When FIFA released the official video for the 2026 World Cup in North America, millions of people saw the sunrise at AT&T Stadium in the opening shot.
Neighbor Chad Windham remembers filming that scene well. Alone at 5 a.m. in the massive stadium, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched.
“I was flying my drone around inside the stadium, and I just felt like (Dallas Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones was sitting in his bedroom watching on an iPad saying, ‘I hope he doesn’t hit that TV screen,’” Windham says.
That footage, along with more shot by Windham and a team of videographers who traveled across the continent, was used in the United 2026 film pitch. The agency was responsible for presenting the North American bid to FIFA, soccer’s international governing body.
In 2026, 80 matches will be played in stadiums across the United States, Canada and Mexico as part of the largest World Cup in history. The tournament will be the first played across three countries and just the second to be co-hosted by multiple countries, according to U.S. Soccer.
“I’ve done a lot of cool things — traveled all over the world, shot for big clients — but as far as the number of people this project affects, it’s the largest project I’ve ever done,” Windham says. “But it was also the most laid back.
“As we were walking out the door that first morning of production, we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s go have some fun.’ It was just a blast. Everyone was relaxed.”
Windham, who owns Dallas-based Pugs and Peanut Butter Productions, got involved with the project through a New York producer who was helping the agency directing the film. At her suggestion, Windham submitted his reel and his website and was hired as the director of photography.
For two weeks in May, Windham filmed in New York City, Toronto, Dallas and Mexico City — one of the most memorable stops on the trip. While waiting for the sun to set at the iconic Estadio Azteca — home of the 1970 “Game of the Century” and 1986 “Goal of the Century” — Windham says he lay in the center of the pitch and stared at the sky. “Just to be able to lay on that hallowed ground was so cool,” he says.
Beyond filming the stadiums and their grounds, Windham says he wanted to capture the people of each country. From groundskeepers watering the pitch to players lacing up their cleats, he tried to sell the North American soccer culture.
“The more that I travel, the more I find people are the same,” he says. “They want to hang out with their friends and enjoy their sports. It’s just different languages, accents and beers.”
That message of unity and “football for all” was enough to convince FIFA. In June, the organization awarded the World Cup to North America over the other primary bidder, Morocco.
“It was very exciting,” Windham says of the agency’s decision. “It was like, ‘Hey, World Cup’s coming. You’re welcome.’”
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