Soaring ticket prices and a social media boom: How Lionel Messi has already had an impact on US Soccer

Lionel Messi’s move to Inter Miami is yet to be finalized, but already his impact on Major League Soccer is being felt.

US soccer is no stranger to welcoming some of the sport’s biggest stars; David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and even Pelé have played in the States.

However, it’s possible that Messi will have a greater influence on the sport in the US than any of the names that went before him.

As Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin said: “It’s the biggest day in probably MLS history.”

Inter Miami has already benefited from a huge boost in social media followers, while ticket prices all around the league are soaring as fans eagerly await Messi’s first visit to play against their teams with his new club.

But are the prices and level of interest sustainable in the long term? Kieran Maguire, author of The Price of Football and a football finance lecturer at the University of Liverpool Management School, expects them to eventually flatten out again.

“For those people who want to be able to say: ‘I was there at Lionel Messi’s first MLS game,’ demand will exceed supply.

“He’s not playing at every ground in every week so I don’t see a huge ripple effect and also I think there will be a sharp spike and then things will return to some form of normality, especially if he doesn’t transform things for them.”

In the minutes after it was reported that Messi would be moving to the US, ticket prices for Inter Miami matches soared by more than 1,000%.

According to resale website TickPick, the cheapest ticket for Inter Miami’s Leagues Cup match against Cruz Azul on July 21 – potentially Messi’s first game with his new team – was just $29.

In the 24 hours after news of Messi’s pending move emerged, the cheapest ticket was $329, TickPick said – a surge of 1,034%.

The biggest increase, however, was for Miami’s game against the New York Red Bulls, with ticket prices soaring by 1,236% for Messi’s first trip to the Big Apple in August.

There has been a similar impact on StubHub, which has seen sales for Inter Miami’s games from July until the end of the season increase 28 fold since Messi’s deal was announced.

Other MLS teams have also enjoyed a boost in ticket sales; Miami’s game away to Los Angeles FC has gone from the 15th highest-selling event in LAFC’s season, StubHub said, to the second highest-selling event – and is on track to be No. 1.

Breaking America

Messi’s pending arrival at Inter Miami, which currently sits bottom of the MLS’ Eastern Conference, has already given a huge boost to the club’s global reach.

Before the announcement, the club had around one million followers on Instagram; as of June 13, it now has 7.8 million – more than every NFL, MLB, NHL and MLS team account.

“Converting followers or monetizing followers is always a challenge,” Maguire adds. “It helps in terms of commercial deals because if you want to pitch to a commercial partner, you can now say: ‘Well, your product is now going to be seen by six million people instead of one million.

“So it will help from that perspective, A) in terms of the prices that Inter Miami can charge and B) with the number of commercial partners, who all of a sudden they want their product next to Lionel Messi.”

Of course, a large part of Messi’s remit in Miami will be to help boost interest in MLS and soccer in general in the United States, as has been the case for every major star since Pelé moved to the New York Cosmos in 1975 in what was then the North American Soccer League.

While the Argentine won’t have to ‘crack America’ in the same way Beckham was asked to, with the sport growing exponentially in both popularity and value since Beckham moved to Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, soccer could certainly still do with an uplift in the US.

According to a Statista report from 2022, MLS still lagged behind the US’ four other major sports leagues – the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB – in terms of popularity among fans.

Maguire says part of Messi’s “objective” while in the US will just be to “keep the trajectory growing” but believes soccer is “never going to break into” the US sports scene.

“The NFL and NBA are part of the US culture and those cultural norms are so established that there is no chance of soccer, football ever, ever competing with them,” he explains.

“I think he will help the game to grow, we’ve got the 2026 World Cup taking place in the USA, Canada and Mexico, but in my view there is a natural ceiling for the MLS and he’s going to help the sport get to that ceiling that much quicker, rather than being a disruptor or a challenger for the traditional big sports in the States.”

While Inter Miami is unable to contend with the salaries on offer from Saudi Arabia’s clubs, the reported structure of the deal means Messi’s earning opportunities are much higher than his basic MLS salary.

According to multiple reports, Messi’s new deal with Miami includes an option for part-ownership of the club and a cut of revenue from new subscribers to Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass streaming service.

Last year, MLS announced a 10-year deal with Apple to stream every US top-flight men’s game worldwide.

This season, viewers can watch every MLS, Leagues Cup, MLS NEXT Pro and MLS NEXT match through the men’s professional soccer league’s streaming platform, which is available through Apple TV.

Apple recently dropped the price of a soccer subscription to $49 from $99 for the remainder of the season. The company doesn’t disclose viewership figures, but Apple SVP of services Eddy Cue recently said it’s doing “much better than forecasted” for number of subscriptions and viewership numbers.

Despite that agreement, Maguire says he believes the offers from Saudi Arabia would have still been “far more lucrative.”

“He’s been offered a nine-figure salary in the Middle East,” he says. “There’s no way he’s going to be getting hundreds of millions [in Miami].”

Regardless of the details of the contract, Messi will have to perform on the pitch for his stay in the MLS to remain relevant.

The Argentine has his work cut out, too, with Miami languishing bottom of the Eastern Conference with the third-worst points total in the entire league.

But if there is one player who can turn around the fortunes of the club and the MLS, it’s Messi.

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