Opinion: Messi arriving in Miami creates a perfect storm of opportunity
June 08, 2023
THIS SUMMER, INTER MIAMI will welcome Lionel Messi into its squad in a groundbreaking move for the league and for soccer in the United States. The deal is not yet final but its close enough to where Messi publicly said he is going to Miami and the league also issued a statement that they look forward to his arrival.
In terms of my thoughts on the move, it’s simple. This is bigger than Pele joining the Cosmos or David Beckham joining the LA Galaxy. Pele introduced the country to the beautiful game as the U.S. national team was not relevant. It was massively important but the sport struggled in the United States after he left.
The NASL folded soon afterward, and it wouldn’t be until 1996 when MLS would begin. It’s true that Pele inspired kids to play and that some of them grew up to be U.S. internationals and professionals but Pele was just one of many things that helped to usher in the modern era of the sport in the country.
There is no denying that despite the struggles of the sport after he retired, Pele helped the sport to take important initial steps. You could argue that the critical steps of hosting the 1994 World Cup and the inception of MLS in 1996 don’t happen without Pele joining the Cosmos.
David Beckham’s arrival with the LA Galaxy in 2007 was similarly huge. It’s true that Beckham wasn’t a world cup champion and there have been players with much better resumes to join the league (Henry, Schweinsteiger, Villa, and Zlatan are just a few), but Beckham brought celebrity. He brought more eyeballs into the league, and the league was in a much better place when he left than when he arrived. Designated players allowed owners to cut around the salary cap. More cities wanted expansion teams. And teams were also implementing academies and homegrown pathways to develop younger players.
Messi joining Inter Miami comes at a far more advanced stage for soccer in this country. The league has a huge Apple TV deal, there is set to be 30 teams in the league, many teams have their own stadiums, the country will soon be hosting its second World Cup, the public is far more knowledgeable and accepting of the sport, and the league is developing better players from within.
But while Beckham brought celebrity and was a very good player in the league, Messi is bringing unparalleled quality. Messi might be 35 years old, but he is only six months removed from carrying Argentina to a World Cup triumph. He’s always been a reluctant celebrity.
What has made Messi such a global phenomenon for over 15 years has been 100% due to him being maybe the greatest player of all-time. And he’s not far removed from his greatest ever accomplishment.
If Pele started stirring the pot for the sport in the United States and David Beckham made it cool while also helping stabilize the league, what is Messi here to do?
He’s here to bring more eyeballs on the league both from people around the globe and from people in the United States who love the sport, but who watch other leagues. Essentially his deal with see him become a partner with Apple TV as he will get a slice of new subscriptions.
This should be fun. pic.twitter.com/F1VZIsUJXu— Don Garber (@thesoccerdon) June 7, 2023
There’s every reason to think that this is going to be a home run because there is a bigger strategy beyond Messi. His deal will run through the 2024 Copa America and then the 2026 World Cup, which will be both another huge boost to soccer in the United States.
It’s true that some fans lost interest in soccer once Pele retired. The 1994 World Cup was wildly popular during that summer, and not everyone stuck with the sport. On the other hand, millions upon millions did. Many became fans and stuck with it. This is going to have that level of an effect. After Messi and after the 2026 World Cup, there is going to be a huge net positive inflow of fans, even if some don't stick. The era of social media and the access to sports viewing just makes it easier.
Beckham’s six years with the Galaxy were ultimately successful not for what they did the Galaxy or the initial wave of viewers, but rather for shape of the league when he left.
Messi will be here in the United States with Miami for a few years, but success for him will be to draw interest from those who already love the sport. And then when he leaves, and in combination with the 2026 World Cup, the league, Inter Miami, and the sport will be on another level compared to now.
Given his track record of success and given that the World Cup and Copa America are on their way here it’s looking like a perfect storm of opportunity. The stars are aligning nicely.