Was Buffalo slighted by World Cup 2026 bid committee? - The Buffalo News

Share this article

print logo

Was Buffalo slighted by World Cup 2026 bid committee?

Feeling left out isn't fun.

In an attempt to secure hosting privileges for North America at the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the United Bid Committee released a proposal of stadiums in 34 cities in the United States, seven in Canada and three in Mexico that would be suitable for hosting a World Cup match.

As ESPN FC noted, Buffalo's New Era Field is the lone National Football League stadium not included on the list, and it's not because of seating capacity, as the Bills' home stadium would rank No. 16 with its ability to hold 73,079 fans.

The ensuing questions are worth asking: Should Buffalo's soccer community feel insulted for being left off the list? What prevents Buffalo from even being considered to host a World Cup match? (We're not arguing the Nickel City should be one of the 12 finalists, but omission from the pool altogether has implications that Buffalo is a soccer backwater. Is it?).

Emails to the U.S. Soccer spokesperson representing the bid committee emphasized the general approach to the list's formation.

"Despite not being on the list, the Bid Committee would be happy to speak to [Buffalo stadium representatives] if they’d like to discuss the possibility of hosting matches," wrote Neil Buethe.

When pressed on the criteria for selecting the stadiums, Buethe replied: "It was fairly wide-ranging. This is just the initial feeling out process to gauge interest."

For the sake of exercise, here's a checklist of potential "musts" for a city to host a World Cup match:

• History of supporting soccer, whether it has a professional outdoor club or hosted international matches
• Wealthy and powerful sports figures financially back or at least show interest in growing soccer
• Present momentum or plans toward building soccer
• Evidence of a strong soccer culture, both in intensity and sheer numbers
• A stadium that will fit a pitch that meets FIFA standards
• A surrounding area with ample hotels and accommodations

We asked NBC Sports Soccer writer Nick Mendola, also the owner of local amateur side FC Buffalo, as well as Jeff Fabin, president of the American Outlaws' Buffalo chapter, for the reasons they believe Buffalo was left off the list, as well as their general reaction to the news.

"It's not a slight to Buffalo, especially given neither the venue nor the city has hosted an international match, or even an International Champions Cup match," Mendola wrote in a message. "Without having any background info specifically, I can't help but wonder whether a venue or its primary owner has to express interest in doing so as well."

Buffalo has never fielded a professional outdoor soccer team, nor has it hosted an international friendly. The Western New York Flash played their home matches in Rochester when they turned fully professional in 2011, while the Buffalo Stallions and Buffalo Blizzard were indoor clubs. The reality is Buffalo's professional soccer history is tepid compared to most major markets.

Without any precedent, would the thought of hosting a World Cup match even be on the radar of Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula, who lease New Era Field from Erie County? While Kim Pegula was approached and in brief discussions with the Sahlen family before the Western New York Flash's pro soccer team eventually moved to North Carolina, nothing transpired. Requests to discuss the situation with Kim Pegula were not accommodated.

Mendola also wonders if Buffalo simply fell short in comparison with nearby cities, as many are pursuing ambitious expansion plans.

"With Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and two Toronto venues on the list, perhaps geography played a role as well? [Maybe] U.S. Soccer thinks, 'In terms of the Great Lakes, Buffalo and its venue are behind Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit, plus we know at least one of two venues will be used in Toronto, we don't even need Buffalo on the list.'"

Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium has become a fixture for U.S. men's and women's soccer team matches (the Browns' website even wrote about it!), while Pittsburgh boasts a United Soccer League club in the Riverhounds, even though an MLS franchise seems like a long shot.

Detroit is on the short list for Major League Soccer expansion and its amateur National Premier Soccer League team Detroit City FC draws more than 5,000 fans per home match, proving that a soccer culture exists already. Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores submitted the initial MLS bid.

****

Fabin, who spearheaded the creation of a Buffalo chapter for the American Outlaws, the U.S. men's national soccer team supporters group with 130 branches around the country, in 2011, doesn't think local support would be an issue.

"It's not that there would not be interest in hosting a U.S. game - there is a rabid fan-base here," Fabin said in a text. "The problem is a lack of a venue to properly host a game.

"The only venue that could host a World Cup game in regards to number of seats is New Era, but unfortunately it does not have the dimensions needed to host any sort of soccer game. We would need a situation that involved the Bills moving into a new stadium downtown before we could even think about hosting a national soccer game."

While the dimensions of the New Era Field space that extend beyond the regulation football field aren't immediately available, the stadium's structural limitations may be a chief factor. An NFL field must be 53 1/3 yards wide, while an international FIFA pitch must measure between 70 and 80 yards in width. The length of a World Cup field must be between 110 and 120 yards - the latter is the length of an NFL field, counting end zones.

Judging by this aerial image by The News' Derek Gee, New Era Field would run into problems fitting a FIFA regulation pitch due to its tight corners. Again, there are no numbers yet to support this, but the eye test makes one wonder.

New Era Field in Orchard Park. Image taken Nov. 4, 2016. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News file photo)

Although New Era Field - formerly known as Ralph Wilson Stadium - was built in 1973, it's still just the fifth-oldest facility on the provisional World Cup stadium list behind Soldier Field (Chicago), Lambeau (Green Bay), Qualcomm (San Diego) and Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City).

It's easy to be partial, but Buffalo isn't a soccer backwater - it's just not in national contention to host major matches. FC Buffalo deserve a lot of credit for filling a void and sustaining a quality amateur club for eight years, but with attendance and interest trending down, wealthy investors, a move to a higher league, a new stadium and the ability to sell beer are the next steps to reignite the city's passion.

For this World Cup list in particular, the lack of a downtown stadium is the major hindrance, as plenty of locales on the initial list aren't in hot soccer markets but do boast a desirable place to play. Unfortunately for Buffalo, a suitable venue isn't close to becoming a reality. Until then, Buffalo soccer's irrelevance on a national stage will continue.

Email: btsujimoto@buffnews.com

Save

Save

There are no comments - be the first to comment