2026 World Cup would be quite different than that of the 2024 Summer Olympics, which Boston once sought to host. That’s because all the competition venues are already in place, unlike with the Olympics.
“Theoretically, the World Cup should be all benefits and almost no costs,” Matheson said. “You don’t need to build anything for this.”