Kim Klement––USA Today Sports

Hosting World Cup at Gillette Stadium would be no big deal, says leading sports economist

Alex Reimer
June 15, 2018 - 10:54 am

World Cup matches will likely be played in Foxboro in 2026, but don’t worry, the disruption should be relatively minimal, according to one of the country’s leading sports economists and critics of large international sporting events. 

Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College and author of “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup,” says it’s improper to compare American cities hosting World Cup matches to countries around the world. Generally speaking, the infrastructure is already in place. Gillette Stadium would just need to swap out its artifical turf for grass, due to FIFA’s requirements. 

“It's a different matter if you're talking about South America hosting the World Cup, or Brazil hosting the World Cup, or even Russia for that matter, where they have to build seven stadiums or 12 stadiums, or do renovations because the stadiums aren't properly equipped,” Zimbalist told me on the phone. "That doesn't really apply to New England, Foxboro or Greater Providence. You have the stadium, you have the transportation and parking infrastructure, you have the telecommunications infrastructure, you have the hospitality infrastructure. So the expense is putting down real grass and security, and security will probably be covered by the federal government.”

North America won the bid this week to host the 2026 World Cup. Of the tournament’s 80 matches, 60 will be in the U.S. Foxboro, if it’s selected as one of the 16 host sites, would probably host between four and six matches. That’s likely, since Robert Kraft is the honorary chairman of the board that brought the World Cup to the continent. 

Kraft has also set up a non-profit, Boston Soccer 2026, to cover the extra costs associated with the games. Zimbalist says history shows the event is an economic wash.

“There's not a lot of revenue to be generated,” he explained. “You'll get some soccer fans traveling to the area, they'll be other people who avoid the area due to congestion, traffic and higher prices and security questions. Some local residents might decide to go on vacation during the weeks of the games, so they can avoid that stuff. So you get some inflow of people, you get some outflow of people. FIFA requires that its activities not be subject to tax, so there could be some loss to the state and local governments in tax revenue. It's not much of an economic event, frankly. Because it's the World Cup and everyone talks about it, people like to think there's some massive economic impact one way or the other. But it tends to be kind of neutral.”

At first, it’s surprising to hear Zimbalist say that, considering he was one of the biggest critics of Boston 2024. He even co-wrote a book about why Boston was right to ultimately drop its bid.

But the World Cup is different for several reasons. The Olympics would’ve been a multibillion-dollar undertaking. Some World Cup matches, he says, is the akin of a few extra Patriots home games.

“Think about when the Patriots play. What happens to the area?,” Zimbalist asked.

As long as you don’t need to be on Route 1, nothing at all.