MO and KS lawmakers are spending millions on the World Cup in KC. Where’s it going?

As Kansas City prepares to host World Cup matches in 2026, Kansas and Missouri lawmakers have approved a combined $62 million in public funding to showcase the city on the world stage.

And more spending could be on the way.

“I don’t know that we’re completely done making investments in Kansas City prior to the biggest sporting event in the world showing up here in a few years,” said Missouri Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Springfield Republican who chairs the Senate’s budget committee.

Last month the Kansas Legislature approved $10 million in funding for infrastructure improvements in and around Children’s Mercy Park, the home of Sporting KC. Weeks later, the Missouri General Assembly greenlit $50 million for improvements at Arrowhead Stadium and marketing ahead of the World Cup. Missouri lawmakers also approved an additional $2 million that Hough said will pay for parking upgrades near the World Cup event sites.

The Missouri funding still has to be signed by Gov. Mike Parson. Parson and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly are scheduled to travel to Kansas City on Thursday for what the Kansas City Sports Commission is calling a “major announcement” related to the World Cup.

Lawmakers who spoke with The Star said they expect officials to announce on Thursday the formation of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group that will oversee the state funding and World Cup operations in Kansas City.

They view the funding as a needed expense to ensure Kansas City puts its best foot forward when it arrives on the global stage; the expenditures, they argue, will be paid for by economic windfalls from hosting the event. But research indicates public spending on sporting events often is not recouped, and that Kansas City will see little more than short term tourism revenues when it hosts the 2026 games.

“Spending a significant amount of public money on spectator sports is almost always a terrible idea,” said Victor Matheson, an economics professor at Holy Cross University who studies major sporting events. “You guys got a little bit of a taste of that two weeks ago when you held the NFL draft and the results were wildly underwhelming.”

Visit KC officials promised $100 million in economic activity from the draft but local businesses reported reduced business during the draft rather than increased.

The $50 million for “stadium and ground modifications, transportation, marketing and additional event support” approved by Missouri lawmakers was added to the state budget at the request of a group of lawmakers from the Kansas City area, including Missouri Democratic Sens. Lauren Arthur, Greg Razer and John Rizzo.

Stakeholders, including Kansas City officials, had requested that the funding be paid to the Jackson County Sports Authority over four years but senators ultimately decided to do it in one lump sum, Razer said.

The budget language gives the nonprofit group that will oversee the funding wide latitude on how to spend the money. Missouri lawmakers who spoke with The Star said they expect the majority of the state funding will go to reconfiguring Arrowhead Stadium to fit FIFA standards for soccer matches.

Kansas City Chiefs President Mark Donovan told The Star last year that alterations to Arrowhead would be part of a two-year plan that involves removing seats. The plan was to begin work on the stadium in the spring of 2025. The seats would be returned for the 2025 football season and the process would be repeated in 2026 with soccer matches being played in the summer, Donovan said at the time.

“There are certain needs to make sure that Arrowhead can accommodate the pitch,” Arthur said. “That includes things like removing seating and some of the construction activities that would go along with modifying the stadium to fit the needs of the pitch.”

Razer said seats will have to be removed from the stadium to make the field bigger. And new watering and drainage systems have to be put in because FIFA, which operates the World Cup, wants to use the same type of grass for every stadium, he said.

Matheson said stadium improvements to accommodate soccer won’t come close to costing the full $50 million allocated.

The rest of the money, he said, will be well spent if the Kansas City area accelerates existing infrastructure needs in order to be ready on time for the World Cup, or if it establishes open air entertainment areas to watch games that would continue to be used in the future.

“It makes very little sense to put a bunch of money into something that will only be there for a three week party,” he said. “If you have a master plan and someone says hey, you know it’ll be nice to have this done by the World Cup, even a critic like me isn’t going to argue too much about that.”

While the lion’s share of the funding is expected to go to Arrowhead improvements, Arthur said it could also be used to pay for a number of activities such as a FIFA Fan Festival, security and insurance. House Majority Leader Jonathan Patterson, a Lee’s Summit Republican, said some of the money will fund transportation to get fans to the stadium.

The money could also pay for the salaries of the nonprofit group that will oversee the World Cup operations, lawmakers said.

