[WORLD CUP 2018/22 BID]
FIFA inspectors didn't get to meet President Barack Obama at the White House but they were greeted by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who wanted to make sure they knew "Jerry's Place," the Cowboys Stadium he built at a cost of $1.3 billion, would be a perfect fit for the World Cup.
It says something about the economic power of soccer that Jones and other NFL owners were on hand to welcome the FIFA inspect ion team's tour of venues for the World Cup in 2018 and 2022.
"All the stadiums we have visited, with some very small adjustments, would be great World Cup venues. There is no doubt about that," Chilean Harold Mayne-Nicholls, the head of the FIFA inspection group, said after the tour ended Thursday afternoon in Houston. "We have seen a number of excellent locations. All requirements and expectations should be met."
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder welcomed the FIFA group at FedEx Field on Wednesday. Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, along with Houston Mayor Annise Parker, gave Mayne-Nicholls and company a tour of Reliant Stadium.
Earlier on Thursday, Jones took time out from his day spent wrapping up a $56 million contract for star receiver Miles Austin -- the NFL season begins this week -- to splash images of the committee members on the giant video screens at the Cowboys Stadium, which has been touted as a possible site for a World Cup final.
"I do know they were impressed with the size of our stadium, the capacity of the stadium," said Jones. "They were impressed with the flexibility."
Such interest by NFL owners was nonexistent 22 years ago when FIFA awarded the USA the 1994 World Cup.
Most of the NFL stadiums did not meet soccer's width requirements. Of the possible 2018/22 venues inspectors toured, only Miami's Sun Life Stadium was built before the 1994 World Cup was held.
As a more practical matter, soccer wasn't the major sport it is today.
Soccer is now a important event for NFL stadiums. Houston's Reliant Stadium has drawn 800,000 for soccer games since its opening in 2003. A 2009 Gold Cup match between Mexico and Haiti drew more than 82,000 fans at the New Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, site of the 2011 Super Bowl.
Ironically, the Miami stadium was built by the late Dolphins owner Joe Robbie, a soccer supporter from the days of the NASL, with soccer in mind, but it was overlooked for the World Cup because of conflicts with Marlins baseball.
Music producer Emilio Estefan, who owns a stake in the Dolphins, was on hand Wednesday when the FIFA inspection tour hit Miami.