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Lionel Messi's Inter Miami move: MLS' newest star ignites ticket demand

Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami move: MLS’ newest star ignites ticket demand

On its surface, Inter Miami’s blockbuster acquisition of Lionel Messi is a colossal effort to rebuild David Beckham‘s last-place club around the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.

But while Messi’s on-field impact will be measured in wins and goals, his gargantuan new contract will be ultimately judged by the team, league, and sponsors’ bottom lines. 

The Argentinian soccer legend will reportedly earn between $50 million to $60 million per season – or roughly $40 million more than any player in MLS history – while giving Messi the chance to obtain a stake in the club when he eventually retires. And given that massive cost, Messi’s contract will reportedly be supplemented by the league’s media partner, Apple, and apparel provider, Adidas, which will give the 35-year-old a cut of all merchandise sales.

The challenge for Messi – like celebrated imports such as Beckham and Pele before him – is to attract audiences, and early returns have been promising: Within 24 hours of Messi’s announced move from Paris SG, Inter Miami ticket prices soared more than 1,000 percent on resale sites.

Although some prices have declined slightly, Messi’s move to the US already compares favorably to his predecessors. 

Lionel Messi of Argentina with the World Cup and his wife, Antonella Roccuzzo, and sons

Lionel Messi of Argentina with the World Cup and his wife, Antonella Roccuzzo, and sons 

Beckham joined the LA Galaxy in 2007

Pele arrived in the United States in 1975

Messi’s arrival in the US rivals those of David Beckham (left in 2007) and Pele (right in 1975)

‘We have already contracted to fill in the corners of the stadium that should increase capacity by approximately 3,000 to 3,200 seats [to a capacity of around 22,000],’ club managing owner Jorge Mas said last month. ‘We are gearing up to do that work in the next four weeks. Every game will be sold out. The demand for tickets has been 10 times what we can handle on a season ticket basis.’

Specific data on sellouts remains unavailable and Inter Miami spokespeople did not respond to DailyMail.com’s request for more information.

Regardless, Messi’s anticipated July 21 debut against Mexico’s Cruz Azul in a Leagues Cup matchup has already proven his box-office appeal in South Florida.

The cheapest tickets opened at just $29, but according to TickPick, those prices soared to $329 within 24 hours of Messi’s announced deal. At the other end of the spectrum, StubHub.com was offering one ticket for a whopping $17,832 on Monday afternoon.

As the shock over Messi’s MLS defection wore off, some prices have dipped, with the cheapest going for around $200 on one resale site.

One ticket for Messi's anticipated debut for Inter Miami will cost as much as $17,832

One ticket for Messi’s anticipated debut for Inter Miami will cost as much as $17,832

However, that decline has been muted for Inter Miami’s road games.

Demand for the club’s August 26 game against the New York Red Bulls in New Jersey has barely tapered off. StubHub’s lowest price on Monday afternoon was still $280, while several other seats were being offered for more than $11,000.

And there are other encouraging signs for Inter Miami and MLS.

The club’s social media following jumped 750 percent when the move was announced on June 7, giving Inter Miami more followers than any NFL, MLB, or NHL team, and all but two NBA clubs (the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors).

The frenzied fan interest is enough to evoke memories of Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James’ arrivals with the Miami Heat in 2004 and 2010, respectively. Social media wasn’t a consideration when the two NBA stars took their talents to South Beach, but Messi’s impact on ticket sales is undeniably similar. 

When James joined Dwyane Wade in Miami in 2010, all available Heat tickets sold out in a matter of days.

O’Neal had a similar impact when he was traded from the Lakers in 2004. Heat tickets that once sold for $95 per seat jumped to nearly $1,500 for his rematch with LA in March of 2005.

Heat season tickets sold out quickly after LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade

Heat season tickets sold out quickly after LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade

Apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult across different sports and generations, so a better comparison for Messi could be made with Beckham and Pele.

In 1975, when the Brazilian legend debuted for the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League, tickets that had been selling for $6 went for as much as $100 outside the team’s temporary stadium on Randall’s Island, according to ESPN.

Three decades later, Beckham’s 2007 debut with the LA Galaxy saw ticket prices more than double, with some going for as much as $250, the Houston Chronicle reported at the time.

There are also some good contemporary comparisons to be made, including Victor Wembanyama’s arrival with the San Antonio Spurs. The NBA has yet to release its regular-season schedule, but the No. 1 draft pick has turned the Las Vegas Summer League into an unusually hot ticket: Prices that started at $186 jumped to $617 apiece before his debut on Friday against Charlotte.

Of course, the pinnacle of American sports remains the NFL, which led all the world’s athletic leagues in annual revenue at $18 billion in 2022.

Obviously, comparisons between the NFL and MLS are difficult, given the former’s massive fan base, but they can offer some perspective on Messi’s arrival.

Take the hotly anticipated New England Patriots season opener against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles on September 10, when team legend Tom Brady is scheduled to be honored by the Foxborough faithful. Tickets on the secondary market are being offered for a minimum of $365, while some have soared to as much as $4,362.

San Antonio Spurs' Victor Wembanyama greets fans ahead of his Summer League debut

San Antonio Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama greets fans ahead of his Summer League debut 

Prices that started at $186 jumped to $617 before Wembanyama's Summer League debut

Prices that started at $186 jumped to $617 before Wembanyama’s Summer League debut

Similarly, Aaron Rodgers’ debut for the New York Jets on September 11 will cost fans at least $162 on StubHub and as much as $4,050.

But even if Messi and Inter Miami can rival the NFL with ticket demand, television audiences will remain the greatest measure of his success in the US.

MLS recently began its partnership with Apple TV, which will pay $250 million per season to stream all league games. The deal has the power to reshape the sports media landscape from a cable- and advertising-based model to one that emphasizes fan subscriptions.

‘We’ve looked at sports and acknowledged that there’s never been a better time to be a sports fan, and there’s also never been a worse time to be a sports fan,’ Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services, told the AP before Messi’s arrival. ‘We have an opportunity with this partnership to make the experience a lot better for fans, and help grow the sport and the league in the US and beyond.’

Whether or not Inter Miami and MLS can capitalize on that opportunity relies heavily on Messi and his burgeoning tenure with the five-year-old club.

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