How will NJ benefit from the 2026 FIFA World Cup? Lawmakers assess economic impact

Almost two years to the day before the 2026 FIFA World Cup is set to kick off, the Assembly Tourism Committee met Monday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford to hear testimony about how New Jersey stands to benefit from the tournament.

The tournament is projected to spur as much as $2 billion in economic impact, create 14,000 jobs and draw more than a million tourists to the region, officials said, explaining that coordination with local businesses has already begun.

Lauren Nathan LaRusso, former counsel in the authorities unit in Gov. Phil Murphy's administration, is now at the helm of the host committee for the eight matches set to take place at MetLife in June and July of 2026. She and her co-manager, Bruce Revman, are responsible for coordinating with FIFA to make sure the tournament runs smoothly.

The region hasn’t played host for a men’s FIFA tournament in 30 years, though New Jersey hosted games for the women’s World Cup in 1999.

Judith Ross, CDME | Sr. Director of Operations, Meadowlands Chamber & Meadowlands Live!. The New Jersey Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee holds a committee hearing about the upcoming FIFA World Cup 26 event and its potential impact on New Jersey tourism at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ on Monday June 10, 2024.
Judith Ross, CDME | Sr. Director of Operations, Meadowlands Chamber & Meadowlands Live!. The New Jersey Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee holds a committee hearing about the upcoming FIFA World Cup 26 event and its potential impact on New Jersey tourism at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ on Monday June 10, 2024.

According to LaRusso, 1994 is considered to this day as the “most successful FIFA World Cup in its history” with records set for ticket sales, attendance and global audiences.”

The upcoming tournament will feature even more teams from more countries and will be spread across 16 host cities, with the final match scheduled to take place in East Rutherford on July 19, 2026 as part of a partnered bid with New York City.

The host committee is working to coordinate two large-scale, free fan festivals, with locations like Liberty State Park and Randall’s Island being considered, as well as watch parties throughout the state.

The group is also coordinating with the host committee for the Philadelphia matches to promote tourism in South Jersey as well, especially surrounding the nation’s semiquincentennial on July 4, 2026.

LaRusso estimates that half of the region’s visitors will not be ticketed, but will come to celebrate the World Cup.

“To achieve these numbers, though, we are planning aggressively with our government, community and business partners, particularly those in tourism and hospitality, to activate both big and small restaurants, hotels, curating tourism packages and communication tools with FIFA to share all these great things that New Jersey and the region have to offer,” she said.

This is the perfect time for the state to appeal to a new audience of tourists, according to Jeffrey Vasser, the executive director of the state’s Division of Travel and Tourism.

He said tourists coming to the state are typically interested in beaches, arts and culture, agritourism and ecotourism, but with the tournament coming “we want to introduce all that New Jersey has to offer.”

Focus is being placed on making sure visitors know what attractions, restaurants and events are in the region with the information available through a main portal online.

There will also be an effort to promote New Jersey internationally, especially at qualifying matches in the run-up to the tournament.

That’s not all. Closer to home the committee is still brainstorming engagement ideas. Vasser said organizers are considering something similar to the torch relay that is synonymous with the run-up to the Olympic Games, with a soccer ball being kicked from Cape May north.

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On the local level

In addition to the two official fan events, there are unofficial viewing parties expected to crop up throughout the state, which require considerable work, said Ron Simoncini of Axiom Communications, a consultant working with the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce.

When the Super Bowl was held in New Jersey 10 years ago, there were two viewing parties that each drew crowds of more than 7,000 people and it took five months to plan that, so coordinating that on a much bigger scale is going to take time — and money, Simoncini said.

Simoncini called for the state to invest in a destination marketing program to facilitate these watch parties and other events by providing funding to “municipalities who don't necessarily have the funding or the insight to capture the economic benefit of bringing all these folks to their downtown.”

He asked for funding to be overseen by the host committee and allow for the marketing organizations to compete for it because there is a need for funding to scale these events to the size needed for an event of this magnitude.

Towns want to be able to participate and this would allow for there to be an “outlet for them to succeed as municipalities,” Simoncini said. When asked by the committee, he said ideally the funding would be about $1 million.

There is also an idea of holding something called the flag city series during the group stage games to have events in 10 municipalities that correspond to the 10 teams participating at the stadium, Simoncini said.

He noted that there are two goals on the local level that should be the focus, economic development and showing people what there is to do here as a tourist, and if the region doesn’t do both “we have failed to convert on the value of the game.”

Simoncini said there are lessons to be learned from that Super Bowl and “you don't want the echo of this to be what the echo from Super Bowl was.”

“Despite the fact that the region had five of the seven best attended events at the Super Bowl, the expectations could never have been met,” he said. “We need to create good set of expectations.”

But what will the tournament cost taxpayers?

The host city obligations are the responsibility of both New Jersey and the state's partner, New York City, and officials have previously said costs would be split with New York City. There is still no formal agreement in place and no official estimate as to what bringing the tournament to the state will cost.

The state provided $37.5 million to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority total in fiscal years 2023 and 2024. Some of that has already been spent to ensure that the field within the stadium is modified to meet FIFA’s requirements.

Another $7.5 million has been given to the host committee as a revolving loan for operational expenses. This is expected to be repaid through fundraising efforts by the end of 2026.

And $15 million was sent to the authority from the American Rescue Plan funding the state received in fiscal year 2022.

In the governor’s proposed budget for 2025, there is $25 million for the authority’s international events program — $17.5 million more than the previous year.

The state has also paid $35 million for NJ Transit to develop designs for expanding its transit system to serve the venue.

LaRusso told the committee that phase one of the work to expand the playing surface at the stadium was completed this spring and that phase two will take place next year. That includes removing seats and replacing them with retractable ones so that the field space is there for the tournament without impacting the seating for Jets and Giants games next season.

While MetLife has artificial turf, FIFA requires a grass playing surface, so grass is being grown in Hammonton that will be installed for 2026. It will need an irrigation system and that work is being paid for by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, the state agency that has purview over the stadium complex and is a signatory on the contract with FIFA.

LaRusso said estimates for that work originally were estimated at $3.5 million but it is now going out for bid.

Increased busing capacity for NJ Transit as well as through private providers will also be crucial to bringing fans to the matches. Transportation is essential, officials have said, because some parking will be lost to accommodate FIFA requirements for security immediately surrounding the stadium.

Though emphasis is being placed on the public transportation around MetLife, Hilary Chebra of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey noted that there is hardly any public transportation in South Jersey and that increasing capacity between Atlantic City and Philadelphia would be a huge benefit to that region.

Katie Sobko covers the New Jersey Statehouse. Email: sobko@northjersey.com

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: 2026 FIFA World Cup will impact NJ economy