What Messi signing with Miami would mean for Nashville and Major League Soccer

By Ben Wright and Chris Ivey

It seems like the entirety of the sports world has been talking about this for the last two days, but on the off chance that you missed it, Lionel Messi seems set to join Major League Soccer.

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Yes, that Messi, winner of seven Balon D’Ors, 10 La Liga titles and four UEFA Champions League trophies with Barcelona, scorer of 812 professional goals, and most recently the winner of the 2022 FIFA World Cup with Argentina. 

The greatest player in the history of soccer, and arguably the most recognizable human being on earth, looks set to join Inter Miami CF and ply his trade in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in the single-biggest signing in Major League Soccer history. Kind of cool.

Beyond the absolutely unprecedented deal MLS is giving Messi to entice him to North America, including a reported share of Apple’s TV deal revenue and a discounted MLS franchise in the future, Messi signing will make waves throughout the league for years after he’s done playing. 

Increased visibility

With the new Apple TV deal making every match available globally, with no regional blackouts or other broadcasting competition, MLS has never been easier for a global or national audience to consume. 40% of matches are already in front of the paywall, and you can be certain that Messi’s Miami will be heavily featured and promoted.

If Messi had gone to Saudi Arabia, he would lose out of the global visibility he’ll maintain in MLS. And with both the 2024 Copa America and 2026 World Cup coming to the United States, he has the opportunity to take advantage of a boom for soccer in the world’s most commercialized economy. 

It’s a huge win for MLS, who have a chance to capitalize globally like never before. Miami will obviously be the center of attention, but more eyes on Miami will result in more eyes on the league as a whole, and if they handle it correctly, it could be a watershed moment for the league and the sport in America.

A chance to improve the league’s quality

When David Beckham signed with the LA Galaxy in 2007, it didn’t just give the Galaxy a superstar player and lead them to dominance in MLS, winning MLS Cups in 2011, 2012 and 2014. It also introduced the Designated Player rule, which opened up spending across the board for all teams, allowing them to sign two (and later, three) players outside of the salary cap. It was a turning point in how teams could sign players and build rosters.

Almost 20 years later, MLS has another chance to restructure their roster rules and open up spending for everyone. Sure, no one will touch the payment structure Messi will reportedly receive, but the league office could easily lift the restrictions on the types of players the league can sign. Add more DPs. Increase the salary cap. Or get rid of DPs entirely and make a blanket cap, letting teams allocate their spending however they want. 

Getting Messi in the league is huge. Getting Messi in the league and also lifting restrictions and increasing the overall quality of players in the league, just three years before the World Cup comes, could completely change the makeup of the league and its place in the global market.

Miami likely won’t sign only Messi this summer. They’ve already been linked with Sergio Busquets, with rumors of their interest in other former Barcelona players beginning to spring up. If they make these signings (and granted, it’s not a sure thing by any means), they will have invested significantly in their roster. The rest of the league can’t afford to stay idle.

Just like MLS evolved when Beckham signed with the Galaxy, it needs to evolve now with Messi.

What it means for Nashville

For starters, ticket prices for a Nashville SC match against Inter Miami will skyrocket. 

Nashville is a town known for star performances, whether in sports, music, or other entertainment. However, perhaps never in the city’s history will it have hosted a global icon on the level of Lionel Messi. Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift may be international icons, but they have never won a World Cup. 

Messi coming to Nashville for a midseason MLS match will penetrate every newscast in the state reminding even non-soccer viewers of Nashville SC. It is free advertising for a club still trying to firmly establish its footprint in the Tennessee sports landscape. 

Beyond local news, Messi brings a worldwide audience everywhere he goes. His performance and the final score (hopefully a loss for his Inter Miami squad) will be published around the world. Social media will be flooded with highlight clips and passionate opinions about the match. Suddenly, people in every corner of the globe will be exposed to Nashville SC. 

Think about it in reverse terms. For those readers that follow foreign leagues, such as the English Premier League, why else would you have any clue about the existence and location of towns such as Newcastle, Wolverhampton, Nottingham, or Leicester if it weren’t for soccer? 

Nashville, as a city, will suddenly be a known to a much wider audience beyond Americans and country music fans. Professional sports provides a platform to raise the profile of an entire region, not just the team itself. 

Messi will bring a worldwide audience when he arrives in Miami. At times, Nashville SC and the city itself will share a piece of that global spotlight in a way it never could otherwise. 

What it means for the future of MLS

Signing Messi is huge. But it’s not the final step in Major League Soccer’s evolution. MLS can’t afford to treat it like it is.

Messi will get fans in the door. It’s on MLS and the individual clubs to keep them there. Allow the media to tell the compelling stories that already exist in the league. Let ambitious owners take big swings on their rosters and stop deferring to owners who want to spend minimally. Put a world-class product on the field to match the world-class facilities that are sprouting all over the country. Continue to improve the TV product and the behind-the-scenes content to connect fans with the players they watch every week. Get local sports fans to buy into their local teams. 

If Messi plays in Miami for three years and leaves the league more or less the same as it was before, then what was the point? Now is the time for MLS to evolve, take some big steps forward, and use this groundswell of soccer in North America to finally become one of the top leagues in the world.

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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