As the 3 minute, 17 second promotional video closed — a video that celebrated not only the diversity of the New York/New Jersey area, but its history of being a welcoming haven for those from all over the world — the large screen went back up into the ceiling and the great curtains of an upper-floor meeting room at the Hyatt in Jersey City slowly opened.
The approximately two dozen representatives from FIFA, who had flown from Europe in darkness the night before, were treated to a spectacular morning view of a symbol that is instantly recognizable around the world.
The Statue of Liberty.
This magical moment in the opening minutes of the first presentation by the New York/New Jersey 2026 World Cup host committee came Sept. 20, 2021. And every second of it was planned.
“This was by design,” said Jose Lozano, then the head of Choose New Jersey, which took the lead on the presentation.
“We knew they were coming in at night and wouldn’t really get a chance to see the Statue of Liberty. We wanted to show them our diversity and love of the game, which we did in the video. But, what we really wanted to do was show them what sets this region apart: We welcome the world unlike anywhere else.
“You should have seen their faces when they saw the Statue of Liberty.”
The leadership of the committee evolved in the months and years to come — it’s now headed by Lauren LaRusso in New Jersey and Bruce Revman in New York — but its vision of what the area represents never changed.
For the next 867 days, the committee, as well as New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, pitched the diversity of the area, the availability of arts and entertainment, the ease of access it has from all over the world — and the progressive values it promotes during a period in which FIFA is moving toward the right side of history.
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It all paid off Sunday afternoon, when it was announced MetLife Stadium not only would play host to five opening round matches, but knockout stage games in the round of 32 and 16 — followed by the ultimate prize: the World Cup final, to be held July 19, 2026.
Murphy, a huge soccer fan, summed it up this way.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our entire region; hosting the final provides N.Y./N.J. an unparalleled platform to brilliantly showcase what we stand for — diversity, equality, access and inclusion,” he said.
Adams added: “There’s no better place to host the world’s biggest game than the world’s biggest stage.”
LaRusso and Revman, in a joint statement, said they are eager to show off the area to the world.
“Our region’s world-class venues, transportation accessibility and iconic cultural attractions will deliver the ultimate fan and player experience,” they said. “This will be an epic celebration throughout our diverse and vibrant community. We cannot wait to welcome the world and show off all that we have to offer.”
The ability to show off the area to business leaders from around the globe is a bonus that cannot be measured.
The economic impact can be. The numbers already being connected to the event are enormous — a potential 15,000 jobs and more than $2 billion, for starters.
The key, of course, will be to keep as much of it as possible in New Jersey. That’s the way Meadowlands Chamber CEO Jim Kirkos sees it. He is eager to begin the next phase of the planning — implementing an action plan.
“It’s about creating awareness,” Kirkos said. “I’m going to work with all the neighboring towns, explaining that they can’t expect that, just because World Cup is coming here, that people are just going to walk through their doors. We learned that lesson in the Super Bowl.
“We’ve got to create buzz; we’ve got to use marketing to tell people what we have to offer all over North Jersey so they will spend their discretionary dollars here.
“If we want this big economic impact, we have to go after, take control of it and do it ourselves, because it doesn’t just happen all by itself.”
What New Jersey needs to do is maintain its focus and drive the vision that it presented in that very first meeting — and in the more than two years that followed.
Kirkos said it’s a game plan worth following.
“I texted the governor Sunday morning, before the announcement, and told him that, no matter what happened, I was proud of the effort that the state made,” he said. “I told him the state did everything it could.
“Now that the final has been delivered, it’s up to all of us to do even more.”