Lionel Messi’s decision to join Major League Soccer (MLS) three years ahead of the World Cup’s arrival in North America has the potential to transform the sport’s landscape. The football world was surprised when Messi turned down a lucrative offer from Saudi Arabia and instead chose Miami’s sun-drenched and tax-free haven.
As a World Cup winner and a free agent after a successful but contentious tenure in France, Messi had numerous suitors. Although a return to Barcelona seemed likely, the financially troubled club couldn’t afford him. Consequently, Messi’s move to MLS is seen as a game-changer, reminiscent of Pele’s impact on American soccer when he joined the New York Cosmos in 1975.
Messi and Pele: Two icons, two eras
Pele’s arrival in the USA transformed the sport, attracting more talented players like Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, and George Best to follow suit. Similarly, Messi’s presence is already causing a stir, with rumours swirling about his former Barcelona teammates, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, possibly considering their own moves across the Atlantic.
The anticipation surrounding Messi’s debut with Inter Miami had led to a frenzy, with tickets selling out rapidly despite the fact that he could officially sign for the club only after June 30. Commercially, this move is expected to be a massive success, with Messi’s popularity likely to surpass that of Beckham, who sold 300,000 LA Galaxy jerseys per season during his MLS tenure. The collaboration between MLS, Adidas, Apple, and Beckham has even resulted in a deal that could make Messi a part-owner of the club, allowing him to share in the revenues generated by his presence.
Contrary to the speculation about his motives being driven by money, Messi has clarified that his decision to join MLS was not purely financial. He stated that it’s time for him to experience football in a different way and enjoy his day-to-day life more.
Overall, Messi’s move to MLS has the potential to reshape the sport in North America, just as Pele’s arrival did in the 1970s. With the commercial prospects and anticipation already sky-high, Messi’s influence on American soccer is set to be significant.
Global brands join forces in MLS transformation
Lionel Messi’s presence in European football has been nothing short of extraordinary, with an impressive record of 474 goals during his illustrious career at Barcelona. As a seven-time recipient of the title of the world’s best footballer, his impact on the sport is undeniable. Now, as Messi makes the move to Inter Miami in Florida after spending two seasons with Paris Saint-Germain, the spotlight shifts to his potential impact on American soccer.
The decision by Messi, who had offers from Saudi Arabia, to join Major League Soccer (MLS) represents a significant turning point for the sport in the United States. With his global appeal and fan following, millions of supporters are likely to take a new interest in MLS with one of the greatest players of all time being a part of it.
Among those who are excited about Messi’s arrival are two major companies, Apple and Adidas. These brands have reportedly partnered with Inter Miami and MLS as part of the deal. The specifics of the partnership involve Messi being granted a percentage of Inter Miami club merchandise revenue from Adidas, alongside a share of the proceeds generated through Apple’s “Season Pass” service.
This subscription-based streaming platform offers viewers full access to all Major League Soccer (MLS) matches. Apple’s involvement in MLS doesn’t end there, as they recently announced a four-part documentary series about Messi, which features behind-the-scenes coverage of the men’s 2022 Fifa World Cup, during which Argentina emerged victorious.
Apple’s significant investment in Messi and MLS demonstrates its belief in his marketability and star power. Conversely, the MLS is expected to extend an offer to Messi to acquire shares in Inter Miami, a club that enjoys partial ownership by former Manchester United player David Beckham. Beckham’s involvement in Inter Miami has paved the way for creative deals, and Messi seems set to enjoy similar benefits.
With Messi’s addition to the MLS roster and the support from influential companies like Apple and Adidas, American soccer is poised to experience a surge in popularity and exposure. This move has the potential to elevate the sport’s status in the US, further cementing Lionel Messi’s impact on football, now on the American stage.
The Messi mania provides Financial Boost
Inter Miami, Messi’s new team, has already experienced a significant boost in social media followers, and ticket prices across the league have skyrocketed as fans eagerly anticipate his first visit to play against their respective teams. However, some experts believe that the surge in prices and interest may eventually flatten out in the long term.
