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The World Cup’s Biggest Winner May Be Kansas City

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 02: Fans watch the U.S. women’s national soccer team play England in the Women’s World Cup semifinal match at a viewing party hosted by U.S. Soccer in Lincoln Park on July 02, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. The U.S. defeated England 2-1. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 02: Fans watch the U.S. women’s national soccer team play England in the Women’s World Cup semifinal match at a viewing party hosted by U.S. Soccer in Lincoln Park on July 02, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. The U.S. defeated England 2-1. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) (Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America)
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US cities designated to host the 2026 World Cup — to be held in North America — include most of the globally powerful names you might expect: Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco.

And then there’s Kansas City.

Kansas City emerged as the sole representative of the US Midwest after Chicago and Detroit — both 1994 hosts — fell out earlier in the selection process, and Cincinnati missed the final cut. It’s impressive to beat out bigger, more well-known cities such as Washington, Denver and Nashville. But it will also be an economic catalyst for the city at a time when migration trends in America are shifting towards the interior, and in a decade where there’s a scramble to find housing that’s more affordable than on either coast.

Much like Atlanta landing the 1996 Summer Olympics, Kansas City’s World Cup hosting turn should be a growth engine benefiting the city that straddles both Missouri and Kansas, as well as the entire heartland region.

The story of American population migration over the past decade has been one of people moving away from high-cost cities on the coasts for cheaper housing. At first that meant people leaving California for places like Portland, Oregon; Denver, and Austin. It also meant people leaving the northeast for places like Nashville, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta and Miami.

But now after all that migration those cities are expensive, too. And the surge in mortgage rates this year makes the issue of housing affordability all the more pressing. A 20% down payment on a median-priced home in California with a 6.25% mortgage rate would mean a monthly payment of $5,000, an amount simply not doable for most families.

That’s why I’ve been thinking and writing about other places that stand to benefit in a country where housing has become unaffordable in a growing number of communities. I’ve noted how Northwest Arkansas is attracting the kinds of people who have previously been drawn to Austin and Boulder, Colorado. And how remote work is a boon for college towns that are great places to live but previously lacked strong job markets.

In this context, hosting the World Cup will be a catalyst for Kansas City. On its own, it doesn’t have the growth of Northwest Arkansas or the buzz of Austin. What it has is major league pro sports franchises in baseball, football and soccer that provide support beyond the city and state. Fans in six states consider the Kansas City Chiefs football team and Sporting Kansas City soccer team their favorite team. That makes Kansas City a kind of sporting capital of Omaha, Des Moines and Northwest Arkansas, all of which are faster-growing and just a three-hour drive away.

Kansas City already thinks of itself as the soccer capital of America, and Sporting Kansas City had a sellout streak of 125 games in the 2010’s. The city’s National Women’s Soccer League franchise also announced plans last year for the first purpose-built stadium for an NWSL franchise.

The combination of people moving to the middle of the country in search of cheaper housing, plus the growth of soccer in America, plus Kansas City’s reputation as being a regional sports hub and soccer hotspot made it a city to watch even before the World Cup announcement. Now the World Cup raises the ceiling of what’s possible.

I see the potential firsthand as an Atlanta resident, where natives and transplants alike still talk about the transformative impact the 1996 Summer Olympics had on the city. It not only brought infrastructure and new development, but a wave of migrants that created the foundation for future growth. I doubt I would have moved here had the Olympics not come to the city — the changes that occurred after 1996 made it attractive enough to convince me to choose it over other places I considered.

Kansas City is now a World Cup city. For residents of 15 or so states, it’s the closest World Cup city to where they live. And it also has the cheapest housing of any of the 11 American World Cup host cities. It’s hard to put a value on that, but it matters. For the other 10 American host cities the World Cup will be a month-long party. For Kansas City, it’s an opportunity to capitalize on the growth of the new heartland and to stake its claim as the cultural hub of the region.

More From Bloomberg Opinion:

Paris Stumbles in Its Pre-Olympics Stress Test: Lionel Laurent

US Farmland Is Hot, But That’s Not Great for Farms: Adam Minter

Remote Working Offers Growth Engine for College Towns: Conor Sen

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Conor Sen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is founder of Peachtree Creek Investments and may have a stake in the areas he writes about.

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