Gov. Phil Murphy has proven his ability to be “head of sales” for the state throughout his six years in office. A friendly smile, inviting pitch and a stunning attention to detail often is enough to win the day.
When it came to landing the biggest prize of his tenure — bringing the 2026 World Cup final to MetLife Stadium — Murphy came with something few other executives had: a passion for soccer.
So said Wes Mathews, the head of Choose New Jersey.
“The governor is the country’s No. 1 soccer fan, which was evident every time he spoke to FIFA or the global soccer press,” he said. “He impressed them more than a few times with his intimate knowledge of the game. They knew they had a chief executive at the helm in New Jersey who understands soccer better than most in North America.”
Murphy always has boasted about his love of the game — which was accentuated by his time he spent in Germany as the U.S. ambassador. In fact, some recall the first official bet made in the state was by the governor on soccer.
While it is known that MetLife Stadium will host eight games in the 2026 World Cup (including the final) and that Lincoln Financial will host six (including a round-of-16 game on the 4th of July), how much tickets will cost and how to get them have not been announced.
At this point, FIFA only has created a portal where fans can sign up to receive information at a later date.
It’s also well known that first lady Tammy Murphy and the governor are owners of Gotham FC, the women’s professional soccer team that recently won the NWSL championship.
Mathews said the first couple’s love of the game — combined with their ability to sell the region — was key.
“His and Tammy Murphy’s ability to see the value in partnering hand-in-glove with New York City from Day One and use that to the region’s advantage were the reasons FIFA chose New Jersey/New York,” Mathews said.
Jose Lozano, who preceded Mathews as head of Choose and was involved in the opening discussion around bringing the big game to New Jersey, said being a big fan came through.
“Absolutely,” he said. “No other governor in this country has a soccer pitch in his backyard — let alone a soccer team himself.
“He understands the value of soccer and its impact on our state and region.”
From there, Lozano said, Murphy’s leadership and sales drive that he learned as a Goldman Sachs executive took off.
“He was by far the most influential person in the bid,” he said. “The staff can develop the narrative and game plan — but that only goes as far as the governor’s willingness to push it. He delivered it flawlessly.”
Lozano said the governor’s time overseas (both in Germany as an ambassador and Japan as Goldman Sachs executive) gave him an intimate understanding of the impact of the event.
“Soccer is a sport that has a universal language,” Lozano said. “He knows how it translate — and how much the state will benefit around the world from this event.”
Read more from ROI-NJ:
- Stadium story: Where MetLife had advantage over AT&T — and what’s up with new name?
- ‘Super’ concern: Kirkos has plan to help Meadowlands businesses get their share of generated revenue
- Murphy credits New York for helping MetLife earn World Cup final — and says both sides aim to use private money for infrastructure upgrades
- Why N.Y./N.J. over Dallas? FIFA only discusses decision in broad terms
- Inside the pitch: How N.Y./N.J. host committee was focused on landing 2026 World Cup final from 1st meeting
- In huge win for state, FIFA selects MetLife to host 2026 World Cup final
Tom Bracken, the CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, couldn’t agree more.
“There were a lot of people involved in this for a long time, but it all starts with the governor, his passion for the sport — and his ability to sell the state,” Bracken said. “This is a legacy moment.”
Bracken said the impact of the game will be felt for a generation — especially in the business community.
“This is a soccer tournament at its heart, but it’s also a massive business-networking event,” he said. “It’s a chance for New Jersey business leaders and advocates to promote the Garden State and forge partnerships with business executives from around the world who will be descending here.
“This can generate the kind of business that will benefit New Jersey not just in the summer of 2026, but well into the future. It has the potential for being a game-changer for our economic trajectory.”
Interestingly, Murphy no longer will be in office during the event or the July 19, 2026, final.
The guess is that he’ll still be inside the stadium. And, since he longer will be governor, he may just get a chance to watch the game the way he’ll want to — as a fan.