“We have given the entity that will oversee the World Cup some flexibility in making decisions about how best to use that state funding,” Arthur said.

Missouri lawmakers also approved an additional $2 million in the Office of Administration’s budget related to the World Cup. Hough told The Star that money would be used to pay for parking upgrades in and around the event sites. The budget line item states that it’s for a non-profit performing arts center and another non-profit group and is based on a 50/50 match by the recipients.

For the most part, lawmakers have touted the money as a worthwhile investment. Some have predicted huge economic returns from the event.

“The 2026 FIFA World Cup will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity for Missouri as fans from all over the globe come to our state to watch the games and celebrate,” Rizzo said in a statement. “The entire Kansas City delegation worked hard to secure $50 million in the upcoming budget to make sure our region has the resources it needs to prepare for the FIFA World Cup and to maximize our return on investment.”

Matheson said Kansas City should already be prepared for an event the size of the World Cup. There are, he said, costs associated with security and transportation, but that doesn’t come close to $50 million.

“This is exactly the same in terms of logistics as a Broncos versus Chiefs game and they should know exactly how to run one of these things,” he said.

Lawmakers have defended the high dollar figure, even as investigations into FIFA actions have revealed the soccer organization has a long history of bribery and money-laundering.

“Because I know that there’s an entity that’s going to oversee the funding, I trust those people to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Arthur said. “At least in terms of the state funding, that’s not a major concern because we also have tools at our disposal to sort of audit and ensure that that funding is going to appropriate places.”

Funding for a practice facility

In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly asked lawmakers to make the last minute $10 million allocation for World Cup preparations. Lawmakers included the funding in a budget Kelly signed Monday.

Details of exactly what the money will be spent on are sparse. Kelly’s budget amendment request said it would be used for required improvements in Western Wyandotte County and the area surrounding Children’s Mercy Park. The park is slated to be a training facility for teams participating in the World Cup.

“The planned improvements will also allow for enhanced economic activity in the region well after the World Cup concludes its activities in the area,” the request said.

When the funding was requested last month Kansas Sen. Rick Bilinger, a Goodland Republican, said he was initially skeptical that a practice facility would need the funding. But he said he was convinced by the idea that an influx of tourists may want to watch the teams practice.

“From what I understand, the amount of people that will travel to Kansas City has probably never ever seen anything like that,” he said in an interview last month.

Matheson, the Holy Cross professor, said there is no reason Sporting KC should need to change its stadium ahead of 2026.

He said it sounds like the team “is using the World Cup to basically ask for money for their own facility. Not anything that’s needed for the World Cup. This is a practice facility. There are literally dozens of facilities around the Kansas City area that are sufficient to do what needs to be done for practice facilities.”

Kansas Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Democrat, said the appropriations would help Kansas City avoid some of the hiccups from the NFL Draft.

The size of the World Cup as compared to the draft, she said, would be monumental and the region needed to do work ahead of time to improve its public transit and prepare for a massive influx of soccer fans.

“The NFL Draft was just focused in one area and, although I was in town that weekend, I didn’t notice anything,” Clayton said. “Even though I live quite far from both Sporting and Arrowhead I think that we will be noticing the World Cup pretty heavily in the metro so I think that will be more of an economic boost.”

Kansas Rep. Henry Helgerson, an Eastborough Democrat, said he wished more details were given as to what the money would have been spent on so the Legislature could make a more informed decision. It was suggested to lawmakers, Helgerson said, that games could still be scheduled in Children’s Mercy Park.

He said there is often an obligation when a city lands a major sporting event to spend money to ensure the city looks its best for the visitors.

“Quite often it doesn’t pay for itself in the long run,” he said.

And research has shown, especially in sports tourism, that Kansas City is not likely to see long-term windfalls. Sports tourists follow events, not cities.

“Every four years there’s this set of people who travel for this event and we’re going to suck them away and once the event is over there’s no reason for them to return,” said Dennis Coates, an economics professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Coates cited a 2004 study from Matheson that found U.S. host cities didn’t come close to the estimated economic windfall from the 1994 World Cup.

“There’s no reason to believe that anything this time is going to be any more successful than the previous time,” Coates said.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not going to rake in money for FIFA. FIFA is going to rake in money hand over fist, which is really their goal more than anything.”