Messi-Mania: Major League Soccer’s Big Chance

Lionel Messi is the superstar of soccer and has created millions of fans. When he joined the professional American soccer club Inter Miami in 2023, he brought a lot of attention, and money, to Major League Soccer (MLS).

In the whirlwind of Lionel Messi’s arrival in MLS, the anticipation was palpable, the stakes high, and the potential windfalls immense. As Messi’s greatness stirred up excitement and ticket prices soared, MLS found itself riding the wave of “Messi-mania” into what would be a transformative year in 2023.

However, as the league looked towards capitalizing on this momentum in 2024, individual clubs quickly realized that securing a home game against Inter Miami, Messi’s team, would be paramount. Yet, in a league with a flexible and imbalanced schedule, the guarantee of such a coveted matchup was far from assured.

Even before Messi set foot in Miami, rumors of his potential impact had club executives vying for the attention of the league office. With Messi’s arrival, their advocacy reached new heights. Proposals ranged from hosting games in NFL stadiums to promises of spectacular shows, all aimed at securing a spot among the twelve teams scheduled to host Messi’s team during the 2024 regular season. The persistence of these executives in lobbying league officials was unprecedented.

Their motivation was clear: a game featuring the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) could substantially boost annual revenues for clubs, potentially by double-digit percentages. The economic impact of Messi alone was projected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars across the league by the end of his contract in 2025. For some clubs, a single matchup with Miami promised more ticket income than 16 other home games combined.

However, the significance of the Messi games extends beyond mere financial gains. They represent a broader challenge that MLS faces in converting sports fans who may be indifferent to the league into avid supporters. Each game provides an opportunity to turn skeptics into believers, viewers into customers, and casual fans into lifelong supporters.

While some clubs have sought to capitalize solely on short-term profits by hiking prices, others have taken a more strategic approach. Creative ticketing schemes have been devised, and the winners of the scheduling lottery have framed their approach with a long-term perspective, recognizing the potential for lasting fan loyalty.

A prime example is the Los Angeles Galaxy, who opted to keep their opener against Miami at their soccer-specific stadium rather than moving it to larger venues. Furthermore, they implemented a strategy of selling only season ticket memberships and multi-game packages, ensuring that those eager to witness Messi in action also commit to attending additional matches.

This approach, while common among clubs fortunate enough to host Messi, reflects a broader objective: to cultivate a new generation of supporters who will remain loyal to the club beyond the Messi era. As Tom Braun, COO of the Galaxy, succinctly puts it, the goal is to transition casual fans or admirers of opposing players into dedicated Galaxy supporters.

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