The Messi Effect: How the Arrival of the GOAT is Helping the MLS Grow
- November 28, 2023
- SponsorPulse Staff
Earlier this year, soccer fans across the globe witnessed a seismic shift as Lionel Messi, the renowned Argentine forward, joined Major League Soccer's (MLS) Inter Miami.
This move sparked a series of events that have undeniably impacted the landscape of MLS, a league building its footing in the competitive realm of US professional sports.
To provide context on the impact of Messi’s move to the MLS within the sponsorships world in the realm of professional sports in North America, we leveraged the SponsorPulse platform to analyze the data and trends most relevant for the league.
An Undervalued Dark Horse
According to SponsorPulse data, the MLS has ranked last in Opportunity Score and Engagement for the last five years, compared to the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL.
While this may come as no surprise due to its competitors' popularity, MLS has an advantage over the others: the underdog and growth factor.
Similar to fundamentally undervalued stocks — if a few changes can move the needle for the MLS, like the right partners, investments, and management — there are good reasons to believe there are great days ahead for the North American soccer league.
A Meteoric Rise
Messi's signing with Inter Miami has sparked a surge in attendance, viewership, merchandise sales, and overall league popularity.
Since Messi's arrival, ticket prices have soared, making Inter Miami the highest-selling MLS team for tickets on StubHub, with an average ticket price of $161 — almost 64% higher than the league average.
On average, the ticket price for Messi's games on StubHub is more than double the league average at $329.
In 2023, the league is on track to surpass its 2022 record attendance of 10 million, with a projected figure of nearly 11 million.
The arrival of Messi has contributed significantly to this surge, driving season ticket sales not only for Inter Miami but across the league. Still, Lionel’s impact exists well beyond the football field.
Beyond The Pitch
According to Celebrity data from SponsorPulse, Lionel Messi ranks the highest in Awareness, Likeness, and Interest among soccer players worldwide, even rivaling popular local athletes like Serena Williams, LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Tom Brady.
Messi provided a unique position to fuel the continued growth of MLS by attracting a diverse and engaged audience — and the results reflect that.
In less than a year, Messi became the top-selling player across all sports on Fanatics and the most-sold jersey in the history of MLSstore.com within three days of the launch.
But while the MLS has successfully improved its product with Messi, it also needed a proper distribution partner. Luckily, it found one of the best in the business.
A Vital Partnership
While MLS viewership still lags behind other major professional sports leagues in the US, the partnership between MLS and Apple, a 10-year deal initiated this season, has been crucial in expanding the league's reach.
Apple TV+ and the introduction of MLS Season Pass have made it easier for the young and connected audience to stream matches, contributing to a significant boost in subscribers following Messi's arrival.
The strategic move aligns with MLS's recognition of its young fanbase's preference for streaming — and so far, it has delivered. In fact, 58% of MLS engaged Americans use AppleTV. Thats 21% higher than the average US fan.
According to several reports, subscribers to MLS Season Pass have more than doubled since Messi's arrival.
Nielsen reported that Leagues Cup matches, part of MLS's media rights deal, averaged 680,000 viewers, surpassing every MLS postseason average. For the few games aired on traditional TV, MLS averaged 250,000 viewers season to date.
Expand your Luck Surface
The arrival of Lionel Messi has undoubtedly been a catalyst for the growth of the MLS.
While the league still has some way to match the popularity of other major professional sports leagues in the US, Messi's presence has undoubtedly accelerated its growth and solidified its position as one of the premier soccer leagues in the continent.
If you want to learn more about how sponsorship intelligence tools like SponsorPulse can help you capitalize on the growing popularity of MLS and other sports leagues, create a free SponsorPulse account today.