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Lionel Messi's arrival in South Florida with Inter Miami could help soccer "thrive" in U.S.

Lionel Messi fever takes hold in U.S.
Lionel Messi fever takes hold in U.S. as he makes his MLS debut 02:56

The much-anticipated American debut of soccer superstar Lionel Messi with his new team, Inter Miami, on Friday night did not disappoint. 

After checking in as a substitute early in the second half, Messi scored on a sensational free kick in stoppage time to give Inter Miami the win over Mexican club Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup, and sending the sold-out crowd at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale into a frenzy. 

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi of Inter Miami CF celebrates after scoring a goal the Leagues Cup match against Mexican club Cruz Azul at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on July 21, 2023. Arturo Jimenez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Messi's U.S. arrival is generating a frenzy of excitement in South Florida, with soccer fans extending him a warm welcome. The Miami Herald even dedicated a full-page message saying "Bienvenido Messi" last Sunday. 

Messi, who is Argentinian and regarded as one of the greatest players in soccer history, recently won his first World Cup trophy for his home country. He now brings his global celebrity to the U.S., after announcing last month he has decided to play in the MLS.

Messi's arrival, coupled with the Women's World Cup as the women's national team efforts a three-peat, will contribute to the growth of soccer in America, said Roger Bennett, co-founder of Men in Blazers, a soccer-focused media company.

"America will be a normal football nation in which the game is loved and it thrives, and maybe one day will produce a Lionel Messi of our own, which is when we know we've really made it," said Bennett.  

Bennett compared Messi's arrival in the U.S. to LeBron James deciding "he's gonna pack up and go and play for the Shanghai Sharks in China." 

His decision to play for Inter Miami not only marks a milestone moment for the MLS, but also represents a significant partnership for the league's new streaming partner, Apple TV. The team secured the lucrative deal with some creative arrangements, including a cut of the broadcasting uptick for Apple TV subscriptions worldwide and negotiations with Adidas to share a portion of their profits. 

Inter Miami's owner, Jorge Mas, revealed that the deal to bring Messi to the team could be worth an astonishing $50-60 million a year.  

"I've gotta give huge respect to Major League Soccer," Bennett said. "This is an incredibly creative, a groundbreaking, a deeply inventive deal."

The Messi family's familiarity with Miami played a significant role in the decision, as they already had an apartment in the city, making it feel like home, according to Bennett.  

In addition to his impact on the field, Messi's presence is creating a buzz among fans and potential investors alike. Ticket prices for his first match with Inter Miami soared, reaching more than $100,000 for some seats, and demand for Inter Miami matches throughout the league has skyrocketed. 

David Beckham, co-owner of Inter Miami and a former MLS star, hopes Messi's arrival will inspire a new generation of soccer enthusiasts in the United States.  

With one of the largest Argentine populations in the country, Miami is already embracing Messi with adoring crowds swarming him outside restaurants. Images of him shopping at a local Publix grocery store have gone viral. 

At his first practice, fans flocked to catch a glimpse of their hero — especially the younger generation. 

"We're here to see Messi. Because we think he's awesome," said one young fan at his first practice. 

In the wake of Messi's arrival, Inter Miami's Instagram followers have skyrocketed from one million to an impressive 10 million, surpassing all U.S. sports teams outside the NBA, reflecting the widespread enthusiasm surrounding the soccer superstar's debut.

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