Lionel Messi could significantly raise the profile of Major League Soccer (MLS) and the game as a whole in the United States, experts said, with the Argentine forward’s move to Inter Miami drawing attention from across the globe. In a surprising turnaround to his career, after winning the World Cup with Argentina and a failed negotiation to return to Barcelona, the 36-year-old joined Inter Miami last month, taking a wave of devoted fans with him to the American East Coast.
Messi is by no means the first star name to move to America, with late Brazil great Pele, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic having previously plied their trade in the country.
But with the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner as the new face of its top league, American soccer is heading for new heights ahead of the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
“Now Lionel Messi has come to the MLS and it’s going to definitely catapult it into a whole new level of visibility and brand awareness,” Neil Joyce, CEO & co-founder of CLV Group, told Reuters. “… I think (the signing of) Messi is recognition of the maturing of the MLS, and the need to increase visibility and brand value in the run up to the World Cup in 2026.”
According to Google Trends data for the month of July, the announcement of Messi’s signing caused a significant spike in searches for match dates and tickets to see the Argentine, with fans also looking to buy his official pink Inter Miami shirt.
“The demand for Messi’s jersey in Miami has been truly unprecedented. We are working as quickly as possible to make sure that every fan who wants a jersey can get one online or in one of our stores,” an Adidas spokesperson told Reuters. Football finance expert Joyce said Messi’s move to Inter Miami was a massive boost for Adidas, adding:
“Previously, he was playing for PSG (Paris St-Germain) and Barcelona, who have Nike as kit manufacturers. “Now he’s working with Inter Miami, whose kits are made by Adidas. He’s an Adidas athlete, Argentina (are sponsored by) Adidas. They have brought the value of Messi under one roof, so to speak. There’s value for Adidas there.”
The MLS’s viewership is also expected to skyrocket with Messi’s arrival. In 2022, MLS and Apple TV announced a 10-year partnership, with Apple CEO Tim Cook on Thursday saying on an earnings call:
“For MLS, we couldn’t be happier with how the partnership is going. “We’re clearly in the early days, but we’re exceeding our expectations in terms of subscribers, and Messi going to Inter Miami helped us a little bit. So we’re very happy.” The forward’s Inter Miami debut in a 2-1 win over Cruz Azul last month had an average audience of 1.75 million on Spanish-language TV network Univision, making it the largest single-network audience for the MLS since 2004, according to Sports Media Watch. Asked if Messi’s signing could expand MLS viewership outside the United States, Joyce said: “100%, it will.
“We’ve done some analysis on Messi and his followers and they have huge overlap with South American and Hispanic audiences, which are a massive area of interest to expand the brand and the reach of the MLS.” However, live broadcasts are not the only way of capitalising on the Messi boom. “… if you’re a fan of the MLS, and you live in the UK, for instance, it’s obviously harder through time zones to access the live events,” Joyce said.
“But putting together specific digital content around Messi will be a way to engage with those users when it’s not subject to time zones.”