Here’s best plan yet on how to activate local towns for FIFA’s 2026 World Cup

Simoncini presents adopt-a-country plan in which municipalities would have nation to build activities around

The question has vexed North Jersey officials since it was announced that the area would host 2026 World Cup games at MetLife Stadium: How can organizers ensure that the economic benefit of the billion-dollar event will reach the communities that surround the stadium?

Put another way: How do we avoid having a repeat of the Super Bowl from a decade ago — when area municipalities felt they did not get their piece of the economic pie.

Ron Simoncini offered the best idea to date.

Speaking Monday at MetLife Stadium, during a special committee meeting of the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee, Simoncini outlined a plan in which municipalities in the Meadowlands region could adopt one of the 10 national teams that will appear in the five opening-round games to be played at MetLife Stadium.

Simoncini, the longtime head of Axiom Communications who was appearing as a marketing consultant for the Meadowlands Live Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the municipalities could be activated on game days and nongame days, becoming a gathering place for fans traveling from the particular country — or someone who has chosen to adopt that national team for the tournament.

“That’s the beauty of an event like the World Cup,” he said. “You not only have fans from that country, but fans who choose to support that country, even if it’s only for the tournament.”

The plan is brilliant on so many levels:

  • The event is expected to attract 1 million soccer fans — half of which will not have tickets, but just want to be in the atmosphere. This would create it;
  • The event will attract an untold number of fans whose home country did not qualify — they’ll be looking for a place to be part of the event;
  • The event would give municipalities a way to personalize the event, as it would give them specific dates to market (remember, the countries will have two other opening-round games at other stadiums), rather than trying to market the entire event;
  • Towns could even adopt nations that will not have an opening-round game at MetLife Stadium. More than 10 towns in an area could participate.

And then, there’s this: There is nothing to prevent other areas from doing the same thing.

This is more than just going to your favorite college bar to see the big game.

“This is the way an entire town can be activated around the event,” Simoncini said.

He imagines some fans going from town to town, game by game. He also imagines news of how these towns have adopted nations will get back to the nation itself, creating a bond — and potential future tourism for the state.

“I think it fulfills what the vision of the tournament is — something that brings the entire world together,” he said.

For these reasons, Simoncini said he’s confident the countries selected will be eager to participate, ensuring the towns hosts events that not only are culturally sensitive, but culturally accurate.

Simoncini said he would personally reach out to embassies and cultural groups for guidance.

But … which ones?

Here’s where the plan gets tricky. MetLife will not know which 10 countries will be playing opening-round games until the draw, in December 2025. In fact, as of now, only the three host countries (the U.S., Mexico and Canada) have one of the 48 spots.

No problem, Simoncini said. The towns need the lead time, he said.

“The level of preparation needed for each of these town square activations will be substantial,” he said. “The amount of marketing that we’ll need to do, the professionals that we’ll have to bring in, from security to special performances, is immense.

“The possibilities are endless, but we need to make sure that we can fulfill the expectations of our communities and our members. To do that, we need to ensure that we have the resources to be able to execute on the plan.”

Simoncini told the Assembly committee that $1 million would be needed to carry out the plan — joking the state might make it back in tax from beer sales alone.

He said it’s a small fraction of the more than $100 million the state has said it aims to raise for World Cup activities (much of which will come from the private sector).

More than that, Simoncini said it’s a small price to pay to avoid the mistakes made when the Super Bowl came in February 2014.

“What we see is the opportunity to create corresponding villages for each country that participates in one of our group games,” he said. “We see it as a way to activate our local towns in a unique way.”