MIAMI — Some of the curves and bends of the Miami International Autodrome were still easy to make out from the suite level at Hard Rock Stadium on Friday when representatives from South Florida’s local governments, the Miami Dolphins and the visitors bureau all gathered there to formally welcome the 2026 FIFA World Cup to Miami-Dade County.
It has barely been a month since Miami Gardens hosted the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, transforming the grounds around Hard Rock into a Formula One-worthy race track. It has barely been two since the facility hosted the 2022 Miami Open, transforming the same campus into world-class tennis complex with 30 courts strewn all over the venue. In a few more months, the stadium will completely transform again, ready to host at least 10 Dolphins games and seven Miami Hurricanes games.
Even before FIFA announced it would be bringing 2026 World Cup games to Miami-Dade County on Thursday, there was no venue quite like Hard Rock Stadium. Now, it’s even more obvious.
“We had a vision to have a global entertainment destination here,” said Tom Garfinkel, the CEO of the Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium. “With national championship games, Super Bowls, Miami Open tennis, certainly Formula One, obviously Dolphins games and now we’re hosting the World Cup here in 2026, I think that vision is being realized.”
The facility has already hosted six Super Bowls, five college football national championships, 25 Orange Bowls, three Miami Opens, games in the World Baseball Classic, one WrestleMania and a Formula One race. The World Cup was one of the few marquee events left missing from its resume.
The United States has only hosted the FIFA World Cup one other time back in 1994 and the stadium — then called Joe Robbie Stadium — didn’t host any games because the Miami Marlins, then called the Florida Marlins, had home dates at the stadium conflicting with the tournament.
“It’s a potentially generational opportunity,” Miami mayor Francis X. Suarez said.
Now the home of the Dolphins is unassailable. It started back in the 1980s, when Robbie formulated the idea of a stadium able to easily adapt to host soccer matches, and took on new life under the ownership of Stephen M. Ross and vision of Garfinkel.
In 2017, those two lured an iteration of El Clasico — the storied rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid of Spain’s La Liga — to Hard Rock Stadium. In 2019, they proved Hard Rock can do more than just host events inside the stadium when the Miami Open moved from Key Biscayne to Miami Gardens for the first time, played on pop-up courts in what is usually tailgating space.
Their crowning achievement — for now, at least — was the Miami Grand Prix, making those parking lots and muddy fields unrecognizable, replaced with a race track and weekend-spanning party.
In some ways, the 2022 Miami Grand Prix (GP) was the perfect test case. Garfinkel said last month he had representatives from FIFA come see the campus — essentially, a slice of Miami Beach transported into Miami Gardens — and they’ll be able to reuse some of those same ideas at the 2026 World Cup.
“It’ll be similar to what you see for Super Bowls and for the F1 event, where there will be a lot of hospitality in and around the venue — some permanent, some temporary,” Garfinkel said. “There will be a lot more activity here on the campus than just the matches themselves.”
Like the Miami GP, the World Cup should draw an international audience, too.
This was another easy selling point to FIFA. Dade County is one of the most diverse in the country, officially nicknamed “The Gateway to the Americas,” and Miami International Airport was the busiest United States gateway for international travelers in 2021, according to Airports Council International.
“In talking with FIFA,” Garfinkel said, “you’re talking about the allure of Miami as a global destination.”
Is there another, greater frontier left for Hard Rock Stadium at this point? At this point, it has hosted an event in pretty much every major sport but basketball, hockey and golf.
“That’s a good idea,” Garfinkel said, chuckling at the idea of turning the venue into a golf course. “Maybe somewhere else. Not here.”
Realistically, the World Cup is the last thing Hard Rock Stadium had to check off.
“We’re running out of dates and we’re running out of space,” Garfinkel said, “so I don’t there’s much more we can do, but we’ll continue. To have the World Cup is obviously a huge thing.”
©2022 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.