Led by the impact of Lionel Messi, the business of soccer has continued to grow in the U.S.
By: Alejandro Echeverria
September 20, 2023
Photo Credit: Associated Press
Messi Mania in Miami:
Having reportedly been offered $1.6 billion across three years to play in Saudi Arabia, Lionel Messi instead decided to take his talents to Inter Miami’s DRV PNK Stadium, an MLS club partially owned by former England international David Beckham. Although they didn’t match those financial promises, executives from Inter Miami, the MLS, Apple TV, and Adidas all worked together to secure Messi’s signature. These executives realized that Messi’s arrival would have an immense impact on American soccer, and it was a perfect opportunity as the U.S. is hosting the upcoming World Cup in 2026. Inter Miami’s ownership team offered Messi a reported $150 million over two-and-a-half years before additional signing bonuses, an ownership stake in the club once his playing career is over, a percentage of profit share from Apple TV MLS League Pass subscriptions, and a percentage of profit share from Adidas’s Inter Miami jersey sales. Messi’s decision to take this deal has already begun to pay dividends, both on the field and off it.
Inter Miami and the MLS as a whole have also seen tremendous results as a result of his arrival. The five-year-old club had previously seen little success, although the influence of Beckham helped the club build a loyal fanbase with lofty expectations for the future. This helped the club convert this opportunity into success on and off the pitch. For instance, Messi’s Miami jersey was Fanatics’ top-selling jersey across all sports, with demand so high it has outweighed supply in many instances. According to TicketIQ, some ticket prices for home games on the secondary market have risen from $152 to $864 since his signing, an unprecedented increase in price of 468%. No matter where Messi plays, tickets have continually increased in price, yet all of his games to this point have featured sell-out crowds. This is in part due to the large Hispanic population’s familiarity with Messi’s playing career, particularly at the international level, where he just won the World Cup with Argentina.
According to Sportico, Inter Miami was last valued at about $585 million before Messi’s arrival. Now, Inter Miami’s ownership group projects the club to reach a valuation of about $1.3-$1.5 billion. Messi’s arrival has also caused the world’s most notable celebrities and athletes to go out of their way to watch him play. With all of this attention heaped onto Inter Miami virtually overnight, the club’s Instagram account rose from about 1.1 million followers to about 15 million followers and counting, with their social media impressions and mentions going through the roof!
According to Morning Brew, viewership numbers for the MLS and subscriptions to Apple TV+ have seen all-time highs, with subscriptions to the MLS Season Pass having more than doubled, and 15% of those subscribers also having signed up for Apple TV+. Clearly, Messi’s arrival has had a significant impact on the growth of the business of soccer/football in the country, paving the way for similar deals to be made in the future.
American Players in Europe:
The U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) has been improving across the board, with excitement building around the young team that has been assembled. Currently, there are more than 70 American players playing abroad in Europe, the highest number of talent amassed in these leagues in the country’s history. The team’s current captain, Christian Pulisic, recently moved to AC Milan and has been seeing lots of success with the storied Italian club. Recently, Ligue 1 Uber Eats top goalscorer Folarin Bolagun decided to register to play for the USMNT despite being eligible to represent England, citing the immense support American fans gave him on social media to join the team as a key reason behind his decision. If the USMNT puts on a good performance at the pinnacle of the global game, the upcoming home World Cup, we could see many new fans of the team and sport across the country.
Upcoming Events on Home Turf:
The sport’s top executives have also shown an increase in investment in the sport, as the U.S. Soccer Federation has secured the hosting rights for two of the game’s most storied international competitions, the Copa America in 2024 and the World Cup in 2026. This will not only thrust America’s stadiums, facilities and players into the spotlight, but it will also increase tourism and interest in cities across the country and boost related industries such as hospitality and transportation.
Preparing for the post-Messi era of Soccer in the U.S.:
With this level of investment into American soccer, due to Messi’s arrival at Inter Miami, having some promising signs of success, questions must be asked around its sustainability. Before the Argentine retires, a strategy must be put in place to continue to solidify the MLS as a key player within the global soccer market. A sustainable model for the American game at every level must be implemented to help the MLS ditch the “retirement league” label. Whatever tactics are executed, taking full advantage of this opportunity is essential for the sport’s success in America.