By Seth Tow
Terry Hasseltine, Maryland Sports executive director and Maryland Stadium Authority vice president, told
Glenn Clark Radio
July 17 that Baltimore has a legitimate chance to be part of the North American World Cup in 2026.
Whether it's hosting matches at M&T Bank Stadium or hosting conferences and workshops leading up to the tournament, Hasseltine thinks Baltimore could be an attractive location for FIFA.
"We are very capable, we have a well-orchestrated and well-put together team of people and organizations working to put it all together," Hasseltine said. "Our stadium is being transformed as we speak. It's under construction, adding all kinds of new amenities for the fan experience. We're constantly in talks about the future of what soccer matches might be played here at M&T between now and 2026.
"The energy of the World Cup just created a lot of focus on Baltimore and what our potential capabilities in the soccer community are."
Hasseltine said Baltimore was presented in the bid as a host for the World Cup workshops that occur nine to 10 months before the World Cup. The workshops are staged to sort through travel and security for the World Cup and identify base camps for the participating nations. Hasseltine estimated the workshops would bring 1,000-to-1,500 people to the city.
M&T Bank Stadium has hosted six soccer matches during its history, including crowds exceeding 70,000 for a World Football Challenge match between Chelsea and A.C. Milan in 2009 and for CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal matches in 2013. The home of the Baltimore Ravens is one of 17 American venues hoping to land matches for the 2026 World Cup. That list will be trimmed to 10 in 2020 or 2021.
Hasseltine said the stadium renovations could be advantageous for Baltimore's hopes of hosting matches.
"The addition of the corner video boards, the ribbon boards, the new suite amenities, the upgrade to the kitchens, adding that vertical transportation, the escalators, going up to the top floor, and the fact that it's a Gold LEED certified building really sells to the international governing structures like FIFA," Hasseltine said.
"In addition to [that], we have to do zero construction to the bowl because the dimensions of the pitch fit into M&T Bank Stadium, unlike some of our competitors that will have to do some alterations to the bowl structure of their stadium in order to get the soccer pitch in to meet FIFA regulations for the World Cup."
To secure World Cup matches, M&T Bank Stadium would almost certainly have to host a match in the near future; the stadium hasn't hosted a match since 2015. Hasseltine said a match could be played sometime between now and 2020, although a more exact window is up for debate because of the stadium renovations. Potential matches could realistically include the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, preseason tournaments such as the International Champions Cup or friendlies between European clubs.
Landover's FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, is also vying to host World Cup matches. FedEx Field hosted an International Champions Cup match between F.C. Barcelona and Manchester United in 2017 and is hosting a match between Juventus and Real Madrid during the 2018 tournament August 4.
Hasseltine said M&T Bank Stadium could serve as the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area venue in 2026 if there are issues with FedEx Field or a new Redskins stadium.
"A nation's capital is always at the forefront of any World Cup effort," Hasseltine said. "You saw it in in Moscow, in Russia, you've seen it down in Brazil, the nation's capital is always a focal point. The interesting part about us in the long-term is that the distance between D.C. and Baltimore is pretty close. Baltimore could play the role of being the venue for The District should the stadium be in some type of limbo at that time. Being where we are in relationship to the Capital actually maybe adds a little extra flair to us remaining in this for the long haul."
For more from Hasseltine, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox