Why magical MetLife landed grand FIFA final?



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MetLife Stadium to host FIFA final 2026 Image: Metlife Stadium, Anthony Quintano, CC BY 2.0

FIFA has selected the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey (US) to host the 2026 World Cup final.

Zürich (Switzerland)-based the Fédération internationale de football association (FIFA) is the international governing body of association football, beach soccer and futsal. It was founded in 1904 to oversee international competition among the national associations of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain (represented by the Madrid Football Club), Sweden, and Switzerland.

The 2026 FIFA World Cup™, marketed as FIFA World Cup 26, will be the 23rd FIFA World Cup™, the quadrennial international men’s soccer championship contested by the national teams of the member-associations of FIFA. The tournament is set to take place from June 11th to July 19th, 2026 and is being hosted by Mexico, United States and Canada.

The 82,500-capacity MetLife Stadium is an open-air multipurpose stadium at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey, 5 mi (8 km) West of New York City. Opened in 2010 to replace the now-closed 82,500-capacity Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, it serves as the home for the New York Giants and New York Jets of the National Football League (NFL), and is hosting the final of the 2026 FIFA World Cup™. At an approximate cost of $1.6 billion, it was the most expensive stadium built in the United States at the time of its completion.
 

Political Climates

‘The Athletic’ stated that one topic that may have factored into FIFA’s decision to award the final to the MetLife Stadium over the 80,000-capacity AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is the varying political climates in New Jersey, New York and Texas. In short, the two sides could not be more ideologically different or on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

In recent months, one of the biggest political tensions between New York and Texas has been the ongoing migrant crisis at the US-Mexico border. There are also differences when it comes to gun reform, reproductive rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ)+ rights. New Jersey has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States.

Texas is the largest State to ban nearly all abortions after the 2022 overturn of Roe v. Wade (a 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States). There’s also the question of LGBTQ+ rights, with the Human Rights Campaign saying Texas is responsible for more than 20 percent of the more than 500 anti-LGTBQ+ Bills last year across the country.

These issues may seem far removed from soccer, but human rights issues were widely debated and reported on during the 2022 men’s World Cup in Qatar and continue to be contentious topics as global investment in soccer continues to grow.
 

Picking up the Tab

‘The Athletic’ further stated that hosting a World Cup is not cheap and tensions usually rise when it comes down to who will cover that bill. Organizers can tap into public funding, set up sponsorships, or rely on fundraising to get by. In the case of New Jersey and New York, this becomes even more complicated.

For the MetLife Stadium, organizers can request funding distributed by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. The money is allocated from $7.5million in funding appropriated from the State budget “for international events, improvements and sporting attractions”, according to a resolution approving the spending.

Another benefit for New Jersey could also be the ability to work closely with other Host Cities along the East Coast. Meg Kane, the Host City Executive for Philadelphia 2026, said that Philadelphia, New Jersey/New York, Boston, and even Toronto (Canada) have aligned to explore options around transportation, security and even cost-sharing.
 

MetLife Stadium’s Public Transit

One of the biggest priorities for World Cup organizers was preparing for avoidable transportation woes. Shuffling millions of people in and out of a region is no easy feat and the local authorities have already started planning for ways to be best prepared.

If the assumption is that most fans will stay in the City and travel to games, which means the New York City (NYC) needs to set up a system that allows them to travel seamlessly. At past men’s World Cups, the ticketed fans were offered free public transport to games. It’s safe to assume FIFA expects the same in 2026.

NYC is accustomed to temporarily increasing transport options at the MetLife Stadium for major events. Relying on a special train service that connects the Secaucus Junction with the Meadowlands Rail Station at the stadium. Though easy to use, the service hasn’t always been perfect.

Locals may remember some high-profile transit flops: During the 2014 Super Bowl (the annual league championship game of the National Football League [NFL), thousands were stranded for hours trying to get home. A similar mess happened in 2019 with WrestleMania (a professional wrestling event). Though more recently, Taylor Swift’s (American singer-songwriter) Eras Tour went off without a hitch for three shows over one holiday weekend.

Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour is a concert tour that began on March 17th, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona (US) and is set to end on December 8th, 2024 in Vancouver, Canada. The tour is Swift’s second all-stadium tour, following her 2018 Reputation Stadium Tour which began on May 8th, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona, US, and concluded on November 21st, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan.
 

Heritage Matters

The MetLife Stadium opened in 2009, has a capacity of 82,500 and is an open-air stadium. It usually has a turf pitch for the NFL matches but will be converted to grass for the World Cup games to meet FIFA’s standards.

