Messi And A World Cup: It's Now Or Never For The USA To Fall In Love With Football

The MLS is stronger than ever, and football's biggest tournament is on the way...
08:00, 13 Jun 2023

David Beckham’s arrival to MLS in 2007 caused a major stir. The Englishman, who was 31 at the time, signed a five-year deal with LA Galaxy and in doing so, attempted to change the way the sport was viewed in the United States. 

It worked to some extent, as his celebrity status helped draw in larger attendances, more sponsorship and even new teams - all of whom were desperate to get involved in this new and exciting venture. But the league was still in its infancy having been launched in 1996, and Beckham’s powers on the pitch were waning, as his business interests elsewhere and celebrity lifestyle took centre stage. 

Fast forward to 2023 and the MLS has grown exponentially. The franchise’s value has gone from £30m in 2008 to £472m while in the ten years since Beckham’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain, seven new clubs have paid big money to join the league. With the increased value, the cost to enter is skyrocketing too. 


New York City paid $91m to enter in 2015, while Cincinnati paid $122m four years later. Beckham’s business brain back in 2007 saw this coming, as he agreed a deal with MLS that he could launch his own team for just $20.2m after he had retired. 

Now that team, Inter Miami, has just agreed a deal to sign the greatest player of all time: Lionel Messi. The Argentine’s arrival has already made a big impact. They’ve attracted six million new Instagram followers, taking them ahead of NBA side Miami Heat, while they’ve seen a 1,200% jump in ticket prices and a 4,500% increase in merchandise sales. 

Beckham’s franchise is already valued at around $600M, a huge increase from his initial investment, but the arrival of Messi could take that towards the $1BN mark. That’s how impactful the Argentine’s arrival is for not only MLS as a whole, but Miami. 

There’s been steady growth for football in the United States over the past decade, with new clubs like Atlanta United averaging over 47,000 fans per home game in their remarkable Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Sports like basketball, baseball and American football have a well-established history in the country and it is difficult to draw some attention away from those sports, but the MLS is slowly but surely getting there. 

And these next few years are pivotal for the sport to truly take off and gather more media attention than it currently gets in the USA. It feels like a perfect storm is brewing over the next three years. They’ve got a perfect concoction of ingredients that will never again be repeated.

They’ve got the greatest player of all time playing in their league, for a team owned by one of the biggest celebrities in the world. The United States are hosting the Copa America next year as Messi attempts to defend that title with Argentina. Then in 2026, they host the biggest singular sporting event on the planet: the World Cup. 1.5 billion people watched the 2022 final when Messi himself finally became immortal. 

Those three events don’t come around that often. The fact that the likely Ballon d’Or winner this year will come from MLS in itself is something unique in itself, while this is the first World Cup they will host since 1994 when the idea for a domestic football league in America was launched. 

This is prime time for football in the USA. MLS is stronger than ever, Messi has arrived and the World Cup is on the way. If they can’t fall in love with football now, it is never going to happen. 

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