Robert Kraft’s plan to bring the 2026 World Cup to Gillette Stadium? Real turf

FOXBOROUGH — After taking control of the Patriots in 1994, Robert Kraft quickly had a grass surface installed at Foxboro Stadium in an attempt to attract games for that year’s World Cup. He intends to do something similar should Gillette Stadium’s bid for 2026 World Cup games be approved.

Plans have been presented to FIFA officials, who joined Kraft and Revolution president Brian Bilello in kicking off a nine-city tour at Gillette Stadium Wednesday morning. Gillette officials said they would rip out the existing synthetic surface, revive the long-dormant irrigation system, and bring back the real turf.

In addition, sources said, enough sideline seating would be eliminated to satisfy field-width requirements.

The hope is to be approved for six matches — four group-stage games and two elimination contests — just as in 1994, when more than 324,000 fans attended World Cup games at Foxboro Stadium. Highlights in 1994 included two Argentina victories, including Diego Maradona’s final international appearance (he was suspended after testing positive for a banned substance), and Italy victories over Nigeria in the second round and Spain in the quarterfinals.

Infrastructure modifications will be costly, but they can be justified by the combination of expected revenue plus prestige and exposure, with worldwide television audiences averaging hundreds of millions per game.

Gillette is considered a favorite among 17 US stadiums remaining for a final list of 11, partly because Kraft is honorary chair of the 2026 World Cup United Bid Group.

Many of the US stadiums under consideration are newer than Gillette, which opened in 2002, but also might have to make structural changes to conform to field-width minimums. Since alterations will reduce capacity, stadium officials hope to strike a compromise with FIFA regarding dimensions.

“We play the World Cup on natural grass and we have a standard pitch size that we use for international games,” said Colin Smith, FIFA chief tournaments and events officer. “We need a bit more space around that, given the scale of World Cup matches with photographers, cameras, security.

“Players playing in the World Cup are the best players in the world. And one of the fundamental requirements for us, as FIFA, is the pitch, is to ensure they have the conditions they need, inside the stadiums and also all the training sites, in order to perform at their highest level.”

Robert Kraft (left) and Victor Montagliani chatted about World Cup plans Wednesday at Gillette Stadium.

Kraft opened an on-field press conference by saying, “We look forward to hosting, hopefully, six games here and the quarterfinals like we did back in ‘94 when we had Italy versus Spain.”

He concluded with, “We look forward to the World Cup in 2026 coming right here to Gillette Stadium.”

Kraft appeared to strike a rapport with FIFA representative Victor Montagliani.

“Robert was already doing his job before he walked up here — ‘We need six games, we need this, we need that,’ ” said Montagliani, president of CONCACAF.

Montagliani added in Spanish that Gillette is “a strong candidate.”

The 2026 World Cup will be held in three countries — Canada, Mexico, and the US — for the first time. A total of 16 venues will play host to 80 games: Edmonton and Toronto in Canada; Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey in Mexico; and 11 cities in the US.

The World Cup field will be expanded to 48 teams, double the number of the 1994 World Cup, which holds records for total attendance (3.5 million) and average per match (69,174) in the tournament, first contested in Uruguay in 1930.

Among the few attendance records not held by the ‘94 World Cup is for the final, which set the mark with a crowd of 199,854 at Estadio Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro in 1950. Estadio Azteca finals had crowds of 107,412 in 1970 and 114,000 in 1986, topping the 94,194 attendance for the ‘94 final at the Rose Bowl.

Of the 17 potential US venues, the four with the largest capacity are considered locks, and also candidates to host the final: Dallas (AT&T), Los Angeles (Rose Bowl), New York (MetLife), and Washington, D.C. (FedEx).

Those four, along with Boston/Foxborough, Orlando, and San Francisco, played host to games in 1994.

Modifications would have to be made at Gillette Stadium to accommodate World Cup games.

Also contending this time are Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz), Baltimore (M&T Bank), Cincinnati (Paul Brown), Denver (Empower), Houston (NRG), Kansas City (Arrowhead), Miami (Hard Rock), Nashville (Nissan), Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial), and Seattle (Lumen).

“I know what happens in America with American football and how we build a sense of community,” Kraft said, “but I think the sport of soccer does that globally like nothing else. I think half of the world’s population watches at least part of the World Cup. It is so powerful it brings communities together.”

Original story – https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/09/15/sports/2026-world-cup-cities-gillette-stadium/