With Lionel Messi, American football embraces a vain dream

On the morning of June 8, in the midst of a storm of information about Lionel Messi joining the American Professional Football League (MLS), Inter Miami Club only posted a short video. In the video summarizing the rumors related to Messi the previous days. The Argentinian superstar is rumored to return to Barcelona, go to Saudi Arabia to retire, … Absolutely not a line of rumors related to Inter Miami

"Messi

In the midst of the whirlpool of money, when the world was still overwhelmed with the 400 million euros that Saudi Arabia was willing to spend on Karim Benzema in two years, or the huge treatment that Al-Hilal offered Messi, American football seemed to be forgotten, even though this place used to be the berth of top sports brands such as David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard,…

But with “blockbuster” Lionel Messi, American football in general, MLS in particular, and Beckham’s Inter Miami club, the star who started the MLS golden period, embraced the ambition to reach out. Because Messi’s brand has gone far beyond sports. On the shoulders of giants, the American football background is dreaming big dreams.

When he and his associates launched Inter Miami Club one day in late January 2018 as one of the team’s owners, David Beckham shared a congratulatory message from Lionel Messi on Instagram, sent in video format. The Argentine superstar expressed his admiration for Beckham’s new project and closed the message with an evocative message.

“Who knows, in a few years, you will call me”, Messi said in the video sent to Beckham. At this time, Messi is still wearing the Barcelona shirt, where most fans do not dare to imagine that one day, Messi will play for another team. The appointment that Messi made for the man seemed like a polite greeting “no money to buy”.

Five years later, Messi’s message became reality. Ignore the invitation to return to Barcelona, refuse the “mountain of money” from Saudi Arabia. Messi decided to choose Inter Miami.

What’s so special about Inter Miami to become Lionel Messi’s next stop?

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Of course, owning one of the greatest sports icons in history like Messi, Beckham’s Inter Miami and MLS takes more than a mere invitation. According to The Athletic , the American team had to spend a lot of money, along with a series of benefits exclusively for the Argentine superstar. Messi is expected to receive a share of the profits in the investment cooperation agreement between MLS and giant brands, including Apple. Adidas, one of the league’s oldest sponsors, is also said to have been instrumental in helping Inter Miami win Messi’s signature.

And of course, Messi will become the highest paid in MLS history.

American football has welcomed many world-class stars here to try, such as David Beckham, Giovinco, Frank Lampard, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic,… but no transfer deal is as dramatic and unpredictable as the love story between Messi and Inter Miami. In the video posted right after the Messi recruitment information was confirmed, the American team also implicitly confirmed this. In the storm of rumors about Messi’s future lasting from February to now, Inter Miami only appeared rarely in some newspapers. PSG tried to keep Messi with a new contract, Barcelona also “attacked” a lot. In Saudi Arabia, Al Hilal club will be willing to invite Messi with a contract worth more than 300 million euros per year. Inter Miami is not as famous as PSG and Barcelona, it is unlikely that there will be a “heavy dollar” offer like Al Hilal. In the MLS this season, David Beckham’s team is still ranked 15th. Coach Phil Neville has just been fired after a series of poor achievements.

However, Messi chose Inter Miami.

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In fact, Messi is not the first superstar to ever move to the US to play. In 1975, “soccer king” Pele chose New York Cosmos club, after almost a long career building a name with Santos Club. Despite being famous for his superb performance that brought Brazil to the top of the World Cup, Pele did not go to Europe to compete. The President of Brazil in 1961, Janio Quadros, used his power to push the Brazilian Parliament to introduce a law that considers Pele a national treasure for 10 years. This rule makes Pele only play football in Brazil during his peak career, then go to the US to retire at the last stage.

Back to the event that Pele joined the New York Cosmos Club. Perhaps, no player in history has had such a seismic impact on the trajectory of American football as Pele did. Thanks to Pele’s presence, Cosmos’ average home attendance grew from about 3,500 in 1975 to about 45,000 by the time of his departure after the 1977 season. In three games, Cosmos drew more than 70,000 fans to see Pele at the Giants, an unprecedented feat for that era.

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Thanks to Pele’s great steps, great stars like George Best, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, and Gerd Muller respectively chose the United States as the end point in their careers. “Pele’s impact on American football was passed down through the generations. In the 1970s, when Cosmos Club president Clive Toye approached Pele to lure him to America to play, Pele made a very simple pitch to his talent. It’s to play, win and win trophies. In America, you always have the chance to conquer an entire nation and become a soccer evangelist.” The Athletic .

The imprint Pele left behind is very deep. Although the US National Championship (NASL, the forerunner of MLS) later collapsed, the children who watched Pele during his three years in the US became the first generation of great American football players. They were the pioneers to help the US attend the 1990 World Cup and four years later continued to be present at the 1994 World Cup.

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From the collapse of NASL, the founders of the American professional league MLS drew their own lessons. It was a more prudent and sensible financial choice, which has helped MLS endure to this day, with twice as long as NASL has historically.

By 2023, the MLS had 30 teams. The rapid growth of MLS is largely due to the merits of David Beckham.

