Kristick pours heart into World Cup bid effort
Working out of spare office space at MLS’s headquarters in Manhattan, John Kristick has spent the last 10 months fixated on three numbers:
■ Expected days until the start of the 2026 World Cup — totaling more than 3,000.
■ Days until June 13 — the day the FIFA Congress will vote on the 2026 World Cup bids, now less than 100 days away.
■ Days until Friday’s deadline to submit the World Cup bid to FIFA — a countdown that reaches zero this week.
“We’ll take a breath, and then it’s back to work,” Kristick said of passing his first milestone since being appointed executive director of the United Bid Committee last June, representing the joint bid between the U.S., Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup.
Kristick was tasked to complete a bid process in 10 months that normally takes double that, the result of an expedited process suggested by CONCACAF and agreed upon by FIFA.
By definition, Kristick’s role makes him responsible for organizing the bid, but in practice it sees him serve as everything from a World Cup advocate, to a negotiator with cities, states, stadiums, sports commissions and governments, to a soccer strategist laying out a blueprint for investment if a World Cup is hosted here, to a diligent editor making sure that every “i” is dotted.
“It takes an extremely delicate touch to balance all of these pieces while also understanding that there are also deadlines that have to be met,” said Sunil Gulati, the former chairman of the bid committee, who appointed Kristick.
Gulati pointed directly to Kristick’s experience in international soccer as one of the key reasons for his appointment — he’s been involved in every World Cup dating back to 1994, working in areas including sponsorship, broadcasting and marketing support. Most recently, Kristick was global CEO for ESP Properties, WPP’s first dedicated sports agency.
He was managing director of the U.S.’s failed bid for the 2022 World Cup. “Obviously we didn’t win, and life goes on, so all I can look back on is that from a technical bid submission standpoint I think we did a lot of wonderful things,” he said.
While after the loss he joined WPP, Kristick admits that “my heart was still thinking what would happen if the U.S. was able to bid again.” He reached out to Gulati frequently, letting him know he would love to be part of any future bid.
While Kristick has leaned heavily on his experiences around the World Cup in this bidding process, several significant intricacies new to the bidding process have kept him and his team of 25 on their toes. Two such examples are the expanded World Cup format — the 2026 edition will be the first to feature 48 teams and 80 total games, compared to 32 teams and 64 games in previous World Cups — as well as new, more enhanced bidding regulations that came from FIFA as a result of the corruption that plagued the bidding around previous tournaments.
Most notably though is the effort of the bid to include three countries jointly hosting the World Cup for the first time. The only other time that more than one nation hosted a World Cup was in 2002, when Japan and South Korea jointly hosted.
While that has presented logistical challenges, Kristick said it’s also served as a point of motivation. “To see the amount of support we’ve had not only across the cities, but across the three countries as well, it’s not only remarkable but it’s inspiring to me when I think about it,” he said.
Alan Rothenberg, who oversaw the successful U.S. World Cup bid in 1994 and the Women’s World Cup in 1999, said that Kristick’s combination of global executive experience and deep FIFA knowledge makes him one of the few people who can juggle all of the various stakeholders.
“In the past, you could figuratively put the bid on the back of an envelope — now you’re faced with a much more stringent set of documents,” Rothenberg said. “There’s a level of complexity in this bidding process that we’ve never seen before, so to have someone who has extraordinary knowledge of the international world of soccer who is very through is crucial.”
Kristick said the group’s more than 700-page submission has nearly 50,000 separate agreements between cities, stadiums, training sites, airports and transit systems, and governments. The bulk of that will be sent to FIFA as a digital bid book, while a separate executive summary will be translated into seven different languages and delivered by hand to FIFA in Zurich.
Once March 16 passes, the bid committee will provide FIFA with any additional explanation requested. FIFA also will schedule an official tour to inspect the facilities and plans presented in the bid.
Nearing the middle of April, the FIFA Council — formally known as its executive committee — will develop an evaluation report and recommendation, which it will give to the entire voting body for consideration on June 13.
That day, it is also likely that Kristick will help make the final presentation of the bid in front of the entire 211-member FIFA delegation.
“The opportunity for this event to happen in North America, and the idea that the 2026 World Cup can be our collective north star to drive the sport even further on this continent — I don’t need a better motivator than that to drive me forward every day,” he said.