The World Cup star's decision to join a fledgling team in Florida has boosted ticket demand and fan interest
Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi's decision to take his talents to the US has attracted so much fan interest that his new team was transformed from an obscure expansion club into a social media juggernaut in one day.
Inter Miami CF, the Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise that David Beckham founded in 2018, had built an Instagram following of 1 million fans in its five years of existence. Just 24 hours after Wednesday's announcement that Messi plans to join the team this summer rather than return to FC Barcelona or accept a blockbuster offer to play in Saudi Arabia, Inter Miami had 5.7 million followers on the platform - more than any other MLS team.
In fact, the fledgling Miami franchise, which ranks at the bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference standings, now has a bigger Instagram following than any team in several other major US sports circuits, including the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Only a few National Basketball Association teams, led by the Golden State Warriors, are bigger names on Instagram.
"It's nothing but a win, whichever way you look at it, for Miami, the growth of the sport in America, MLS and beyond," ESPN analyst Luis Miguel Echegaray said on Wednesday. He added that Messi also will reap benefits from the deal, as his record MLS contract will include a cut of revenue from apparel sales and the league's streaming service on Apple TV.
Messi's contract with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) is set to expire on June 30, and fans are already angling to get tickets for his first US game. His debut could come as soon as July 21, when Inter Miami hosts Cruz Azul of LigaMX. The cheapest ticket for the game was selling for $29 on TickPick before Messi's announcement. Surging demand pushed the price for the same ticket to $698 after the news broke. The cheapest ticket price for the team's road game against the New York Red Bulls on August 26 soared to $428 from $30.
Another ticket broker, TicketSmarter, told USA Today that it sold nearly 2,000 Inter Miami tickets on Wednesday, compared to its previous pace of fewer than 50. "This is a huge acquisition for Inter Miami CF and really MLS as a whole," TicketSmarter CEO Jeff Goodman said. "It elevates the league and the international interest in MLS across the globe."
Messi, 35, reportedly had a contract offer of more than $650 million to play in Saudi Arabia. He is arguably the sport's biggest star and is coming off leading Argentina to the World Cup championship in December.