Preparing for the World Cup

FIFA requires real grass for its World Cup stadia, so NRG will be installing grass in 2026.

The World Cup won’t hit Houston for another 28 months, but NRG Stadium and city officials already are preparing for the seven matches coming to town in June and July of 2026.

NRG Stadium is one of 16 stadiums in North America — 11 in the United States, three in Mexico and two in Canada — hosting the next World Cup with Houston getting a Round of 32 match on June 29 and a Round of 16 match on July 4. The stadium’s five group stage matches will be on June 14, 17, 20, 23 and 26.

The stadium itself is undergoing some improvements, including a $34 million project to upgrade the sustainability and efficiency of the building. That will include all the lighting throughout NRG Park being replaced with LED lighting and the stadium lights being improved to make sure it properly covers the wider soccer pitch.

The most noticeable change will be the grass field required by FIFA for all World Cup matches. The plan is for grass to be installed in the stadium at the beginning of May 2026 to give it more than a month to settle.

“To put it in layman’s terms, we’re going to have one of the greatest grass fields that you can have,” said Chris Canetti, president of Houston’s World Cup host committee. “This is a requirement for the FIFA World Cup. We will have a substantial system that’s put in place for this grass field. We’re going to build it as though it was going to be permanent. However, it’s going to have to be taken out at the end.”

The Texans originally played on grass inside the stadium before replacing it with artificial turf in 2015.

“Whether or not a grass surface can exist in the future is certainly not for us to determine,” said Canetti, deferring to the Texans.

See here for some background. As I recall, the reason why they replaced the grass that had been in then-Reliant Stadium was that they had a hard time keeping it alive, and eventually decided it wasn’t worth the effort. They’ll only need it for seven games in a three-week stretch so one would think this is well within reason, but I’m sure everyone here is aware of that history.

Did I say “NRG Stadium”? Because it won’t be called that while the FIFA folks are in town.

NRG Energy is paying a lot of money for its name to be on the Houston Texans stadium, but none of that will be apparent when World Cup matches are played in NRG Stadium in 2026.

FIFA refuses to acknowledge corporate stadium names, despite many naming rights agreements being in place long before host cities even put in a bid to lure the tournament to town.

So, due to FIFA regulations, the seven matches at NRG Stadium actually will be played at “Houston Stadium.” It will be the same for all 16 stadiums hosting World Cup matches. SoFi Stadium will be called “Los Angeles Stadium”, the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium will be designated “Dallas Stadium”, even though it’s located in Arlington, and MetLife Stadium gets the even clunker moniker “New York/New Jersey Stadium.”

“Going way back to the bid process, there’s always things that you work through before you even bid for an event, so we are super thankful to our corporate community, especially NRG in this case for stepping up and agreeing even before we put the bid in to help us with this,” Harris County Houston Sports Authority CEO Janis Burke said.


FIFA’s rules require stadium signs to be covered and not referred to during game broadcasts unless those companies strike separate agreements with the governing body. Deals struck outside of FIFA are considered “ambush marketing” that devalues their own sponsorships.

“We consider ambush marketing to be a priority in our brand protection work, as this practice puts FIFA’s commercial program directly at risk by effectively devaluing official sponsorship,” the organization posted on its website. “The World Cup tournaments are the result of significant efforts to develop and promote the tournaments, something which would not be possible without the financial support of our commercial affiliates. Ambush marketers try to take advantage of the goodwill and positive image generated by the FIFA tournaments without contributing to their organization.”

Well, we certainly wouldn’t want to mess with FIFA’s marketing integrity. I’m wondering if NRG will get some kind of rebate for this period, like how the cable company will offer to prorate your monthly bill when there’s an extended outage. Oh, and speaking as a New York boy, they could have done worse than “New York/New Jersey Stadium” – they could have called it “Tri-State Metropolitan Area Stadium”.

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2 Responses to Preparing for the World Cup

  1. Kenneth Fair says:

    The main problem with the real grass in Reliant/NRG was that it was installed in large trays that could be removed, and there were seams where the trays met. Numerous player injuries were blamed on those seams. For instance:

  2. C.L. says:

    Oh Chris Canetti… re: ““Whether or not a grass surface can exist in the future is certainly not for us to determine,” said Canetti, deferring to the Texans.” Really ? Who exactly would be determining that, then ? $5 says NFL would love to be playing on real grass instead of plastic and rubber. Why exactly does NRG have a retractable roof again ?

    Rolled in grass with seams and sand for NRG games is a shit pitch.

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