Although the United States did not qualify for this year’s World Cup in Russia, soccer’s popularity in the United States — and especially in Pasadena — continues to explode.

On June 13, one day before kickoff of the first game of the World Cup between Russia and Saudi Arabia, the Federation International de Football Association (FIFA) announced that the 2026 World Cup will be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The joint North American bid beat out Morocco by a vote of 134-65, mostly due to the fact that all of the necessary facilities already exist in North America, whereas Morocco would have to build several stadiums and improve infrastructure to the tune of $16 billion.

According to The New York Times, President Donald Trump sent three letters to FIFA President Gianni Infantino over the past couple of months promising that “foreign teams, officials and even fans will face no restrictions on entering the US for World Cup matches in 2026 if their countries qualify for the tournament” and that Trump’s “hard line stance on visas would not apply to the World Cup.” The Trump administration’s travel ban and immigration policies almost derailed the North American bid.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the final game of this year’s World Cup in Russia. The final game between France and Croatia will be played at 8 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, July 15, at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Sweet 16

The North American bid promises to generate $11 billion in profits for FIFA. It could also be beneficial for Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

According to stadium General Manager Darryl Dunn, the facility, along with 22 other venues, is a candidate to host soccer games during the global, newly expanded 48-team tournament in 2026. Sixteen venues will ultimately be chosen by FIFA in 2020.

“We’re hopeful,” said Dunn. “Our fingers are crossed.”

When the United States last hosted the World Cup in 1994, the final game between Italy and victorious Brazil was held at the Rose Bowl. Mexico hosted the 1970 and 1986 tournaments. The US-Canada-Mexico bid forecasts that revenues will reach $14.3 billion.

International soccer has carved out its place in the Rose Bowl. The stadium has hosted several national teams, as well as European club teams such as Inter Milan, Chelsea, Real Madrid and others. It hosted an international soccer match in 2013, another in 2014, two in 2015, four in 2016 and one in 2017. This year, Mexico and Wales faced off on the Rose Bowl’s Spieker Field on Memorial Day, and July will see AC Milan take on Manchester United and FB Barcelona take on Tottenham Hotspur as part of the International Champions Cup.

Next year, the Rose Bowl will present at least two games during the regional 2019 Gold Cup tournament, hosted by the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). The Rose Bowl hosted the CONCACAF Gold Cup final in 2002 and 2011, a group stage doubleheader in 2013 and a semifinal in 2017. The stadium also hosted Brazil vs. Ecuador, Colombia vs. Paraguay, and Mexico vs. Jamaica during the 2016 Copa America Centenario, a North, Central and South American regional soccer tournament.

In fact, international soccer is critical for the long-term financial viability of the Rose Bowl, Dunn told Pasadena City Council members at their June 4 meeting. That night, the council unanimously approved a 10-year exclusivity contract with one of Southern California’s two Major League Soccer teams, LA Galaxy, and promoter Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which also produces the music festival Arroyo Seco Weekend, now in its second year at the Rose Bowl and Brookside Golf Course. The Rose Bowl Operating Co. and AEG are currently finalizing the contract’s language and are expected to sign it soon.

The other LA-based MLS team, LA Football Club, is a brand-new team with a brand-new stadium, the Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park.

“Soccer is an essential piece [of the Rose Bowl’s financial viability],” Dunn told the Pasadena Weekly. “The Rose Bowl is the only venue in the world that has ever been the host of the gold medal match of the Olympics [in 1984] and the final matches of the men’s and women’s World Cups [in 1994 and 1999, respectively]. No one else has done it. Our history is second to none and we have the reputation of being the preeminent soccer venue in America. We want to build on that and strengthen that. Continuing to host high-level international soccer is very important for our future, which is the primary reason why we want to do this deal with AEG.”

The Rose Bowl will also likely host men’s and women’s semifinals and finals in soccer once again during the 2028 Olympics, to be hosted by Los Angeles. Dunn said that the RBOC had a handshake agreement with LA’s Olympic bid committee when it was aiming to host the Games in 2024.

