The expanded World Cup in North America got even more supersized on Tuesday.
The governing body of soccer increased the size of the 2026 tournament for the second time — six years after the first — by approving a bigger group stage for the inaugural 48-team event.
By retaining groups of four teams instead of moving to three, FIFA has created a 104-game schedule that will last nearly six weeks in June-July in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The 16 host cities — 11 in the United States, three in Mexico and two in Canada (Vancouver and Toronto) — now have 24 extra games to stage on top of the 80 they already had for the inaugural 48-team tournament.
The original blueprint called for Canada and Mexico to host 10 games each, with the other 60 in the U.S., including all games from the quarterfinals on. Now FIFA has to decide how to divide the expanded schedule.
Adding about 1.5 million more tickets will also further fuel FIFA’s expected record revenue of at least $11 billion through 2026 from a tournament that will rely on using high-revenue NFL stadiums.
FIFA said the decision followed a “thorough review that considered sporting integrity, player welfare, team travel, commercial and sporting attractiveness, as well as team and fan experience.”
The latest push by FIFA president Gianni Infantino for more games and bigger events in a congested calendar will likely provoke more concern among stakeholders such as domestic leagues and players’ union FIFPRO. They have long felt isolated from talks on soccer’s future.
The six-week World Cup will start one year after FIFA launches a 32-team Club World Cup, which could also be staged 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 teams instead of 16 groups of three, the plan chosen in 2017. Both options were to go to a 32-team knockout round. The final will take place on July 19.
The format guarantees every World Cup team will play a minimum of three times instead of two, adding up to a stacked group stage totaling 72 games before arriving at the knockout rounds. The four semifinalists will play eight matches, one more than last year in Qatar.
The entire 2022 World Cup in Qatar amounted to 64 games in the seventh and last edition of the 32-team format. The 1998 World Cup in France was the first with 32 teams.