aAfter 20 years of competition with Real Madrid, Manchester United and Brazil, Lionel Messi will face the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA.
Major League Soccer expects Messi’s arrival at Inter Miami next month to boost television viewership and market share. After Pell signing with the New York Cosmos in 1975 and David Beckham joining the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, Messi is the country’s third-best player in more than a century of football catch-up. He is expected to become a soccer preacher.
“Lionel Messi coming to MLS is an event that cannot be duplicated in any other way,” said former United States Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati. “We had one of the greatest players of all time, if not the greatest, to win the World Cup, gain worldwide popularity and join the American Soccer League. It’s just a great, great opportunity to be a part of.” American sport. ”
Messi joined MLS at 36, Pell was 34 and Beckham was 32. Messi remains a regular for Argentina and could be in next year’s Copa Amrica and possibly the 2026 World Cup (both in the United States).
The Cosmos of the former North American Soccer League averaged 3,578 fans in 1974, the season before Pells opened, and played at Downing Stadium on the Triborough Bridge. By 1977, his final year, the average crowd at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey exceeded 34,000.
Clive Toye, general manager of Cosmos, which signed Pell, recalled being met with hostility.
“Oh, Americans would never play soccer like that. Oh, what a stupid game,” he recalled being told. “Messi will come to a country with millions of football players, where the national team draws a sold-out crowd, the women’s national team draws a sold-out crowd, professional teams are at every level, minor leagues in villages. We have teams and we have good points.” All over the country, children play soccer every day. ”
The NASL disbanded after the 1984 season and the MLS was launched in 1996, two years after the United States hosted its first World Cup. The MLS, which began with 10 teams, has grown to 29 teams this year, with San Diego set to open in 2025.
Attendance increased from 2.8 million in 1996, averaging 17,400, to 10 million last year, averaging 21,033. Total attendance this year he increased by 28%, and on average he increased by 7%.
About 22 teams are playing in new or extensively rebuilt stadiums dedicated to football, and only six are playing on synthetic turf.
Greg Verhalter, who coached the United States at last year’s World Cup, said: “When you look at the stadiums, the infrastructure, the soccer-specific stadiums, the training grounds, it’s all about a great league.” “And when compared to other leagues he could go to when making our checklist, MLS comes out on top in many categories.”
Still, soccer lags behind other sports in the United States. Last season, the NFL’s 272 regular-season games were watched by an average of 16.7 million people on television and digital platforms, and the league drew 18.8 million people to stadiums, an average of 69,442. MLB drew 64.6 million, an average of 26,843.
ABC and ESPN aired 34 MLS games last year, averaging 343,300 viewers, while the league saw 443,000 viewers on Fox, 138,000 on FS1, and Univision and ESPN. 254,000 for the Spanish broadcast on UniMs.
In the first year of its 10-year deal with AppleTV+, MLS did not release TV viewership figures for its games this season.
A World Cup and South American champion and four-time Champions League winner, Messi brings a wide range of appeal. He has 469 million Instagram followers, well below the 22 million of Javier Herndes of the LA Galaxy, the most followed player in MLS.
However, he also speaks limited English. Although he was hesitant to speak to the media, even in Spanish, until recent years, he seemed much more comfortable during last year’s World Cup.
Inter Miami have added 3.8 million Instagram followers to nearly 6 million. With Messi’s addition, the team will either increase ticket prices, or perhaps shift their game venue from the 18,000-capacity DRV PNK Stadium to the 65,000-seat Miami Gardens, home of the NFL Dolphins and venue for the 2026 World Cup. Might consider changing to Hard Rock Stadium. Some road games may be moved to larger venues.
Beckham joined MLS on a five-year, $32.5 million deal that included the right to purchase an expansion team at a $25 million discount, making this the 2020 Miami team.
MLS owners, executives and American football fans expect Messi’s influence to multiply.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said of Beckham: “Nobody doubts he’s done all of these things.” “There is probably no football fan on this planet who doesn’t know the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer. David played a key role in making it happen.”