“Thanks to Beckham, MLS is recognized more globally than at any other time in its history,” said Don Garber, MLS commissioner in November 2007. “Beckham drives every business solution. Thanks to Beckham, Los Angeles Galaxy Club sold more than 300,000 shirts, 700 times more than a year ago. Sales increased 2 or 3 times. Television revenue also skyrocketed, from almost zero, until then reached for distribution in more than 100 countries”

With Lionel Messi, MLS is waiting for a similar growth spurt, from the influence, the ability to spread the league’s brand, the sales revenue to turning American football into a magnet to attract other players like Pele or Beckham have done. “It’s hard to imagine any football field in the US that could not be full of spectators when the greatest player in history played. The only worry is that many of the stadiums with a capacity of 18,000 to 30,000 people here are not large enough to maximize revenue in the matches that Messi strode, ” The Athletic assessed. Remember, up to 80,000 fans came to the US to watch Messi and Barcelona play in the summer of 2017.

There have been some teams waiting for the Messi effect, considering holding matches against Inter Miami in larger venues, like at football fields or local universities. Of course, it is a difficult problem, because not every team wants to give up home advantage in exchange for a revenue. However, the value of matches with Inter Miami began to increase even before Messi arrived.

Messi’s charm, simply cannot be denied.

"Messi

According to Marca , PSG achieved 700 million euros in revenue in the first year Messi arrived. An analysis report by El Economista (Argentina) newspaper said that since Messi’s presence, 10 more sponsorship contracts have been obtained, each worth from 3 to 8 million euros. Image copyright, match revenue skyrocketed. Messi’s number 30 shirt is always “sold out”. In July 2021, Argentina’s Diario Ole revealed that only Real Madrid have sold more shirts than PSG since Messi’s arrival in France, with 60% of PSG’s shirts sold being Messi’s.

In terms of media, PSG also clearly benefits. The French team reached 5.6 million followers the week after announcing the contract with Messi, followed by 15 million new followers on social media platforms. After Messi left, PSG lost 2 million followers on Instagram. That is the first loss of the French team when it does not keep the Argentine player.

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Inter Miami can wait for the same “lever” from the feet of genius, to rise to become one of the most famous sports brands in America. “Messi is the most influential player in the world. No matter which MLS team Messi moves to, it will fundamentally change the structure of the league,” said AJ Swoboda, managing director for the Americas at sports consulting firm Twenty First Group in 2021.

Messi is the vanity dream that has come true for American football people. The Argentine superstar not only significantly changed the brand value of Inter Miami and MLS, but also promoted his own personal interests. The 2026 World Cup is held in North America, which is an opportunity for American businesses to pour money into football. It is expected that the 2026 World Cup will bring 14 billion USD to FIFA, many times the revenue of 235 million USD that the 1994 World Cup (also held in the US) brings.

By establishing a presence in the US, Messi will become the focus of sponsors. Even Messi can follow in Beckham’s footsteps, owning a team playing in the MLS in the future. According to The Athletic , MLS and Inter Miami’s offers for Messi include the option to buy shares in an American team after leaving the league or retiring as a player.

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Perhaps Messi is the perfect piece for MLS. The year 2023 is marking a big step forward for American football with a $2.5 billion 10-year tournament broadcast agreement signed with Apple. Every MLS game is broadcast on the MLS Season Pass, a streaming service included with Apple TV+. Previously, football was not a “piece of cake” with an impressive market share in racing on television platforms in the US, but MLS promises to transform thanks to Messi. The former Barcelona player can afford to attract a huge number of fans to subscribe to the tournament, opening up potential revenue streams and promoting the MLS image to spread further.

And most importantly, Messi’s value will be shown on the pitch. Inter Miami club does not have a quality group of players like PSG, Barcelona or the Argentina team. Following sanctions for violating the rules and a review of the league’s budget, Inter Miami fell to the bottom of the table. Coach Phil Neville has just been fired. The team is currently coached by Mr. Javi Morales. It is expected that Inter Miami will sign Tata Martino, the former head coach of Atlanta United. Remember, Martino is… Messi’s old teacher. It seems that recruiting Martino is also a deal to please the Argentine superstar.

Messi will not immediately turn Inter Miami into a force in American football. MLS history shows that an individual cannot immediately help a team conquer a tournament similar to the American professional basketball (NBA). Football is inherently complex, requiring collective strength greater than individual quality. Beckham is a prime example. Despite coming to the Los Angeles Galaxy when the team was on the rise, and owning the trump card Landon Donovan at the peak of his performance, it was not until the fifth season that Beckham won the MLS. Thierry Henry joined a very strong team like the New York Red Bulls, and then didn’t even make it to the MLS Cup final. Zlatan Ibrahimovic also scored many beautiful goals and “empty hands”. Toronto FC, another MLS team, also signed two Italian stars, Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, but finished the season penultimate.

However, Messi is still Messi. The Argentine genius can change wherever he goes. And in the presence of one of the greatest players, MLS get ready for a transformation.

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