The club’s Instagram followers have surged from around one million to 7.8 million since the announcement, surpassing the follower count of every NFL, MLB, NHL, and MLS team account. This expanded audience can be leveraged for commercial deals, as the club can now offer sponsors exposure to a much larger audience, thanks to Messi’s presence.
Kieran Maguire, a football finance lecturer and author of “The Price of Football,” compares the situation to ticket prices for a significant match in the English Premier League. While there will be a sharp spike in demand due to fans wanting to witness Messi’s debut, he believes that demand may eventually exceed supply.
As Messi won’t be playing at every ground every week, the ripple effect may not be as significant, and ticket prices could return to a more normal level, especially if his presence does not drastically transform the league.
The immediate impact of Messi’s pending move was evident in the surge in ticket prices for Inter Miami matches. Resale website TickPick reported that the cheapest ticket for Inter Miami’s Leagues Cup match against Cruz Azul, potentially Messi’s first game with the team, increased from $29 to $329, a surge of 1,034%, within 24 hours of the news.
Similarly, a noticeable trend was observed on StubHub, where ticket sales for Inter Miami’s games surged significantly, experiencing a remarkable 28-fold increase from July to the end of the season following the announcement of Messi’s partnership with the club. Other MLS teams, such as Los Angeles FC, have also experienced a boost in ticket sales, with matches against Inter Miami becoming highly sought-after events.
While the initial excitement and ticket price surge may eventually stabilize, there is no denying that Messi’s presence in MLS has ignited a new level of interest and enthusiasm for soccer in America. The league is poised to benefit significantly from his star power, both in the short term and in its potential long-term impact on the growth and popularity of soccer in the US.
Beckham to Messi: Will MLS finally compete with NBA, NFL, MLB?
When David Beckham joined LA Galaxy from Real Madrid in 2007, his groundbreaking deal included a share of shirt and ticket sales, a concept that was unprecedented in MLS at the time. He also had the option to purchase an MLS team for a reduced fee, which ultimately led to his shared ownership of Inter Miami.
As the league’s first designated player, Beckham was not subject to salary cap rules, allowing him to command a significantly higher salary than other players. This practice has continued with Lionel Messi, who is expected to earn a staggering US$54 million per year, far surpassing the league’s next highest-paid player.
Designated players like Beckham and Messi are expected to attract fans and increase ticket sales, as shown by research indicating that Beckham’s arrival in the MLS led to a 55% increase in ticket sales and a 65% increase in match attendance across the league, drawing in hundreds of thousands of new fans. The “Beckham effect” was particularly pronounced in LA Galaxy away games, which saw a substantial increase in attendance.
Nonetheless, the arrival of a superstar like Messi in MLS has the potential to transform the league in various ways. It immediately elevates the league’s global image, making it more appealing to watch and participate in.
Moreover, Messi’s presence can accelerate the growth of revenue sources for MLS, attracting new sponsors, increasing TV audiences, boosting ticket sales, and driving licensed merchandising. While Messi will play for Inter Miami, the entire league stands to benefit from his presence.
The timing of Messi’s move to MLS aligns perfectly with the upcoming 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will be hosted in the US, Canada, and Mexico. This presents a golden opportunity for MLS and the US Soccer Federation to expand the game’s domestic appeal further.
Indeed, Lionel Messi’s arrival in Major League Soccer (MLS) presents a remarkable opportunity to recruit new fans and generate excitement for soccer in America. As one of the world’s most iconic players, Messi’s presence on the field is likely to attract fans of all ages and backgrounds to stadiums across the country. This surge in interest creates an enticing landscape for brands to get involved and connect with soccer enthusiasts.
For brands interested in reaching Hispanic consumers, this moment could be one of the most significant opportunities in the last two decades. The association with MLS, Miami, and a legendary player like Messi can lead to immense benefits across various businesses, as soccer’s popularity grows and captivates diverse audiences.
This exciting time for soccer fans in America is coupled with the strengthening of MLS through the launch of new franchises like San Diego (set for 2025) and the highly anticipated 2026 FIFA World Cup hosted in the US, Canada, and Mexico. These factors create a fertile ground for advertisers to engage with various segments of the population, particularly millennials and Gen Zs, as soccer fever is set to capture the hearts of everyone.