Five ways to host 2026 World Cup matches will impact Toronto

Toronto has earned the right to bask in the spotlight at one of the biggest sporting events in the world, but it won’t come cheap.

Thursday’s announcement that Toronto is among the host cities for the 2026 World Cup will kick off negotiations between the city and FIFA for contracts formalizing host city status.

Football’s governing body has a long list of demands, all with a cost. And in a surprise move, FIFA is keeping host cities in Mexico, the United States and Canada, including Vancouver, waiting to find out how many games they are on offer.

Here are five things we know, based on what FIFA said in Toronto and information from city staff.

1. What are the city’s obligations in terms of places and services?

Toronto would provide the BMO Stadium, practice sites, a 34-day “FIFA FanFest” and enhanced city services such as transportation and local security.

BMO Field would require upgrades. This includes temporarily expanding capacity from 30,000 people to 45,000 people. Changing rooms and toilets would be continuously improved and an elevator would be added. The training sites would also require modifications.

Changes to the exhibit space “strengthen the connection to public transit, beautify the site and encourage active transportation (including bicycling and walking) throughout the area.

2. How much would game hosting cost?

A City report in March pegged the total cost at around $290 million, assuming five games in Toronto, or $56 million per game. This includes everything from facility upgrades to hiring staff to organizing the fan festival.

The city hopes the cost will be shared equally between the city, the Ontario government and the federal government. The city’s share would total $73.8 million in expenses, plus an additional $20 million in city services provided and fee waivers.

Rising costs, however, could increase the tab. City staff are “assessing the impacts of inflation since the March 2022 projections. Barring unforeseen events, expectations are for a return to normal inflation rates by 2023.”

3. What does Toronto get for its money?

According to March estimates, the city’s direct revenue would total only about $3.5 million from the city’s lodging tax levied on hotel rooms and Airbnb stays.

The big gain would be in terms of global exposure for Toronto and also a surge in business for industries affected by the pandemic, including hotels, restaurants and bars.

City staff predict a local economic boost of 3,300 jobs created, 292,000 visitor nights and nearly $307 million in total spending.

4. Will Torontonians be part of the experience?

Tickets for matches will be expensive and difficult to obtain. Most people would experience it through the 34-day fan festival the city would be forced to hold.

Fan festivals have been part of the World Cup since 2006. They include celebratory venues outside sports stadiums for fans to gather and watch games on the big screen, much like Jurassic Park outside the stadiums. Toronto Raptors games and Maple Leaf Square for Leafs fans. There would be live music and other attractions.

Of course, Toronto’s neighborhoods and ethnic communities don’t need an official site to come together to cheer on their heroes. Holding the World Cup in the city should only boost attendance at street parties and restaurant terraces.

5. What’s left in Toronto after the players leave?

World Cup matches in the city would not be on the same scale as the 2015 Pan American Games, so there will not be the creation of a new neighborhood like the Canary District.

However, city staff are promising a comprehensive ‘legacy programme’, including improved sports facilities, an increase in local amateur football activities and stronger ties to communities through programs to ensure celebrations involve local indigenous communities and other “equity-deserving” communities.

The city’s finances, decimated by the pandemic, could take a big hit. City staff warn that Toronto may have to sign hosting agreements with FIFA before securing cost-sharing agreements with the provincial and federal governments, posing a “significant risk” to Toronto if other governments don’t show up.

David Rider is Star’s City Hall Bureau Chief and a reporter covering City Hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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