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MLS Soars with Lionel Messi, but League Requires More than 'the GOAT' to Foster Growth

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Lionel Messi's Impact on MLS and the League's Growth Prospects

Lionel Messi's arrival in Major League Soccer (MLS) has already had a profound effect on the league, with only a handful of games played. His signing with Inter Miami CF in late July has led to a surge in ticket prices and boosted markets where the team has played. The record-breaking sales of Messi's jerseys and merchandise highlight the immense popularity he brings. TV and streaming viewership have also seen a significant increase.

MLS' Unprecedented Impact

Camilo Durana, the executive vice president of club services and fan development at MLS, acknowledges the extraordinary impact Messi has had on the league. However, despite Messi's influence, MLS still lags behind more established professional sports leagues in the United States, such as the NFL and NBA, in terms of viewership and ticket prices.

The Need for More Stars

Sports consultant Lee Berke suggests that MLS needs more players of Messi's caliber to continue its growth trajectory. Historically, the league has attracted stars like David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, and Thierry Henry towards the end of their careers, resulting in increased fanbase and viewership. Competition from other leagues and the recent influx of cash-rich offers from Saudi Arabia to top players like Messi, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Karim Benzema pose additional challenges.

Messi's Impact and MLS' Boost

Messi's arrival, coming off a World Cup victory in 2022, has given MLS a much-needed boost. Inter Miami, since his joining, has risen to become the highest-selling MLS team for tickets on StubHub. Messi himself is the top-selling player across all sports on Fanatics, a digital sports platform. The surge in ticket sales was immediate when Messi announced his intention to sign with the league. His stellar performance in the Leagues Cup, where he scored in all seven games, further solidifies his impact.

Increased Ticket Prices and Viewership

The arrival of Messi has resulted in a significant increase in ticket prices on the secondary market. The average ticket price for Inter Miami on StubHub is $161, nearly 64% higher than the league average. Nationwide ticket sales for MLS matchups have also seen a rise. However, despite these positive developments, MLS ticket prices and viewership still lag behind the NFL and NBA.

Streaming and Media Rights Deals

MLS has signed a 10-year media rights deal with Apple TV+, focusing on streaming to cater to its young fanbase, which leans towards streaming platforms. The partnership aims to expand the league's fan base globally, leveraging the availability of MLS matches through the MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+. While streaming viewership is growing, traditional TV broadcasts of MLS games still draw significant viewership, with Leagues Cup matches averaging 680,000 viewers.

Investments and Future Growth

MLS has invested billions in its clubs, players, and stadiums to foster growth and expand its following. The presence of Messi validates the league's growth and global appeal. As more players aspire to join MLS, it is expected to build on the momentum generated by Messi's arrival. However, the league's economics need to adapt to compete with other leagues and the financial power of entities like Saudi Arabia, which are attracting top players with lucrative offers. In conclusion, Lionel Messi's impact on MLS has been remarkable, driving ticket sales, merchandise popularity, and viewership. While MLS still faces challenges in catching up to more established leagues, Messi's presence has undoubtedly provided a boost. The league's future growth will depend on attracting more star players, adapting to the streaming landscape, and making strategic investments to enhance its competitiveness.

Conclusion: Messi's Impact and Implications for New Businesses

The profound impact of Lionel Messi's arrival in MLS presents both opportunities and challenges for new businesses. The surge in ticket sales, merchandise popularity, and viewership underscores the power of star power in driving business growth. This suggests that new businesses, especially those in the sports and entertainment sectors, should consider leveraging popular figures to boost their market presence. However, Messi's impact also highlights the challenges that MLS and, by extension, new businesses face in a competitive market. Despite the boost from Messi, MLS still lags behind more established leagues, demonstrating the difficulty of breaking into established markets. New businesses must therefore not only attract star power but also develop competitive strategies to differentiate themselves and attract a loyal customer base. Moreover, the shift towards streaming and the importance of media rights deals in MLS's strategy highlight the growing importance of digital platforms in reaching audiences. New businesses must therefore prioritize developing a strong digital presence and leveraging streaming platforms to reach their target audience. In conclusion, while Messi's impact on MLS presents opportunities for new businesses, it also underscores the importance of competitive strategies, star power, and digital platforms in achieving business growth.
Story First Published at: https://www.cnbc.com/2023/08/24/lionel-messi-boosts-mls-league-needs-more.html
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