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Why is D-FW hosting 12 Copa America & World Cup games? Not because of soccer culture

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Why is D-FW hosting 12 Copa America & World Cup games? Not because of soccer culture

When Chile and Peru kick off their Copa America journeys at AT&T Stadium on Friday, so will D-FW’s two-year soccer odyssey.

Between the start of Copa America and the 2026 World Cup semifinal, D-FW is responsible for 12 tournament games over the next two years, the most of any metro area. Despite its budding soccer culture, the key driver for the region’s repeated selection is logistical: North Texas ticks all the boxes.

D-FW is one of the country’s few metro areas that can immediately offer all the necessary amenities to host tens of thousands of fans. This includes modern arenas (like AT&T Stadium in Arlington), abundant lodging, plenty of restaurants, a bustling airport and training sites for international teams — the type of infrastructure that many past hosts have had to build specifically for sporting mega-events.

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Preparing for an event like this can cost communities millions of dollars. Without long-term plans for their use after fans leave these improvements often fall into disrepair.

“From a sustainability standpoint, I’ve been to so many World Cups where they build stadiums, they build hotels, they renovate airports, they do this, they do that, and then the World Cup leaves,” Dan Hunt, President of MLS team FC Dallas, told The Dallas Morning News. “We’re set. There’s not going to be a lot of other changes that happen because we already have it all.”

Scoring big

For all their drama and spectacle, the financial success of any sporting event relies as much on players and fans as it does on preparation.

“It would have been astonishing if Dallas did not get included in the World Cup list,” said J.H. Cullum Clark, Director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative and an Adjunct Professor of Economics at Southern Methodist University. “[It is] not because Dallas is so darn important relative to everyplace else, but it’s just on that list of places that has all the assets in place.”

For Dallas, bringing world-class soccer to town is expected to jolt the local economy and lay the groundwork for the city to become a destination for tourists. Once worldwide audiences see what the area has to offer, if all goes according to plan, visitors may be persuaded to invest in the local economy.

By having all the infrastructure — except public transportation to the stadium — already in place, D-FW stands in a unique position to “generate as much revenue as possible with as limited expense as possible” even if long-term earnings are stunted, Clark said.

Hosting the two tournaments offers near-guaranteed financial upside in the short term. The revenue potential from the World Cup is hefty.

Early estimates project D-FW will gain $400 million, though Scott Wysong, an Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Dallas’ Gupta College of Business, said he predicts up to a billion dollars in bonus economic activity.

Economic benefits exist in other sectors for Copa America, a tournament that is “not equal in popularity or impact” to the World Cup since it is usually hosted in South America with only South American teams, said Bob Heere, Director of Sports Management at the G. Brint Ryan College of Business at the University of North Texas.

Still, more lucrative TV deals and more deluxe stadiums in the U.S. mean CONCACAF and CONMEBOL — the soccer federations organizing the tournament which will split most of the revenue, according to ESPN — can pack seats the same way they could in Brazil or Argentina but make substantially more money, Heere said.

Part of this is simply because “Americans love sports, and they have a greater willingness to pay for that experience than anywhere else in the world,” he said.

FC Dallas President Dan Hunt (left) speaks alongside Dallas Sports Commission Executive...
FC Dallas President Dan Hunt (left) speaks alongside Dallas Sports Commission Executive Director Monica Paul during a news conference at the National Soccer Hall of Fame, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, in Frisco, Texas. AT&T Stadium will host nine matches, the most in the tournament.(Elías Valverde II / Staff Photographer)

Corner (kick) the fan market

Grabbing existing sports fans and convincing them to turn out for soccer games this summer and in 2026 is “low-hanging fruit,” Hunt said. But it’s a necessary step if the region wants to become a soccer powerhouse beyond its facilities.

Clark noted D-FW’s rapid population increase and growing diversity as fertile ground for sustained soccer fandom. Heere and Hunt both see potential for MLS to state its intent as an elite global league and FC Dallas to build its stature as a talent factory if stars perform well. At the very least, Copa America provides a logistical and on-field “dry run” for the World Cup in two years, Wysong said.

Copa America also has a lot of potential for soccer’s brand awareness due to South America’s dense concentration of elite national teams and the high probability the U.S. Men’s National Team will play one of them, Wysong said.

Even if it’s still a “bit of a novelty for the average sports fan,” Hunt said, the 2016 installment of the tournament in the U.S. was one of the most profitable and well-attended in its history, drawing 1.5 million total fans and just over 46,000 per game.

Arlington is planning for 45,000 visitors at each Copa America match, said Tim Ciesco, media relations coordinator for the Arlington Police Department. Heere said he believes this summer’s tournament will beat 2016′s numbers.

Recent trends in Dallas — and Texas more broadly — agree.

In July 2023, AT&T Stadium set records with an 82,000-seat sellout for a friendly between Real Madrid and Barcelona. A game between Mexico and Brazil earlier this month attracted more than 85,000 spectators to Kyle Field in College Station. Hunt said FC Dallas has sold out Toyota Stadium in Frisco for nine consecutive matches this season, a club record.

So while the growth of the sport isn’t the biggest stake in D-FW’s soccer side quest, there’s still plenty for it — and the country — to gain.

“This is a soccer-crazy city and soccer-crazy state,” Hunt said. “And now the country really has become that.”

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