Several high-ranking FIFA executives visited Denver on Monday and toured Empower Field as the next step in the city’s bid to host World Cup 2026 matches.

Colin Smith, FIFA chief competitions and events officer, said finalists are not expected to be announced until sometime next year. Denver is one of 17 American cities vying for 10 host sites. It welcomed FIFA on Monday with a delegation of soccer stars and state leaders — such as USMNT goalie legend Tim Howard and Mayor Michael Hancock — to pitch the Mile High City.

“We had some great presentations and passionate speakers about what Denver can bring to the World Cup. The hard sell started early,” Smith said. “The message is very much received in terms of the enthusiasm and the passion.”

Howard, after representing the U.S. in three consecutive World Cups, played over five seasons for the Colorado Rapids (2016-20). He brings significant name recognition to Denver’s push for hosting games.

“We are poised and ready to make this the best World Cup and the best host city there has been. What I think about (Denver) is the fans and the passion,” Howard said. “I’ve been in stadiums in this city that have been standing-room-only. We have more passion than I’ve ever seen. Even though I’m a kid from New Jersey, this is why I call it home. One day, I’ll get back here.”

There is no magic formula for how FIFA will select host cities. But Denver has a lot to offer, most notably, geography.

Smith said that FIFA aims to “ensure the teams are treated equally, within the realms of possibility, and that travel distances are maintained to a certain limit” with games played in regions spanning the country.  Denver makes sense as a central hub.  In June, Empower Field hosted the CONCACAF Nations League Finals.

But location is one of many factors FIFA will consider.

“We start with the players. We need to provide the best playing conditions in the world for the best players in the world to perform at the highest level in the world,” Smith said. “That’s ultimately what we want for the World Cup. Ultimately, everything else is then built around that. … Then we look at all the ancillary stakeholders who are critical to the success of a World Cup as well: broadcasters, sponsors, media and fans. … What experience do we want them to have for the World Cup?”

The financial investment to bring World Cup matches to Denver is between $35 million to $45 million for costs related to a fan festival, security, transportation, plus game and training site modifications, according to the Denver 2026 Bid Committee.  It plans to raise that money with corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and other fundraising that does not require public funding.

In return, the World Cup could bring an economic windfall to Denver. The projected revenue from hosting five matches is $360 million, according to a Boston Consulting Group study.

The city of Denver expects major advancements to its infrastructure over the next four years to help accommodate a global event. Hancock noted ongoing improvements to road surfaces, bike lanes and the convention center expansion.

“We are gearing up to continue to invest … in better and improved infrastructure before 2026 that allows us to host any type of event in our city, and to make it seamless and convenient for everyone,” Hancock said. “We’re ready to welcome visitors from around the world to our great city. We know we can do this.”

Victor Montagliani, FIFA vice president, stressed the difficulty in narrowing down host cities.

“It’s obvious Denver wants it,” Montagliani said. “That, to me, is one of the most important things.”

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