“We’ve had some discussions [since Paris was awarded 2024 and LA was awarded 2028], and we do anticipate having the same events in 2028, but we need to finalize specifics related to that with the organizing committee,” Dunn said. “We’re cautiously optimistic that that’s going to happen. And certainly, our partnership with AEG is going to do nothing but make us — the Rose Bowl and therefore Pasadena — stronger.”

A Stronger Stadium

Pasadena’s contract with LA Galaxy and AEG stipulates that any soccer match with an expected attendance of 35,000 or more involving either of those two entities within the LA market must be offered to the Rose Bowl. In return, the Rose Bowl will involve AEG in all its soccer bookings. The agreement also allows for a higher license fee structure. Currently, the Rose Bowl earns about $165,000 per soccer match that it hosts; under the new agreement, the stadium will earn anywhere between $250,000 and $400,000 per match. Thirty percent of net revenues will go to AEG/LA Galaxy, excluding admission tax.

“We are confident that the minimum we will be able to generate [from special events such as international soccer games under this new agreement] is $300,000 per event,” said Dunn. “This is really an opportunity for the RBOC to give ourselves the best possible chance to continue to have soccer programming over the next 10 years.”

The increased soccer revenue will help offset the declining golf revenue that the RBOC relies on. Golf’s popularity is decreasing nationwide.

Jens Weiden, chief revenue officer of the RBOC, told council members that there is a real chance the Rose Bowl could be shut out of the soccer market if the city did not approve this contract.

“Over this 10-year span, that could represent millions of dollars in lost revenues for the RBOC,” Weiden said. “This deal will better align ourselves to hopefully book some of this programming. It could be said that outside of American football, our venue is known internationally as a soccer venue more than anything else. For us, soccer has been and will continue to be very important as far as programming and revenue for the RBOC. For a very long time, the Rose Bowl had very little competition in the market. That is changing.”

Weiden noted that the United Airlines Memorial Coliseum is currently undergoing a $300 million renovation that will be completed in 2019; the $350 million soccer-specific Banc of California Stadium opened earlier this year; and the $4 billion LA Stadium in Inglewood, which will be the home of the Chargers and the Rams and multiple other events, will open in 2020.

“Our landscape when it comes to attracting events, which is our business, has changed and is constantly changing,” he said. “AEG and LA Galaxy have been partners of the Rose Bowl for a very long time. When it comes to promoting a soccer match, you almost always partner with the local MLS team. This is because you need to be able to market and sell tickets, so you need to partner with somebody that has a database of people that buy soccer tickets in market.”

LA Galaxy, a founding member of MLS, first played at the Rose Bowl from 1996-2002.

“When we set out to renovate the stadium, this is precisely what we had in mind,” said Pasadena Councilman Victor Gordo. “Fortunately, we’re a couple steps ahead of the Inglewood stadium’s opening. That’s going to be the most expensive stadium in the history of this country — of the world, maybe. And they’re going to have to make up that $4 to $5 billion. They are going to be hungry for events, and they’re likely going to try to buy a lot of the business away from other stadiums. If we hadn’t done the work of renovating the stadium and positioning it ahead of time, we’d be in a world of hurt, potentially also losing UCLA. So I’d like to thank Darryl and his staff for having positioned the Rose Bowl in this way and giving us a fighting chance. This is the kind of deal that we need to drive for so that we’re not just responding to the market and trying to compete for very limited business.”

At the June 4 council meeting, Nina Chomsky, president of the Linda Vista-Annandale Association, questioned whether this deal represents “displacement creep,” meaning a gradual increase of large events at the Rose Bowl each year that are called “displacement events.” The city council has to approve any event over 15 per year. Dunn said they will reserve two displacement event slots for soccer each year over the 10-year period.

“Part of our agreement with AEG is anything over two, no matter what number it will be, would be subject to approvals by the city,” he said.