FIFA adds another 104-match program to 2026 World Cup – Boston News, Weather, Sports

The expanded World Cup in North America got even bigger on Tuesday.

The Football Association increased the size of the 2026 tournament for a second time – six years after the first – by authorizing a larger group stage for the first 48-team event.

By keeping groups of four teams instead of switching to three, FIFA has created a 104-match schedule that will span nearly six weeks across the United States, Canada and Mexico. The final is scheduled for July 19.

The 16 host cities – 11 in the United States, three in Mexico and two in Canada – now have 24 additional games to host, on top of the 80 they already had for the first 48-team tournament.

The addition of approximately 1.5 million more tickets is also being pushed ahead FIFA’s expected record revenues of at least $11 billion by 2026 from a tournament that relies on the use of high-volume NFL stadiums.

FIFA said the decision followed a “thorough review that took into account sporting integrity, player welfare, team travel, commercial and sporting appeal, and team and fan experience.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s recent push for more games and bigger events in a packed calendar is likely to raise more concerns from stakeholders such as national leagues and players’ union FIFPRO. They have long felt isolated from talks about the future of football.

The six-week World Cup begins a year after FIFA launched a 32-team Club World Cup, which could also be hosted in North America to test tournament logistics. The Champions League in Europe also has a new format with more teams and games in the 2024-25 season.

The new World Cup format will have 12 groups of four instead of 16 groups of three as the 2017 plan had chosen. Both options should go into a 32-team knockout round.

The format guarantees that each World Cup team plays at least three games instead of two, resulting in a stacked group stage total of 72 games before advancing to the knockout rounds. The four semi-finalists will play eight games, one more than last year in Qatar.

The entire 2022 World Cup in Qatar featured 64 matches in the seventh and final edition of the 32-team format. The 1998 World Cup in France was the first with 32 teams.

The increase in the World Cup squad was first launched in 2015. It was proposed at the time to get the more than 200 member associations of FIFA to accept much-needed governance reforms in the wake of the American and Swiss corruption investigations.

After Infantino was elected FIFA President to succeed Sepp Blatter, one of his first major strategic achievements was getting 16 teams into the World Cup. Infantino convinced fellow FIFA that a 48-team tournament – with Africa and Asia getting more extra spots than Europe – would generate interest and spur development in countries that rarely if ever qualified to take part in the biggest stage .

And this despite the fact that FIFA’s own research from 2016 indicates that the format with 32 teams achieves the highest football quality.

In Qatar, the split-screen drama created by playing crucial group matches simultaneously helped convince FIFA that four-team groups are better.

There were also concerns that the scheduling of groups of three could lead to match-fixing in a final between two teams, both of which could advance to the round of 32.

FIFA has now found an option which it said “mitigates the risk of collusion” and offers itself more games for sale.

The extra 24 games are likely to drive up the price of unsigned sponsorship deals and broadcast deals. However, some key broadcast markets have already been signed, including the United States, Brazil and the Middle East.

The 2026 World Cup should already bring in up to $3 billion in ticket and hospitality sales for FIFA and massively boost the tournament attendance record. That record was set in the United States in 1994 when 3.6 million viewers watched 52 games in a 24-team event.

A disadvantage of the 48-team format is the imbalance of the 32 teams that advance.

Eight of the 12 third-place teams will move on, creating uncertainty for some teams who finish third in a group, not knowing if they will advance until games finish days later.

FIFA also explained how the sides will take part in the 2025 Club World Cup, including the continental champions in each season from 2021-24. That means that Chelsea, Real Madrid, Palmeiras, Flamengo and Seattle Sounders have already secured their places.

The 12 entries of Europe can also be decided by a ranking system based on the same four-year period, with a cap of two teams per country moving up with exceptions for continental champions.

FIFA also plans to create another new competition for continental champions annually starting in 2024. The Champions League winner in Europe plays against the winner of the playoffs with the other continental champions.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed, or redistributed.)

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Sarah Y. Kim

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