Messi to Miami not Saudi Arabia

Inter Miami's Lionel Messi
Inter Miami's Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi is headed to Inter Miami instead of accepting the Saudi Arabian treasury (reportedly offering him $500M) to play there. In so doing, the diminutive Argentine has changed MLS producing an immediate avalanche of ticket sales, an instant interest by other topnotch players to come to the USA (Sergio Busquets is reportedly joining Inter Miami), and increased credibility for the North American League ahead of the 2026 World Cup. He has also fueled the rumor mill with his fans hoping Lio will keep in shape while avoiding more difficult defensive challenges and that this will lead to his being in better health and shape which might prompt a change of heart about that upcoming World Cup. By 2026 Messi will feel at home in North American stadiums as he will have been playing and living in the USA for three years.

What makes Messi’s choice fascinating is not that he turned down the Saudi offer, he is already an ambassador for their tourism marketing efforts, and he reached the pinnacle of his trophy-laden career next door in Qatar, what has turned heads and made them rethink how top talent gets recruited, is the creativity of the offer David Beckham and company put together in the Latin-infused city Messi most likes to visit in the USA.

Messi was offered an extraordinary salary by MLS standards, not global standards, but that salary comes together with an ownership stake in Inter Miami once his playing days are over. Furthermore, Adidas and Apple have contributed to the transfer fees needed to purchase the star’s services. But he will also be sharing revenue with Adidas as he helps them sell their footwear and with Apple via promoting their streaming services which have just signed a $2.5 B deal for the rights to stream MLS games for the next decade. Similarly, Apple TV will be producing a multipart documentary series about Messi’s life and career.

Much of the minutia of the contract Messi signs is also of interest. There must be assurances of appropriate schooling for his kids, a home to his standards in a neighborhood of his wife’s liking, easy and routine reach to the beach from a home in, say, Key Biscayne, and there is the stability of the USA’s financial, educational, governmental, legal, and societal infrastructure, the challenge of making soccer in the USA succeed, in the manner so many stars before him have attempted since as far back as Pele in the 1970s, and then there’s the weather, of course.

As a season ticket holder of my hometown’s MLS team, DC United, I am already circling the Inter Miami visits to Audi Field and thanking Beckham and his crew for their shrewdness.

Photo: Lionel Messi, Shutterstock ID: 1084158365, by Alizada Studios

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