Jim Brown, Park City resident, integral in creating winning United 2026 World Cup bid
Jim Brown is a little late for his interview on Wednesday, in part because he was watching the World Cup soccer match between Saudi Arabia and Uruguay. You can’t really blame him; the World Cup is kind of his thing. In fact, he has worked at four men’s and women’s World Cups, and six Olympics, starting with the 1994 World Cup in America, which he worked as a 26-year old director of operations at Stanford Stadium Center. When he was offered the job of managing director for the United bid for a 2026 North American World Cup last year, he saw it as a chance to bring the Cup back to the States for the first time in 32 years, and bring his career full circle.
Brown, an American born in Bolivia, grew up a fan of soccer. He played the game at Hamilton College in New York and coached when he took a teaching job in Cyprus, but he had no idea soccer would support his family until he left his teaching job and joined his brothers and father for the World Cup final in Rome between Germany and Argentina in July 1990.
“I remember the game like it was yesterday,” he said. “Jürgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthäus; Maradona was playing.”
While there, he saw organizers working on the sidelines and wondered if he could do something along those lines, as a way to stay close to the game.
After Italy, he returned to Palo Alto, California, where his mother lived, and started coaching high school soccer.
“I had in the back of my mind, I would like to work in the World Cup of 1994,” he said. “Partially luck, partially just blind hard work, I ended up getting a really good job.”
Before then, he was named managing director for the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks, a team of budding U.S. stars in the short-lived American Professional Soccer League, including Eric Wynalda, Dominic Kinnear and Paul Bravo. Some time after, Brown was named director of operations for the Stanford Stadium Center for the 1994 World Cup.
Brown said it was the first of many “big breaks.”
After helping to host the World Cup, he oversaw a venue at the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996 (where he met his wife, Angie, who oversaw the whitewater and canoe venue), then, after a brief stint with Major League Soccer in New York, he ran the Olympic Stadium in Sydney for the 2000 Summer Games, and then came to Park City as the managing director of venues for the 2002 Winter Games. Here, he worked alongside sports officials like Colin Hilton, Frasier Bullock and one Mitt Romney.
In 2003, he got a job with the International Federation of Associated Football (FIFA).
“A lot of people stayed here (after the Winter Games),” he said. “We planned to stay here, my wife and I, and in fact I got my job offer to go to FIFA during my honeymoon.”
Brown became the director of competitions for the international organization until 2010, when he retired from FIFA but was retained as a consultant.
“You do get caught up in the work; it’s work, it’s pressure, it’s hard,” he said. “You can think about (how much it means to people), but you don’t realize it until you see the mom holding her kid above her head or the dad crying because Mexico scored a goal, and then you get caught up in it and you realize how important it is.”
Last June, Brown got the opportunity to bring his career full circle when he was asked by the United States Soccer Federation to be the managing director of the 2026 United bid, a proposal that the U.S., Mexico and Canada act as a joint host for that year’s World Cup.
“I signed up for this thing because mainly I wanted this region to host the world cup again,” he said. “That was the emotional side of it.”
The United bid
The joint North American bid was first mentioned in 2012, when soccer’s governing bodies in Mexico and Canada announced they would pursue it as an option — the U.S. later followed suit.
In April of 2017, the bid was formally announced. Shortly after that he was hired on as managing director, and the process of building the bid started in earnest.
Brown and his team worked on establishing the logistics of the bid, preparing everything from a match schedule to staffing plans and budgeting. The largest task was to help select probable host cities. That meant contacting the governments of between 50 and 60 cities across the three countries, Brown said, and to start working with them to find which ones would be a good fit for the World Cup. Some of them, like New York and Philadelphia, were good matches. Others, like Chicago and Vancouver – two major cities the bid pursued – couldn’t comply with or accept the terms of the contracts that FIFA required.
“Cities are big business in a lot of ways,” Brown said. “Chicago has an airport they have to redo, and there’s a lot of uncertainty in the bids, no question, and I think we’re sympathetic to that. It just wasn’t the right time for Chicago to put that forward.”
So even though Soldier Field was on board, the city of Chicago was not, Brown said.
Other cities aren’t on the list of possible venues for other reasons, including Salt Lake City, which has long possessed an upper-tier MLS team in Real Salt Lake.
Brown said the University of Utah’s Rice Eccles Stadium was considered for a long time, but the field, built for Ute football (and an Olympic opening ceremony), didn’t meet width requirements for World Cup soccer.
