Once again, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is willing to make bold changes to attract World Cup games to his stadium in 2026.
In 1994, shortly after taking on the ownership of the NFL franchise, Kraft had a grass surface installed in what was then called Foxboro Stadium in a bid to get games from that year’s World Cup played in New England. The plan worked, with Foxborough, Mass., chosen as one of nine sites. Foxboro Stadium hosted six game in the men’s tournament.
Installing the grass surface was a critical component to securing the venue for Kraft. Now he’s going to do something similar in the hopes of securing now-named Gillette Stadium as a locale for the next men’s World Cup to be held in the United States.
This time, he’ll rip out the artificial synthetic surface, reactivate a dormant irrigation system and reinstall real turf on the pitch.
In September 2021, Kraft, New England Revolution president Brian Bilello and FIFA offices kicked off a nine-city tour of potential venues at Gillette Stadium. The Kraft organization has presented the plans to the organizing officials, which also include eliminating enough seating on the sidelines to meet the requirements for field width for the tournament.
The 2026 World Cup Explained
The 2026 World Cup will for the first time have three different host countries – Canada, Mexico and the United States. There will be 16 venues across the three countries playing host to 80 games. Edmonton and Toronto in Canada have already been selected, as have Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey in Mexico. The other 11 venues will be in the United States.
The field for the 2026 World Cup has been expanded to 38 teams, which is double the number represented in 1994. That earlier World Cup still holds records for total attendance for the tournament (3.5 million) and average attendance per match (69,174). The men’s World Cup was first held in 1930 with Uruguay hosting.
Foxborough Site One of Several in Contention
Robert Kraft would like to host six matches during the World Cup again in 2026, four group-stage games and two elimination matches. During the 1994 games, more than 324,000 fans attended a game.
Gillette Stadium is considered by many soccer experts as a favorite to advance from the17 U.S. stadiums in contention to 11. It certainly helps that Kraft is honorary chair of the 2026 World Cup United Bid Group.
The competition is likely to be keen. Many of the stadiums under consideration are newer than Gillette Stadium which opened in 2002. Some of those newer stadiums may have to make significant structural changes to conform to FIFA’s minimums for field width. Officials for some of those stadiums, fearing a loss in overall capacity, hope to reach a compromise deal on the required dimensions with soccer’s governing body.
Soccer experts consider four of the 17 contenders with the largest capacity to be near-locks to be named as hosts – Dallas (AT&T), Los Angeles (Rose Bowl), New York (MetLife) and Washington, D.C. (FedEx). One of those sites is also the likely site of the World Cup final.
All four of those sites hosted in 1994, along with Foxborough, Orlando and San Francisco.
Other contending sites are Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz), Baltimore (M&T Bank), Cincinnati (Paul Brown), Denver (Empower), Houston (NRG), Kansas City (Arrowhead), Miami (Hard Rock), Nashville (Nissan), Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial), and Seattle (Lumen).
Among the highlights from the 1994 events at Foxboro Stadium are two victories by perennial international powerhouse Argentina, whose squad made it to the knockout stage before being bounced by Romania. The Argentina contests featured the final interactional appearance by legendary star Diego Maradona, who would be suspended later for testing positive for a banned substance.
Another highlight were two victories by Italy, including a win over Nigeria in the second round and a 2-1 win over rival Spain in the quarterfinals. Italy would go on the World Cup final, losing to Brazil on penalty kicks.
The Costs and Opportunities of a World Cup Bid
Making the necessary infrastructure changes is a costly endeavor. However, those costs can be easily offset by the proceeds of gate revenues. There is also the status and exposure that comes with hosting games not only to those in attendance but a worldwide television audience that averages hundreds of millions of viewers per game.
Still the field adjustments needed to make a FIFA game work are significant. World Cup games are traditionally played on natural grass. There’s also the need for more space around the field to accommodate the additional photographers, cameras and security personnel needed.
The World Cup attracts the best players and teams from around the world, meaning that the field conditions, training sites and facilities inside stadiums need to be world-class.
About Robert Kraft
Robert Kraft is the founder, chairman and CEO of The Kraft Group, which includes the New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, International Forest Products and the Rand-Whitney Group.