Lionel Messi Circus: Crazy, Annoying to Some, and Not Going Anywhere

Lionel Messi Circus

EDITORIAL – Lionel Messi has played eight games for Inter Miami CF. He’s already won a trophy in the 2023 Leagues Cup and led Miami to hosting the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final. Tonight he could make his MLS debut at New York Red Bulls. The Lionel Messi circus is here. He could very well win Inter a double or treble. He’s the GOAT. His arrival and success so far have elevated Miami and Major League Soccer. But is MLS at risk of becoming Messi League Soccer? Does the Messi Circus have some negatives to it? FC Cincinnati fans and others certainly think so.

Lionel Messi Circus: Crazy, Annoying to Some, and Not Going Anywhere

Let’s start with the immediately change from back in June when the news broke. Ticket prices for Miami games, home and away, went through the roof. Miami season ticket holders could sell their tickets for a few games for hundreds if not thousands of dollars on the open market and pay for their membership for the whole year.

Jim Curtin urged Union fans to not sell their tickets for the Leagues Cup semifinal. Nashville SC and FC Cincinnati fans were upset at the upcharges in their recent home matches. Some fans could spend $10,000 to see Miami play tonight at RBNY. Some teams have embraced it. The New England Revolution had ticket sales emails go out encouraging fans to renew season tickets. In it, the rep argued that they should renew because Messi had scored in every game he’s played in. Fans were guaranteed to see Messi score AGAINST the Revs next year if they renewed.

It’s hard to see ticket prices going down to pre-Messi levels, especially for road games, until Messi’s played at least twice in most of these markets. He’s the GOAT. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many. The Barcelona, Argentina, and Messi fans will drive up prices that will alienate many diehards who are their to root for CF Montreal or whomever rather than go for the celebrity exhibition.

Domestic and internal media have gone crazy. There’s usually been a Twitter/X comment or two to Extratime when they talk about Messi while there’s 28 other teams in the league. The littlest thing he does from Marvel superhero celebrations to the slightly interesting press conference quote will get 24-hour coverage. Some opponents are already annoyed by the fixation. Like it or not fans, Messi get clicks in ways run of the mill MLS does not.

On top of that, there’s been backlash towards opponents for their fixation on Messi on social media and in marketing. Cincinnati posted on Twitter/X about Lucho Acosta getting Messi’s shirt after the USOC semifinal and some fans were not happy about that. Nashville’s veteran midfielder Dax McCarty got Messi’s shirt after the Leagues Cup final. There was such an uproar he had to address it two days later.

Are fans, coaches, players, and the media allowed to be in awe of Messi? Are they capable of compartmentalizing the almost fandom of getting to play against him with the seriousness of trying to beat him? Even if they are, should they be posting on social media so openly? Is there clout in getting his shirt after you lose to him? Some fans don’t think so. Either way, it gets attention and sells tickets and merch.

On some level, MLS, its teams, and inadvertently its players are taking advantage of the Messi Circus at the expense of alienating a portion of fanbases in other markets. I bet Apple’s hitting their revenue goal for MLS Season Pass though.

Lastly, this circus will need rest at some point. Messi might not start tonight. In the next two years, Miami will list him as out on the injury report. Are the league, clubs, ticket scalpers, knockoff jersey peddlers, etc. obligated to account for that? If an Eastern Conference team raising season tickets in part because they’re getting a home game against Messi, and then he doesn’t play that game, fans will be upset they got charged a Messi tax.

Potentially someone paid $10,000 to see Messi tonight at Red Bull Area. Surely that ticket wouldn’t be worth $1,000 is Miami announced three days ago he would not travel. At some point, casuals and hard core fans both will be ripped off. Messi is MLS’s most valuable asset. He’s also a 36-years-old playing in league with a congested schedule.

By several metrics, interest in Messi is equal to or greater than MLS’s pre-Messi baseline. The fact that MLS is starting to become Messi League Soccer, in perception or reality, speaks to how much growth the league still needs. It’s closer to golf with prime Tiger Woods than the Premier League with Erling Haaland. Hopefully Messi’s time in MLS will help grow the league higher and closer to a level where it will not be as reliant on big name stars. The league cannot yet stand on its own popularity and merit.

Aug 23, 2023; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Inter Miami CF forward Lionel Messi (10) celebrates a goal in the first period of extra time of a U.S. Open Cup semifinal match between Inter Miami and FC Cincinnati, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports