Lionel Messi: Can Argentine’s move to Inter Miami revolutionise football in US?

When his new Major League Soccer team debuted in 2018, David Beckham declared, “I think Miami needs a star. Miami would anticipate that we bring in a celebrity. That’s what we intend to do.

Five years later, Inter Miami, which is in its fourth MLS season, is being led by co-owners Beckham and brothers Jorge and Jose Mas. Beckham also produced the biggest star of all. Possibly the greatest player to ever play the game. Winner of the World Cup, Lionel Messi.

In the three years before the United States, Canada, and Mexico co-host the 2026 World Cup, Messi might serve as a catalyst, generating interest in the sport there.

Prior to that, the USA will also host the 2024 Copa America, which means Messi may play his final club football match as well as his final major international competition in the United States.

These are important moments for Messi as he nears the conclusion of his playing career; he will be 36 by the time he is eligible to play his first game for Miami; but, they could be even more significant for American football.

The move is reminiscent of Beckham joining LA Galaxy in 2007 and Pele joining New York Cosmos in the 1970s NASL, both of whom were pulled to the American soccer package.

Whether he likes it or not, the success of soccer in America during Messi’s time there will be a factor in how his transfer is seen. bringing it to the forefront and center of the discussion in American sports rather than treating it as an afterthought.

The extent of Messi’s effect will depend on whether it extends beyond the obvious. Will the fervor fade away when he departs, or will Messi’s enchantment see domestic soccer grow all throughout the country?

Currently, the ‘Big Four’ major leagues of American football (NFL), basketball (NBA), baseball (MLB), and ice hockey (NHL) make up the majority of men’s professional sports in North America.

When it is mentioned in regular sports coverage, MLS is frequently an afterthought and not always treated with the same seriousness as these sports.

But ever since Messi made his statement, it has frequently been a major story. The biggest name in athletics is indisputable. It matters that this well-known person also plays soccer.

The first chapter of Messi’s American biography will be the anticipation of his arrival, when the impact he is making on the game there will be visible in real time. The social media following of Inter Miami has already surpassed that of numerous NHL, MLB, and NFL teams.

Since Messi’s declaration, total ticket sales for their games from July through the completion of the season, which, unlike the European leagues, runs within a calendar year rather than spanning two, have increased by almost 28 times.

Tickets for last week’s NBA Finals in Miami were less expensive than those for Messi’s potential Leagues Cup start against Cruz Azul. The majority of remarks following team lineup releases have been “where’s Messi?”

The move certainly benefit MLS, especially while Messi is there, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will benefit American soccer as a whole. How much of the excitement and attention reaches the general public will determine a lot of things.

When there is no connectivity between the leagues at various levels across the nation, that might be challenging. There is no direct connection between the MLS of Beckham and Messi and the USL, the other professional soccer league in the nation, or the NASL of Pele.

Additionally, there are no promotions or relegations, which Miami will like as they currently occupy the lowest spot in the Eastern Conference even without Messi.

If Messi’s influence on American soccer is to extend beyond the league in which he competes, MLS may need to be more open to other soccer organizations that exist side by side and below it. In doing so, it may gain something in return.

While its single-entity single-mindedness has facilitated self-preservation and its rules and regulations have helped establish steadier foundations than past professional soccer leagues, it may be time to loosen some of the restrictions now. Arrival of Messi might facilitate that.

To begin with, the league had to be flexible in order to draw Messi. Favorable circumstances have been created by a number of variables, including a new broadcast agreement with Apple TV that will go into effect this season, a shared uniform supplier in Adidas, and a Beckham-owned team in Miami — a location where Messi has property.

It is appropriate that Beckham is the owner bringing Messi to MLS considering how the game transformed when he arrived as a player in 2007. The league established the “designated player rule,” sometimes known as the Beckham rule, to make it easier for clubs to recruit up to three players whose salaries can exceed the pay ceiling.

Beckham’s rule now makes it easier for his team to sign Messi. Although the specifics have not been revealed, it is assumed that there would be more involved than just a typical designated player deal.

Messi’s additional benefits will raise the bar for what the MLS and its partners can provide a player. It will be similar to the historic contract NBA star Michael Jordan signed with Nike in 1984 when Nike made the ground-breaking decision to give Jordan a cut of sales.

 

Along with agreements with Adidas and Apple for a four-part documentary, there are rumors that Messi may purchase a stake in a team, and there is also speculation that he may receive a cut of subscriptions to Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass.

MLS needed to think creatively in order to compete with the billions on offer in Saudi Arabia. Messi’s presence may force MLS to look outside of the league if it wants to make an impact on American soccer as a whole.

It is unreasonable to expect one athlete to alter the sporting environment in a place as vast and diverse as this one. Although not disliked, soccer is not as widely watched domestically as it is in the majority of the rest of the world.

The organization of American club soccer on a national level doesn’t inspire the same amount of mass intrigue or dedication as, say, the national team or a club from Europe or Mexico, which may draw fans’ obsessive attention. It’s not the same thing as the domestic game being more popular just because Pele or Messi are popular in the US.

American “football” is an adaptation of the same rambunctious 19th-century English pastimes as association football. Culturally overtaking them is a challenging task.

Even Pele couldn’t convert an entire country of (American) football fans to soccer supporters, though in some ways he and Beckham prepared Messi to try.

Messi’s arrival will result in greater attendance, global attention, and awareness of MLS, but something will need to be constructed locally on the ground as a result of this historic, magical move for the impacts to be long-lasting in American soccer.

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