MetLife Stadium to remove 1,740 seats for 2026 World Cup, officials hoping to host final

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MetLife Stadium officials plan to remove 1,740 seats to widen the field for World Cup matches as they hope to host the 2026 final but will retain a narrower surface for this year’s Copa América.

The stadium in suburban East Rutherford, New Jersey, is among the contenders for the final of the expanded 48-nation, 104-game World Cup on July 19, 2026, along with AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“I speak on behalf of New Jersey but also as our partner of New York City, do not underestimate how aggressive we’re prepared to be to get the best package of games possible,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said during a telephone interview last fall.

FIFA has not set a date for announcing the sites of specific games and could not provide details on renovations at other stadiums, spokesman Lenny Santiago said. For the 1994 tournament, FIFA announced sites of specific games in June 1992, awarding the final to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

Heimo Schirgi, who replaced Colin Smith as the World Cup’s chief operating officer last July, was not available for comment. Unlike the 1994 World Cup, FIFA is running the 2026 tournament itself without a local organizing committee.

“The few stadiums that require capital projects are handling each project differently — with some venues scheduling the work across multiple NFL offseasons, while others plan to complete everything at once sometime between now and spring 2026,” FIFA said in a statement.

MetLife, which opened in 2010, has had a high crowd for sports of 83,367 for a Jets-Giants NFL game in October, and the World Cup bid book estimated a capacity of 74,895. The current dimension for soccer matches is 70-by-115 yards (64-by-105 meters), spokeswoman Helen Strus said.

Strus said construction will be in the corners and extend along the sidelines, though field-level club areas will not be impacted. The removed seats will be in the corners and will be replaced with seats in removable sections after the World Cup. Murphy said who pays the cost of the construction was under negotiation.

“The FIFA setback provisions really impact MetLife only at the corners. Other stadiums have a much tougher nut where they have to set the entire perimeter back,” Murphy said. “FIFA wants a deal that works for them. New Jersey and New York City — remember our partners New York City — we’re prepared clearly to put serious skin in the game. In fact, we have already.”

FIFA requires a 75-by-115 yard (68-by-105 meter) field for World Cup games, although that requirement was ignored by some venues during the 1994 tournament. Both MetLife and AT&T will have to replace artificial turf with grass, along with stadiums in Atlanta; Foxboro, Massachusetts; Houston; Inglewood, California; and Seattle.

MetLife’s narrower field was used for the 2016 Copa América final, won by Chile on penalty kicks over Argentina, and will be used for three matches at this summer’s South American championship: Argentina-Chile and Uruguay-Bolivia group stage games and a July 9 semifinal.

Murphy also hopes UEFA will stage a European Champions League final at MetLife.

“We would be able to sell 10 stadiums worth of tickets for the UEFA Champions League final,” he said. “We would welcome the opportunity, and I’ve said many times I welcome the opportunity to host what we would call in the States regular-season league games for any of the big European leagues at MetLife, as well.”

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Joe Trahan, a spokesman for the Dallas Cowboys, who run AT&T Stadium, declined comment on dimensions and possible changes. He referred questions to FIFA and the Dallas Sports Commission, which did not respond to emails seeking comment.

FIFA awarded the 2026 tournament to the U.S., Mexico and Canada in 2018 and announced the 16 host cities in 2022.

All 11 U.S. stadiums for the World Cup are the homes of NFL teams, which use playing fields of 53.3-by-120 yards (49-by-110 meters).

Giants Stadium, adjacent to where MetLife was built, hosted seven games in 1994, including Bulgaria’s quarterfinal upset of defending champion Germany and Italy’s semifinal win over Bulgaria. At the 1994 tournament, government officials closed the Lincoln Tunnel to regular traffic to allow FIFA executives faster access from Manhattan.

“I think we’ll do the right thing by the VIPs who need to get transited,” Murphy said. “We’ll do it in a way which doesn’t take it out of the hide of the regular customers, but we’ll also do it in a way — we’re committed that to FIFA, that we’ll move folks expeditiously and with the right level of care.”

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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