MetLife doesn’t offer a great stadium experience. It doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as some of the league’s other relatively new arenas, and offers less to do in the immediate surrounding area -unless one considers the American Dream mega-mall next door.

Located in East Rutherford, New Jersey, MetLife is just a short drive from New York City.

Supporters of the New York/New Jersey bid argued NYC was the obvious choice to host the final because of the City’s global heritage, with landmarks like the Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty nearby. It offers fans a built-in tourist attraction and the final will take place just a few weeks after the country’s 250th celebration of July 4th (United States Independence Day). Furthermore, the City is arguably the most important media market in the world.
 

World Cup Legacy

The Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy, on what it was like dealing with rumors that Dallas would be awarded the final: “We kept our head down. We didn’t get sucked into the rumor mill. Again, great relationship, partnership between New Jersey and New York City. We just sort of focused on our work, kept, as they say, our eyes on the prize, sort of shut the noise out, and it turned out that was probably a winning formula. I give Dallas a lot of credit. I mean, they’ve got a beautiful stadium. Great ownership. I happen to know the Jones family (Owners of the NFL team Dallas Cowboys whose home ground is the AT&T Stadium). They’re fine people. They’re gonna do a great job down there. But we’re thrilled that we got the final in New York, New Jersey.”

On what he’s looking forward to most about hosting the final: “Yeah, I mean, just you’re saying that gives me chills. It’s not just the game. I know this is important for FIFA. I think it’s the buildup to the game, and then the legacy that it will leave behind on the decades to come. To my way of thinking, that’s the real prize here. The pitches that will get built. The passion for the game that will rise. The little kid, girl or boy, who might not have taken a second look at soccer or football, depending on where you’re from, and they’re now going to get entranced by the game, by the beautiful game. I think it’s the broader picture. I mean, the game itself. I believe, if my Math is right, we will host eight games, which is a big deal in and of itself, and we’re honored by that. But, to me, it’s the broader legacy element of this that’s the most important part.”

Murphy added that he was “elated” that New Jersey had landed the right to host the 2026 World Cup final, “Just elated. I knew we had a very good shot, but you just never know until the words come out of Gianni’s mouth. But we had about 500 people at a watch party at MetLife – and just elated beyond words. Eric Adams deserves a lot of credit here, the Mayor of New York City. We have a great partnership. We’re a soccer hotbed. We are as diverse as any region, not just in the United States, but in the world. And that is just so consistent with FIFA’s values, and I can’t say enough good things about FIFA and the relationship we have with them. And it’s just a huge deal – not just for the game itself but leading up to it and I think we’ll build a legacy that will last for many decades to come.”

Continued Murphy, “We did not know that we would get the final, and the only inkling we got – we felt like we were in it. So, we knew we were competitive. The only, the real inkling came – because we thought Dallas was the main competitor, and they’re gonna get a lot of games there and they’ll do a great job. But they were the only Host City to get three games in those knockout rounds, and that gave me the sense that, because that, they probably – and this was five minutes before Gianni (FIFA boss) said it, so it’s not like I had a lot of advanced notice. But I started a war game in my mind that that probably meant that they weren’t going to get the final. And I felt at that point that it was more likely than not that it would be us.”
 

Magical MetLife

The 2026 World Cup final will join a long list of showpiece events that have been hosted at the MetLife Stadium:

  • Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2014, won by the NFL team Seattle Seahawks over their peer team the Denver Broncos;
  • International friendly in June 2012 in which Argentina beat Brazil 4-3 and Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick;
  • Copa América Centenario (an international men’s soccer tournament that was hosted by the United States in 2016. The competition was a celebration of the centenary of the South American Football Confederation [CONMEBOL and the Copa América) final in June 2016 in which Chile defeated Argentina on penalties after a goalless draw, leading Messi to announce his retirement from the national team; and
  • Concerts headlined by acts including U2 (Irish rock band), Bruce Springsteen (American singer-songwriter and guitarist), The Rolling Stones (English rock band), Taylor Swift, and others.

 

Berhalter Byte

Discussing FIFA’s decision to choose New York/New Jersey over Dallas, Gregg Berhalter, an American soccer coach and the current Head Coach of the United States men’s national soccer team stated, “The one piece of input was travel, trying to minimize travel. It gets tricky when you talk about four-five hour flights and time zone shifts between games… FIFA ultimately made the decision. It was informal conversations with FIFA at various levels of their organization and then a formal conversation with their Technical Department about our needs. To have the final in New York/New Jersey is a dream come true for me being from that area. Another area with a rich tradition in soccer and producing players.”

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