Leadoff: Talking World Cup and Super Bowl in downtown Atlanta this week


This is Leadoff, today’s look inside Atlanta sports. 

The timing was coincidental, but representatives of two of the world’s largest sports events -- the Super Bowl and the World Cup -- were in downtown Atlanta this week.

NFL reps were in town Monday through Thursday for extensive planning sessions regarding the 2019 Super Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And a FIFA committee was here Wednesday for a one-day evaluation of the stadium and city as a possible host site of a 2026 World Cup semifinal. 

The Super Bowl meetings were about getting ready for an event headed this way in less than 300 days, while the World Cup visit was about trying to recruit an event that is eight years away but will be awarded early this summer. 

“The message (to FIFA) is simple,” Atlanta Sports Council president Dan Corso said on a video made in Mercedes-Benz Stadium during FIFA’s visit. “We are a city that is built to host the biggest sporting events in the world, and the World Cup is that.

“We have the venues – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Georgia World Congress Center – surrounded by thousands of hotel rooms … in a compact district.” 

It’s not known if the World Cup and Super Bowl delegations literally crossed paths here, but Corso and others made sure the FIFA committee was aware of the city’s history of hosting huge sports events, including the Olympics, Super Bowls and Final Fours. 

“The World Cup is the one that we haven’t had, so we would love to add that to the roster,” Corso said. 

Atlanta’s message to FIFA also emphasized the popularity of the city’s MLS team. 

“We tried to give them a sense of how soccer has taken off here in the city of Atlanta and what that could mean for this region, America, Canada and Mexico, if we can get the World Cup in 2026,” Atlanta United president Darren Eales said.

FIFA’s visit started with a tour of Atlanta United’s training facility in Marietta, including a meeting with coach Gerardo Martino. The group then moved downtown for tours of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the Congress Center. The latter likely would be the site of an international broadcast center if a semifinal is played here. 

A united bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada is competing against a bid from Morocco for the 2026 World Cup. FIFA will announce the winner June 13 in Moscow, the eve of the opening of this year’s World Cup in Russia. 

The U.S./Canada/Mexico bid proposes that matches in the expanded 48-team tournament in 2026 would be played in up to 16 stadiums in the three countries, with the final at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and the semifinals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and Mercedes-Benz Stadium here.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s Super Bowl preparations continue with more than 11,000 people having submitted online applications to serve as volunteers who will help welcome guests to the city during a 10-day series of events leading to the Feb. 3 game.

And for more on Super Bowl preparations, see this AJC story.

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READ ON ...

> Mark Bradley assesses the Hawks’ lottery candidates in the NBA draft. Read his column here.

Here are 12 thoughts from Gabriel Burns about the first 12 games of the Braves’ season.

> Spring football games, such as Georgia’s G-Day, are yet another arena in which SEC teams can fight for recruits, Chip Towers writes. See story here. 

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