Commentary: Mass shootings and gun violence in U.S. could damage 2026 World Cup bottom line

Roberto Marquez of Dallas constructs a memorial of wooden crosses near the scene of a mass shooting at an outlet mall.
Roberto Marquez of Dallas constructs a memorial of wooden crosses near the scene of a mass shooting at an outlet mall in Allen, Texas, on May 7. Mass shootings and gun violence in the U.S. could prevent many overseas fans from coming into the country to attend World Cup games in 2026.
(Stewart F. House / Getty Images)

The World Cup is coming to the U.S. in a little more than three years. How much of the world will come to watch it, however, remains an open question.

That’s because the unchecked rise in mass shootings in this country has led numerous governments — most of them close allies — to warn their citizens about traveling to the U.S. Not just for the World Cup, but for any reason.

Canada, which will join the U.S. and Mexico in playing host to the tournament, the largest in history with 48 teams and 104 matches, advises those traveling to the U.S. to “familiarize yourself with how to respond to an active shooter situation.” The United Kingdom and Japan have issued similar warnings.


New Zealand has told its people that the U.S. has “domestic-based extremists” while the German government says “it is easy to obtain guns” in the U.S., which has led to “occasional killing sprees.”

And those are our friends.

The show, airing on ‘L.A. Times Today’ on Spectrum News 1, explores the repercussions of the Jan. 21 shooting in Monterey Park and the ways members of the public have responded to the epidemic of gun violence in California.

March 22, 2023

Meanwhile, crime-ridden Venezuela — not a friend — has recommended its citizens avoid travel to the U.S. because of the “proliferation of acts of violence and indiscriminate hate crimes.”

Even Amnesty International, the human rights watchdog best known for standing up to despots and criminal regimes, has issued warnings about the dangers of traveling to the U.S. That’s not exactly the kind of environment that’s likely to prove welcoming for soccer fans — or anyone else.

“It’s fair to say that is one of the threats to the tourism industry that we can’t market our way out of,” Stephen Ekstrom, chief strategist of the Florida-based Tourism Academy, said of gun violence.

But, Ekstrom added, the World Cup and other major international events such as the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, could help recalcitrant policymakers understand the importance of addressing the issue.


“The biggest change in perspective comes from recognizing that it’s an economic issue as much as it is a public health, safety, politics issue,” he said. “It’s hitting the bottom line. And we found with other topics that were once seen as political — the environment, sustainability — once it made sense economically to take action, we started to see change.”

To date, political leaders have proven unable — or unwilling — to take meaningful action despite multiple polls showing a growing majority of Americans favor meaningful gun-control legislation. There were 10 mass shootings, resulting in eight deaths and 39 injuries, during the Mother’s Day weekend and another Monday in New Mexico that killed three people. The number of gun-related events involving four or more victims is 267 this year. The Gun Violence Archive says the U.S. is on pace for 60 mass killings — events involving four or more fatalities — in 2023, 24 more than the record, set in 2022.

VIDEO | 02:09
Mourners gather to honor victims of Monterey Park shooting

That’s a mass killing every six days. And they’ve happened at shopping malls, in schools, at parties and in nightclubs from the Deep South to the Pacific Northwest, from the Eastern seaboard to the Southwestern deserts.

During the last five weeks, people have been shot for opening the wrong car door, knocking on the wrong house door and playing hide-and-seek in the wrong yard. In a community just outside Houston, a 2026 World Cup city, a family asked a neighbor to stop shooting his gun in the front yard because it was keeping their baby awake. The man is accused of responding by shooting and killing five people.


Notably, each of the nine states that will stage World Cup games in 2026 has had multiple mass shootings this year. AT&T Stadium outside Dallas, the likely site of the final, is just 41 miles from Allen, Texas, where authorities said a gunman with an AR-15 killed eight and wounded seven at an outlet mall this month. That was three days after another gunman, according to authorities, shot five people at a medical facility three miles from Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium, another World Cup venue.

Of the seven states with the most mass shootings this year — more than 800 combined — six will be World Cup markets in 2026. Contrast that with New Zealand/Australia, co-hosts of this summer’s Women’s World Cup, which has seen 14 mass shootings combined since 1990.

The U.S. averages that many every eight days.

But it’s the randomness of the shootings in a country with more guns than people that is likely most unsettling to visitors. If people who have lived here their whole lives can’t avoid the bullets, what chance does a tourist have?

No mass shootings have taken place during events at the 11 U.S. World Cup venues, but fans will spend very little of their time in the stadiums. Instead, they will be at restaurants, in parks, on subways and at shopping centers — all frequent sites of shootings.

Still, Alan Rothenberg, who organized the 1994 World Cup in the U.S., the best-attended and most successful in history, believes gun violence will have only a marginal effect on the 2026 tournament.


SoFi Stadium in Inglewood is one of the venues for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
(Gary Klein / Los Angeles Times)

“While gun violence is horrible and the lack of action by Congress to enact meaningful gun control is inexcusable, it will have minimal impact, if any, on international travel to the United States for the 2026 World Cup,” said Rothenberg, chairman of the sports marketing agency Playfly Premier Partnerships and an advisor to several 2026 host cities. “In 1994, it was feared that gang violence in Los Angeles was going to limit World Cup attendance. It did not.”

A much larger potential inhibition, Rothenberg said, is the lengthy delays in issuing visas to foreign travelers. A 2018 survey by Skift, a travel agency news website, backs that up, finding that while 7% of respondents were reconsidering travel from foreign destinations to the U.S., most said gun violence wouldn’t cause them to alter plans.

The pace of mass shootings has doubled since that report was published.

But even a 7% decline in visitors could represent a major financial hit. An early estimate pushed by U.S. Soccer before the tournament expanded to 104 games said the aggregate economic impact of hosting the 2026 World Cup in North America could reach as much as $5 billion, including the support of roughly 40,000 jobs. A 7% reduction in tourism could cost host cities as much as $350 million.

Los Angeles will host matches during the 2026 World Cup, with games set to be played across the United States, Mexico and Canada.

June 16, 2022

Sadly, Ekstrom believes framing the issue that way might be the best way to force action on gun control and the 2026 World Cup has the potential to be a catalyst. If the number of lives lost can’t bring about change, maybe lost dollars can.


“Destination marketing organizations, many of them are entrenched with local politics. So they can’t have that conversation about politics,” he said. “But it’s economics. We can talk about lost business, about lost business potential. If the U.S. is losing market share because of this issue, that’s a big deal.

“Absolutely it has an effect on the economics of travel and tourism.”

You have read the latest installment of On Soccer with Kevin Baxter. The weekly column takes you behind the scenes and shines a spotlight on unique stories. Look for it every Tuesday morning at Listen to Baxter on this week’s episode of the Corner of the Galaxy podcast.

VIDEO | 07:05
LA Times Today: Mass shootings and gun violence in U.S. could damage 2026 World Cup bottom line

Watch L.A. Times Today at 7 p.m. on Spectrum News 1 on Channel 1 or live stream on the Spectrum News App. Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County viewers can watch on Cox Systems on channel 99.