Sunday, Lionel Messi makes his West Coast debut in Major League Soccer. Since he’s joined, ticket prices have sky-rocketed across the league for away Miami games.
Home fans have been priced out of seeing their own team by Ravines Messi fans. Just last weekend, the New York Red Bulls’ 26k attended match might as well have been a road game.
Most of this is known and expected. When the latest Lionel Messi to MLS rumors started circulating in early June, the average ticket price for a Miami game was under $10. However, on June 6, it was interesting to see RBNY selling Miami tickets on Ticketmaster for $45 before fees. By the end of the day, with the rumors really heating up, the face price jumped to $80 before selling out within 48 hours.
Tonight against Los Angeles, the “get in” price, with fees, is just under $700 for two tickets. Last week, prior to the game, I spoke with multiple fans wearing some form of apparel that showed they were there for Messi. One family of four from Newark, with kids aged around early teens, paid $525 for each ticket. Another pair of brothers from Brooklyn paid $650 each for upper-deck tickets.
The craziest example of the whole thing had to be the $3,000 tickets behind Inter Miami’s bench. I can’t confirm if those sold, but other tickets did hit the four-digit range at least.
Outside of the arena during pregame was no exception. From the Harrison PATH station to just outside the stadium, there were no less than eight different vendors selling bootleg soccer merchandise. Most of the jerseys and shirts were focused on Lionel Messi, either with Inter Miami or Argentina. The parking lot was not as full as I expected early. But by 3:30, the crowd, besides the supporter group clusters, was mostly Messi.
Large painted tifos for the man in question, license plates from across the Northeast, and some amazing-smelling street food were all present.
About 4.5 hours to kickoff. Parking lot is filling up but not as full as I’d expect. Seeing even amounts of #InterMiamiCF “fans” compared to #RBNY ones at this point (not counting SGs). pic.twitter.com/38585aSi7N
— Michael Battista (@MichaelBattista) August 26, 2023
The scary thing is that none of this is sustainable. The New York Red Bulls’ match last weekend felt like it was 75% Messi fans. Not Inter Miami, but Messi. The first “We Want Messi” chant broke out five minutes in with the player in question on the bench. People are paying for the spectacle of seeing one of if not the, greatest players of all time. But the contract he signed goes until the end of 2025. How can Miami and the league keep up the Messi craze without over-exposure or pricing out every other fan?
We’ve already seen MLS changing things just to accommodate Messi. Typically, MLS players are required to be available for media availability following matches. Lionel Messi did not make himself available, nor has he after the Leagues Cup or U.S. Open Cup games.
However, a statement to the Miami Herald revealed Messi had “not violated any guidelines“:
“There was a misunderstanding regarding Lionel Messi’s media access. He has not violated any guidelines for his media availability,” the statement read.
On the surface, this probably means Lionel Messi is not being held to the same standards as every other player in the league. That wasn’t the case with Zlatan Ibrahimović or current Inter Miami owner David Beckham when they played.
Packed house for post game press conferences at Red Bull Arena following the New York Red Bulls 2-0 loss to Inter Miami CF.
— Michael Battista (@MichaelBattista) August 27, 2023
The league messing with rules for Messi isn’t that surprising. But it’s just one example. We’ve seen the U.S. Open Cup broadcasting rights sold to dozens of countries ahead of Miami’s semifinal win over FC Cincinnati. Apple’s MLS Season Pass numbers have reportedly doubled since the signing was made official ahead of the first Leagues Cup match.
But even if Messi and Miami don’t make the playoffs this year, the team has won. The Leagues Cup win gave Inter its first trophy as a club and put them into the CONCACAF Champions Cup next year. A chance at a double with the U.S. Open Cup is the cherry on top. The rest of the regular season might as well be exhibition games. More akin to the Harlem Globetrotters than a professional sports team.
But if that’s the case, how long into Messi’s three-year deal can this last? Can the home fanbase continue to come out, or will the price push away locals?
Will MLS need to step in and set a cap on resale prices? How will away games across the country handle Messi being there?
The Red Bulls may not be done with the madness just yet, either. If, and it’s a big if, the team can make the playoffs, it will most likely be in the “Play-In Round.”
That round, between the eighth and ninth-placing teams in the conference, might feature Inter Miami if they can claw up the table. Miami tied Nashville SC last week, while New York lost to New England, 1-0.
It’s a long shot, but crazier things have happened.
Photo: John Perd