“Understandably, the city and the university didn’t want to go through the exercise of paying (to expand the field), No. 1, but also the impact to (Utah) football, which might not be positive,” Brown said. “So they rightly backed off.”
Brown said the negotiations with cities and stadiums continued until just days before the bid was submitted to FIFA earlier this month.
Tension and Unity
During the process of assembling the bid, the bid team was faced with the dilemma of political turmoil while presenting what was supposed to be a show of unity — the joint effort of three nations to host a sporting event. While Brown said the sporting associations from Mexico, Canada and the U.S. were on very good terms, spats regarding immigration and trade continue to flare between the nations’ political leaders as president Donald Trump instigates various verbal and policy confrontations with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.
“Obviously, with the current administration of our country, it’s a big factor,” he said of the issues with immigration and trade. “We had to overcome those questions. … But never did we get any sense that the Trump administration wasn’t a huge supporter of this bid. Although (the three nations’ international leaders) had certain NAFTA discussions going on, never did we get any concern they weren’t 100 percent behind this joint bid.”
But FIFA wasn’t initially convinced, Brown said, which prompted United Bid 2026 to contact Trump, who sent letters to FIFA members telling them that no one would associated with the World Cup would be denied a visa.
“He just assured people there would be no discrimination and no limiting players, staff, media, fans,” Brown said. “And that helped a lot.”
In the two months leading up to the FIFA bid selection, United Bid 2026 took the show on the road, meeting FIFA congressmen across the globe to campaign for the cause.
“There were people within our organization, especially the three presidents of the (soccer governing bodies of our) countries, who probably went to 30 or 40 countries each, especially in Europe and Asia,” Brown said.
The United bid was contending mainly with Morocco’s bid, which had gained early support from the soccer federations of Africa.
Because Brown had overseen the South African World Cup in 2010, he was familiar with many of the representatives from various soccer federations across the continent, and was selected to go to South Africa and Zimbabwe to campaign for the United Bid. The task was made slightly easier because many of the FIFA congressmen from southern Africa were gathered for the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations Cup in the two countries.
“They were all there, so I was able to meet with 14 countries,” Brown said. “There were three of us working: (The presidents) from a visibility standpoint, me from a knowing-the-people standpoint, and the (the bid).”
Brown said COSAFA ended up being supportive, and helped the bid earn FIFA’s approval, winning the right to host the 2026 World Cup on June 13, 134 votes to Morocco’s 65 in a meeting in Zurich.
In the end, Brown said the United Bid was viewed as more feasible, a better show of the World Cup spirit, and more lucrative for FIFA and its affiliated governing bodies.
“The revenue side of the World Cup being hosted in our three countries could be world-record numbers,” he said. “We forecasted $14 billion of revenue with a profit of over $10 billion, so it’s real money.”
Which, Brown said, was seen as a way for FIFA to clear its name after recent World Cups went over budget, which called the event’s profitability and positive influence on the host countries into question.
Though Salt Lake City will not be a match venue, it will likely act as a team’s home base during the World Cup. Brown said the city’s altitude and central location on the continent are both big draws for deep-pocketed teams, as are the practice fields that Real Salt Lake uses.
If one of the tournament’s 40 teams does select Salt Lake as a base, Brown said it will likely bring a large entourage alongside 20-odd players, amounting to a group of up to 100 people.
“They will come with chefs; they will come with masseuses,” Brown said. “They really set up camp.”
That influx could spill over into Park City.
“They will have plenty media attention which naturally will visit, or even stay in, Park City at some stage; the team could visit during their off-time and/or even come to Park City for some training-type activities,” Brown said. “Fans tend to follow the team to the team base camp. This can effect Park City like any other Salt Lake event might.”
Now that the process is almost over, he said though the effort was incredibly hectic, it was an enjoyable, memorable experience.
“It wasn’t easy and, there’s some moments when it was really challenging, but then you hear the euphoria of the three countries — all three – and they are very proud to host,” he said. “And that’s really worth it.”
He said he wasn’t sure if he would do another bid, but he was glad to be a part of the United bid.
“And I’m glad we won,” he added.
Maybe, he said, when the 2026 World Cup comes around, he will watch it with his grown-up kids, but it’s hard to look too far ahead when there’s already a World Cup going on now. Brown said he is currently watching every game.
“None of (the World Cups) are perfect, but it’s been a great show so far,” he said. “Too bad the U.S. isn’t there; it would certainly add to it for some of us. But next time they will be there.”
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