Business People and Community

Messi and Miami: A magical match

Soccer’s biggest star is coming to Miami, and Lionel Messi’s presence could bring a wealth of rewards—to him professionally, revenues to Inter Miami CF and Major League Soccer, and even a business bump for the city—according to University of Miami faculty members.
Argentina forward Lionel Messi kicks a goal, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, during the first half of an international friendly soccer match against Honduras in Miami Gardens, Fla. Lionel Messi says he is coming to Inter Miami and joining Major League Soccer. After months of speculation, Messi announced his decision Wednesday, June 7, 2023, to join a Miami franchise that has been led by another global soccer icon in David Beckham since its inception but has yet to make any real splashes on the field.(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
Argentina forward Lionel Messi kicks a goal during the first half of an international friendly soccer match against Honduras in Miami Gardens, Florida on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. Photo: The Associated Press

The highest-profile player of any sport. Second on Forbes 2023 list of highest paid athletes in the world. Instagram followers that number 468 million (Lebron James commands a paltry 154 million). Seven-time winner of the Balon d’Or as the world’s best player. Recently willed his Argentina team to World Cup glory. 

Lionel Messi’s myth precedes him to the Magic City. If all goes according to plan—the announcement that he would join Inter Miami CF was made last week as contract details are still being finalized—the 35-year-old Argentine megastar will take the field with his new squad for a July 21 match at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. 

“He’s flashy and fits so well with the culture here. In terms of lifestyle and his career, it really makes sense,” said Alex Horenstein, associate professor of economics in the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School, a native of Argentina, and self-professed lifelong fan of “the beautiful game.” 

“Messi loves Miami, his family has been coming here often, and some of his best friends are here—there are easy flights to Argentina,” he added. “The quality of life and sense of belonging all add to the good match.” 

The contract package from Inter Miami is lucrative, reported to be salary, bonuses, and equity valued at between $125 million–$150 million ($53.7 million annually) for two and half years, with an option for 2026. Contributions from Major League Soccer (MLS) sponsors Apple and adidas are still being finalized based on league growth that Messi is expected to generate. 

Yet, Messi reportedly spurned a $500 million per year offer to play in Saudi Arabia, so money and even cultural connections are not the sole motivators, Horenstein highlighted. 

“His legacy is untouchable. He’s already achieved more than anyone can dream to achieve,” Horenstein noted. “Given that he’s 35 and will be 39 by the time the next Cup rolls round, it seems a good idea for him to move to a less intensive league.” 

Playing in Spain—Messi signed with Barcelona at the age of 13, played his first game at 16 and spent 17 seasons with the Catalan club—teams play 40-odd matches in a year. There are three different cup competitions: the La Liga, Copa del Rey, and the UEFA Champions League. 

“That’s an incredibly demanding schedule. In Miami, he won’t have to play as many games, and he’ll be in a more familiar environment so he can preserve his body better and be at less risk for injury,” Horenstein said. 

The immediate impact of the signing announcement, according to the economist, is that ticket prices have ticked up tenfold. “Thousands are lining up to get on the ticket waiting list,” he noted. “This is going to generate lots more revenue for the team.” 

While the contract is massive—think fifth highest paid player of any sport in the Americas. MLS is riding an expansion boom and interest is swelling with the World Cup taking place in North America in 2026. From 19 teams in 2014, the league added a new team this year to bring the total to 29. San Diego will become the 30th team in 2025. The average MLS team is valued at some $500 million. 

Inter Miami also is in good shape to assume the contract load, Horenstein asserted. Co-owned by Miami brothers Jose and Jorge Mas—both are members of the University Board of Trustees—and former English superstar David Beckham, the club is valued at $585 million, according to a 2022 Sportico report. 

“Given how much Messi generates, the thought of paying him $125 million in salary doesn’t seem to be very risky at all,” said Horenstein, noting the other compensations from the league, residual sales, merchandise, etc. likely coming his way. He pointed out that Messi generates $100 million in annual T-shirt sales alone. 

Paul Resnick, a senior lecturer in sport administration in the School of Education and Human Development, recently assessed the impacts of large, single events such as the Formula 1 race and Super Bowl on the local economy. He offered insights, too, on the potential impact of hosting games for the 2026 World Cup.   

The Super Bowl generates from $300 million to $500 million for its host community and the Miami Grand Prix brought in approximately $350 million of economic activity for Miami-Dade County, according to Resnick. 

He highlighted that, owing to the Homeless and Domestic Violence Tax passed in 1993, 1 percent of revenues which are generated from the tax on food and beverage sales is apportioned to homeless initiatives and for domestic violence shelters. 

“These events are huge revenue generators for the city and county,” he said. “We are no longer simply a gateway to the Americas. We are a gateway to the world, and the economic impact will set the groundwork for amazing things to happen.” 

Miami could host as many as four to six 2026 World Cup games. 

“With the international talent and with all their fans coming, the economic stimulus is going to be off the charts,” Resnick pointed out. “We are already a destination spot for sporting events and have shown that we can host these big events. Now we’ll be high on the world stage for this big prize.” 

About 3,000 workers were brought in and paid up to $100 million leading up to Formula 1 Miami, he noted. 

“Mass employment will have to happen—a big impact directly on the workforce—and the homeless tax will generate city and county dollars,” Resnick explained. “It could be a game changer.” 

Regardless of the impact, Horenstein said, Messi’s presence in Miami will leave one group of people ecstatic. 

“I don’t think his coming to Miami will change the city, but it will add momentum to what’s already going on and it certainly makes us soccer fans very happy,” Horenstein said. “What’s for sure is that soccer is going to become a lot more popular around here.”