World Cup tourism goal: Making sure visitors experience entirety of state

All eyes will be on NYC area and MetLife Stadium for final, but 40-day tournament (with matches in Philly, too) also offers opportunity to showcase South Jersey experiences

When you hear about the incredible number of people expected to come to the greater New York City metropolitan region for the FIFA 2026 World Cup (more than a million are expected) and the massive amount of economic impact it is expected to have on the area ($3 billion is now the estimate), it’s easy to overlook the sometimes seemingly independent region known as South Jersey.

Lauren LaRusso, the co-host city manager and general counsel of the FIFA 2026 World Cup Host Committee for New York/New Jersey, and Jeff Vasser, the executive director of the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism, do not.

In fact, when they appeared before a special session of the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee — held Monday at MetLife Stadium, home of the 2026 final — they both stressed how the event will benefit tourism throughout New Jersey.

“We have a very special relationship with Philadelphia,” LaRusso said. “As a host committee, we are working closely with affiliates to think through operations, including transportation and security, as well as hotel accommodations and tourism.

“On our team, we’re doing this for the benefit of the entire state.”

And, as Vasser noted, for much longer than just the seven-week tournament.

“First and foremost, the division looks at this as an opportunity to introduce New Jersey to a new audience — one that, frankly, they may not have been to before or, in some cases, may not even know where we’re located,” he said.

The goal, Vasser said, is to not only have them experience the state, but leave wanting more.

“We want to make sure that this is sustainable,” he said. “We want to introduce all that New Jersey has to offer. We want to make sure that they come back to New Jersey and want to come back.”

Vasser said the state will do plenty to prepare for the moment. Even now, he said, it is putting a soccer ball and “see you in 2026” phrasing on all of its promotions.

The bigger mission is this: Putting together excursion packages — 1-day, 3-day and 5-day itineraries — that will showcase the state: its arts and culture hot spots, agritourism locations (including wineries) and the Shore, not to mention Atlantic City and the entirety of the South Jersey region.

Hilary Chebra testifies.

The World Cup is being projected to have a $500 million economic impact in the greater Philadelphia region, which certainly includes the Camden Waterfront, noted Hilary Chebra, the manager of government affairs for the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey.

After noting some of the attractions available in South Jersey (everything from wineries to the aquarium to the Battleship New Jersey — how about a watch party there?), Chebra discussed the ability of fans heading to the matches in Philly to spend a few days in Atlantic City.

She asked the committee to consider more funding for the New Jersey Transit line that goes between Philly and A.C.

“We think that increased marketing and increased services during and leading up to the games is going to be really important, especially for folks who are going to be staying at Atlantic City and going to the games in Philly,” she said.

It’s a fair ask, considering South Jersey’s largest companies likely will be asked to support NJ Transit through the governor’s proposed Corporate Transit Fee — despite having few NJ Transit options.

And, it may be a necessary one, too.

“It can provide a really great artery to make it easy for folks, especially international travelers who are used to taking public transit, who are going to find that less of an option in South Jersey,” Chebra said.

Providing fans with a variety of activities outside of the matches will be key for the state.

LaRusso told the committee that the 2026 World Cup schedule is set up perfectly for this.

In addition to more countries (there will be 48 — 16 more than when the event was held here in 1994), the group-stage matches (from June 11-28) will be played in pods, meaning nations playing one game at MetLife Stadium will play their other group-round games in Philadelphia, Boston or Toronto.

The goal is to give fans a chance to see multiple games in multiple sites, but have a central location to anchor themselves.

This concept seemingly benefits New Jersey — North and South — more than any of the other 10 U.S. locations.

Between MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford and Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, the state will be connected to 14 matches, including 10 in the group stage.

In fact, when you add in games in Atlanta and Miami, approximately one-third of the 104 total matches will be played in the Eastern time zone.

Then, there’s this: Of the approximately 1 million fans expected to attend the event, more than half will not have tickets — they come for the experience. And, if that experience includes a trip to New York City, Vasser is thrilled.

And eager for the chance to show those fans what they get when they cross the Hudson River. Cheaper hotel rooms, no tax on clothing and — he joked — someone to pump their gas.

It’s all about exposure, Vasser said. And the World Cup certainly will bring eyeballs to North Jersey.

The final of 2022 World Cup was watched by 1.5 billion people (or the equivalent of the combined total of last 13 Super Bowls). The TV audience for the 2026 final — which will be played during prime viewing hours of North and South America, Europe and Africa — is projected to be twice that.

Of course, the World Cup is not the only reason attention will turn to the region. Midway through the tournament, the U.S. will celebrate its 250th birthday, which will come with a July Fourth match in Philadelphia.

And, while the Fourth certainly will have plenty of activities around the Statue of Liberty and at Liberty State Park (the likely home of the FIFA Fanfest site in New Jersey), Philadelphia figures to be the center of attention.

Taking advantage of all of this attention — up and down the state — is key, Vasser said.

“You’ve got 5 billion soccer fans around the world,” he said. “So, this is a good hook to bring them in and show them all of the things the state has to offer. And give them reasons to come back.”