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Hosting 2026 World Cup games in Vancouver could cost up to $260 million

Cost estimate of roughly a quarter of a billion dollars comes as FIFA announces Vancouver’s addition to list of candidate cities
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The B.C. government expects Ottawa and the City of Vancouver to share an estimated cost of up to $260 million if Vancouver is chosen to host games in the 2026 World Cup

If FIFA picks Vancouver to host matches during the 2026 World Cup, it could cost taxpayers up to $260 million.

FIFA announced April 14 that it had added Vancouver to its list of candidate cities vying to host the 48-nation tournament in four years. It expects to decide on 16 host cities by June. U.S. cities will share 60 matches, with Canada and Mexico getting 10 apiece.

“While estimated costs are still being evaluated, preliminary planning shows costs in the range of $240 million to $260 million for planning, staging and hosting FIFA events in B.C.” said a prepared statement attributed to B.C. Tourism Minister Melanie Mark. “We expect the federal government will also make contributions to these costs, and the City of Vancouver has pledged support.”

On March 15, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he wanted city council to commit $5 million. In 2015, city hall gave Women’s World Cup organizers $1.2 million for a fan festival at Larwill Park. The province granted FIFA $2 million, which amounted to free rent at B.C. Place Stadium.

Vancouver’s return to contention comes just over four years after Premier John Horgan said the BC NDP government wouldn’t give FIFA a “blank cheque.” Vancouver was excluded from the winning U.S.-led bid when the province couldn’t reach an agreement over extra costs for matches at BC Place Stadium.

Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton were in the 2018 proposal. But, last July, Montreal withdrew due to rising costs.

How many matches could B.C. Place host for a quarter-billion-dollars? That is not clear, but it could be similar to the five contemplated for Toronto. City hall staff there estimated that would cost $290 million, so they asked the federal and Ontario governments to pay two-thirds of the bill, or $177 million. FIFA is expected to pay just $12.7 million.

In 2018, Toronto city staff estimated the cost to be $30 million to $45 million, but the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA have since shifted more hosting requirements onto city hall, Exhibition Place, Destination Toronto and the owners of Toronto FC.

“This exercise – which considered the full breadth of the host city agreement – saw a rise in costs in several areas such as security, stadium adaptation and expansion, and preparation of training sites,” the report said. “City staff anticipate that there are areas where savings can be secured given that there is time available for lower cost alternatives to be identified and for FIFA requirements to be negotiated.”

Toronto has committed to providing FIFA with BMO Field, training sites, a 34-day FanFest and transportation and safety and security services. FIFA is also demanding an addendum to the 2018 agreement for upgrades and rental costs at BMO Field.

“Signing the contractual addendum has been identified by FIFA as mandatory to remain in contention for host city selection,” the report said.

In return for spending $290 million, Toronto estimates a $307 million economic impact, with 3,300 jobs and 174,000 overnight visitors, resulting in $3.5 million municipal accommodation tax revenue.

The B.C. government claims that Destination BC and BC Stats estimate the West Coast tourism industry could attract more than $1 billion in new revenue “during and in the five years following the event.” The ministry did not include the methodology.

Prof. Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., has studied mega-events. While there can be benefits, they don’t live up to the hype generated by the organizers who benefit from the subsidies, he said.

Large sporting events like World Cups and Olympics supplant, rather than supplement, the regular tourist economy, Matheson said.

“There’s no reason that again, taxpayers in Vancouver or in Boston, where I am, should be subsidizing a private entity run by millionaires generating billions of dollars,” Matheson said.

After Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup, FIFA reported that US$5.35 billion revenue from the tournament contributed to its record US$6.42 billion, four-year haul. Its 2021 financial statements boast US$3.4 billion assets and US$1.6 billion in reserves.