Lionel Messi joining Major League Soccer is different. He is probably the greatest player to ever lace up soccer cleats, with otherworldly skill and timing. The Argentine star, who announced Wednesday he will be signing with MLS club Inter Miami, may just be hitting the field at the perfect moment in soccer’s history in the United States.
Messi just raised the World Cup trophy for Argentina, cementing his legacy as the GOAT of soccer by winning the sport’s pinnacle tournament. By the time he is finished in MLS — assuming an option for 2026 is exercised — the next World Cup final will have been played on U.S. soil.
He turned down a reported billion-dollar offer from a Saudi Arabian club to come to MLS for a deal that, with its reported revenue-sharing components with Apple and Adidas and potential ownership, might end up being a billion-dollar deal.
The best comparison to this move is Pelé, but this is probably bigger because of where soccer is in the United States. When Pelé came to the U.S. in late-1970s to play for the Cosmos, it was a sensation, but this is different for soccer in our country because there is an infrastructure of world-class players, 26 soccer-specific MLS stadiums and, come 2026, a little thing called the World Cup taking place in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
“Messi will be bigger than anything Pelé did,” Apple lead MLS analyst Taylor Twellman told The Post.
The 35-year-old Messi has the dominant longevity of Tom Brady, while continuing to play with a flair that would make even Stephen Curry envious. But he may be chasing a different sports legend most of all.
“Messi wants to be as big of a global star as Michael Jordan,” Twellman told The Post. “The only way he could get there is tapping into the United States. Copa America [South America’s prestigious tournament in 2024], World Cup, and now Messi will all be in the States for the next three summers, where his stardom and fame will reach new heights. He couldn’t do that in Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund just took over the PGA Tour. That kingdom’s teams also have been collecting some of soccer’s biggest stars — including Cristiano Ronaldo, who is making in excess of $200 million a year.
With Inter Miami, Messi will apparently get a cut of Adidas’ and Apple’s sales with MLS. Apple TV+ also will air documentary on Messi. His total deal has to be at least in the hundreds of millions. The impact of the deal from a business sense is potentially enormous and any price might have been worth it.
Apple’s grand plan to make a mark in sports just received a tremendous boost. Its Apple TV+ service is the home for all MLS games for $99 per year. It is available throughout the world.
How many fans, young and old, will feel the need to pluck down the money to see the final games of the greatest ever?
The service, in its initial year, seemingly has started slowly and hasn’t released any subscriptions numbers. Something tells me they may let a few leak out once Messi is part of the product.
Messi is the Taylor Swift-type performer who can sell MLS/Apple all over the globe. This is a huge win for Apple.
MLS doesn’t completely lose its reputation as a retirement league, because Messi is coming to retire. Europe still reigns as the champion for the best competition among club teams. There is no heir apparent, however, to Messi’s throne. No one with the flair that compels you to watch for his artistry. And Messi’s magic now belongs to MLS.
If MLS is ever going to really compete with the top leagues, making Messi a success could go a long way.
There are risks in the deal, of course. It is definitely for an insane amount of money. Messi could get hurt or become uninterested.
But this is the end of a legacy. For soccer in the United States, what Messi means might not be known until the next decade.
Right now, kids who are soccer fans typically walk around in Barcelona, Manchester City and Dortmund jerseys. One day, you may see more NYCFC, L.A. Galaxy and Inter Miami kits.
But what really might happen — if you want to dream big about the potential for the game in our country — is the next Messi being born in the United States and playing his entire career in MLS.
That is why Messi’s signing is different than Pelé’s. It’s bigger. And the momentum of the deal could reverberate for decades.
Published: 2023-06-08 02:33:00