Messi highlights Miami, and on soccer in the United States

On the morning of Lionel Messi’s first official training with his new teammates at Inter Miami, Freddy Eraza Jr. and his father woke up before sunrise. Hoping to see Messi, and take a picture of him, they arrived at the DRV PNK stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Tuesday at 6 a.m. A news helicopter had already been flying over the training ground for at least an hour.

But Messi, 36, was already out when Iraza got there, and they missed out on their chance at a trophy. Four hours later, they were still standing in the parking lot of the training facility and stadium, sweating alongside dozens of fans in the sticky 96-degree South Florida heat. They were all waiting to catch a glimpse of the man arguably the greatest soccer player of all time, who shockingly decided to spend the twilight of his career competing in Major League Soccer rather than football powerhouse Barcelona or for more money in Saudi Arabia.

It made sense to see so many Argentina fans, jerseys, and flags here because Messi led the country’s national team to glory at the World Cup in December, and because Florida has the largest Argentine community in the United States. But Messi’s followers come from everywhere.

“There’s everything here,” said Iraza, 40, who is originally from Honduras and now lives in Fort Lauderdale. “There are Nicaraguans. Costa Ricans. Mexicans. And a lot of Americans.”

This is Messi’s strength. Before he agreed to come here, Inter Miami was probably what he was known for cheating scandal in 2021. The team is a new franchise that only started play in 2020, and is in last place in the standings so far this season. But from the moment Messi announced his new home, he turned the world of Inter Miami upside down and shone a huge light on South Florida.

Messi, who has won seven Ballons d’Or as the best men’s soccer player in the world, is not just an iconic athlete who has reached almost epic proportions. It has already had and likely will continue to have a major cultural impact on a city – and region – known as the unofficial capital of Latin America. The restaurants changed their menus to include Macy’s dishes. Messi’s murals and signs appeared everywhere. Argentine culture spreads through it.

“The scale of this announcement – no matter how much preparation, imagination and dream – is staggering,” said Jorge Mas, a Cuban-American billionaire, South Florida owner and managing owner of Inter Miami. “You have to live in a cave not to know that Leo Messi is an Inter Miami player, no matter where he is in the world.”

Look no further than ordering tickets.

Granted, Inter Miami plays at a stadium about 30 miles north of downtown Miami with a grandstand capacity of 19,000 and is a placeholder until a proposed larger venue next to Miami International Airport is shown. expected to be Completed in two years.

But the prices of many tickets for Messi’s first game at Inter Miami, on Friday against Mexico’s Cruz Azul, have jumped by more than $300 from about $40. He may not start and may just play some of the game – part of a new month-long tournament between MLS and Liga MX called the League Cup – but it’s already been announced as a sellout.

The average secondary market ticket price for the remaining Inter Miami home games rose to $850 from $152, with road games seeing the biggest jump, according to Ticket IQ.

While some fans may have gotten their hands on a Messi Inter Miami jersey, items are hard to come by online. note At the official Inter Miami and MLS stores, which are operated by sportswear retailer Fanatics, he said Adidas, the league’s official jersey supplier, will “deliver this product in mid-October”. The MLS regular season ends at that time. (Adidas did not respond to a request for comment.)

According to Fanatics, since the launch of Messi’s new jersey on Monday, Inter Miami has been the best-selling team in all of sports. The company said Thursday that it has sold more Inter Miami merchandise since Monday than in the previous seven-and-a-half months of 2023.

“This will give us a level of global exposure that we could not have achieved without a player like Messi,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber. “Whether it is in South America or in Argentina, or in Europe because he has had legendary careers in Barcelona and France. The goal is to try to get as much interest in Messi as possible.”

Before Messi’s announcement, Inter Miami’s Instagram account had one million followers. The number swelled to nearly 11 million as of Friday, surpassing Inter Milan, Italy’s storied soccer club, and All professional sports teams in the United States Save for three NBA teams.

“The city is much noisier now,” Inter Miami defender DeAndre Yedlin told about 40 reporters gathered before practice Thursday morning, a much larger crowd than usual. “People are really excited, and it’s nice to see.”

For Messi’s introduction event on Sunday — which was broadcast globally in English and Spanish on Apple TV+, MLS’ first-year broadcast partner — nearly 500 members of the media were credited, according to Inter Miami. And about 200 Messi’s first practice was approved. Although reporters were only given access to 15 minutes of a training session, which is common in sports, television and radio reporters from Argentina broadcast live from their positions on the other side of the field and, later, from the parking lot.

“This is a gift that Leo has given to the sport,” said David Beckham, former soccer star and owner of Inter Miami. “It is about his legacy. He is at the point in his career where he has done everything any footballer can do in the sport.”

Even off the field, Messi is among the most famous human beings on earth. At the World Cup in Qatar, it was common to see not only Argentina fans wearing his jersey and singing the national team anthems, but also people from Bangladesh or the Philippines. Macy’s cut stands 30 feet tall, for example, in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

Building on its popularity in Asia, Argentina’s national football federation already began its plans to grow in the US market a year and a half ago. The AFC’s chief merchandising and marketing officer, Leandro Petersen, said the association has 30-year deals in South Florida to either build new facilities (North Bay Village) or to renovate the existing centers (Hialeah) to be used as training centers for its national team before the 2024 Copa America and the 2026 World Cup.

But now that Messi is around, Pietersen said the federation is benefiting from the boost and is seeing its schedules accelerate. Before, he said, it was difficult to compete with the well-established American sports leagues, such as the NFL or the NBA

“What is happening now is that different companies that have not invested in soccer because it is not the most popular sport in the United States, are now starting to include part of the investment in soccer in their budget,” Petersen said in Spanish.

Amy Danieluk, a brand ambassador for a local chain of Argentine steakhouses called Baires Grill, which has frequently hosted Messi, his family and his Argentine teammates, said Messi’s arrival has already given more visibility to Argentine culture, products and food. He sees more potential ripple effects from Messi’s presence.

“Today we have an example of what Messi generates in Florida, but I can assure you when he starts traveling to Inter Miami to other stadiums that have a larger capacity, like Atlanta United and 80,000 people, the impact he will have in every state is really important,” said Danieluk. “I don’t think people realize that now.”