As the soccer world prepares for the MLS debut of all-time great soccer player Lionel Messi with Inter Miami on Friday, it may be worth asking, what exactly is the goal of Inter Miami in their signing of Messi?
The 36-year-old soccer phenom is likely still good enough to play at any soccer club in the world, but he decided to join Inter Miami in Major League Soccer. That is largely because of the $60 million he will earn annually with the club, along with an ownership stake.
For MLS, it made all the sense in the world. The league has been craving an international superstar for quite some time, and recently agreed to a massive broadcasting rights deal with Apple TV earlier this spring.
That deal between the MLS and Apple also includes a “subscriber threshold”, which requires the MLS to get a certain number of subscribers to Season Pass in a set timeframe in order to start receiving revenue in the partnership.
Apple TV could greatly use a product like MLS to try and revitalize their Apple TV product. According to Bloomberg Linea, Apple TV+ is expected to lose more than $5 billion in 2023 alone.
Bringing in a player like Messi certainly should drive up subscriber numbers, which is good for both the league and Messi individually. Messi’s contract also includes sign-up revenue for every new subscriber to Apple’s MLS Season Pass.
It seems like MLS Season Pass subscriptions, and not necessarily team success for Inter Miami, is the name of the game for the MLS. And Messi’s longtime teammate, Sergio Busquets, who joined him in Inter Miami, detailed as much when talking about the culture of U.S. soccer.
“In terms of football, I have only been here a short time,” Busquets told ESPN’s Ross Devonport ahead of his debut with the team. “I have only been here three days but it is another culture. It is more spectacle in that it does not depend so much on whether you win or lose, but at the end it is the path that takes you there and what you accomplish during that time. It is very different from the pressure and what they can ask of you in Spain and in Europe in general.”
While winning may be at the top of the priority list for Messi individually, the league as a whole likely cares more about how much of a sustained draw he is for fans.