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The Magic Messi effect on MLS: How he's changing the game in America

Lionel Messi's transfer to Inter Miami has set MLS on a path to the stars. Literally. And the Magic Messi effect on MLS is just getting started.

Messi was officially announced as an Inter Miami player on July 16th as David Beckham's long-awaited dream transfer. From that moment forward, the GOAT's heroics have made clear MLS will be a league worth watching around the globe for some time to come.

The impact of the 2022 World Cup winner for Inter Miami on the pitch has been clear: eight goals in five games (a stat likely to be outdated very quickly), last-minute clutch free-kicks, and a performance shift for the club that's easy to attribute to his effect on the players around him.

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Despite the Argentinian's impact for The Herons on the pitch, it's what he's doing off the pitch for MLS that is even more impressive. Below, we take a look at Messi's impact on MLS in key areas that are driving value for everyone involved – from clubs, to owners, to players, to advertisers, and more.

The Messi Effect On MLS By The Numbers

Social Media

The league’s reach on social media is a great representation of the "Magic Messi effect" as it’s happening in real time.

Since Messi was officially unveiled as a Inter Miami player, the league’s social media interactions have grown exponentially across all platforms.

In comparison to the month prior to Lionel Messi's arrival, MLS social media accounts saw an increase in interactions of 1,125% on Twitter (now "X"), 517% on Instagram, and a staggering 2,488% on Facebook. 

MLS social media interaction increase w/ Messi

During this period, the top posts from MLS across all social media platforms were about Messi's free kick against Cruz Azul. If you haven't seen it, watch it here and you'll see why it drove such a spike in engagement for MLS.

While these numbers are incredible without context, it's also impressive that the biggest jump in interactions happened on Facebook where MLS actually decreased the number of posts (-21%) compared to the month prior. It would seem Lionel Messi-themed social posts perform about as well as the man himself on the pitch.


Outside of social media, Messi is also helping MLS blow up on Google as people search frantically for how they can watch the GOAT in action.

In 2022, Apple TV and MLS announced a 10-year agreement that will see all of the league's games streamed on the platform. While many were skeptical of the success of the deal for both parties, the fact that Messi is now playing in the league has made it perhaps the deal of the decade as new users flock to MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.

In the inaugural match day of the Leagues Cup, Messi’s Inter Miami faced off against Liga MX’s Cruz Azul in what was, on paper, a game between the worst-performing teams in their respective leagues.

Heading into the match, Miami was in last place of their conference and of the entire league after tallying only 18 points in 22 games. Cruz Azul, after three matches of the Liga MX Apertura, sat last with zero points.

The game in normal circumstances would not have been expected to see a great turnout from people watching at home. The Messi effect, however, had other plans.

After playing only 36 minutes from the bench to make his Inter Miami debut and scoring a clutch last-minute free-kick against the Cementeros to seal his team’s victory, Lionel Messi made the game the most-watched MLS game in 20 years.

The match averaged a 0.8 rating and a staggering 1.75 million viewers on Univision — the largest single-network MLS audience since Freddy Adu’s 2004 debut on ABC (1.97M). 

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Viewership of Messi's debut surpassed the debuts of other European soccer stars such as David Beckham in 2007 on ESPN (1.5M viewers) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2018 on FOX (565K viewers).

Last Sunday, after the 36-year-old saved Inter Miami from being eliminated in the Leagues Cup against FC Dallas with yet another incredible last-minute free-kick, Google searches of the game turned the RO16 match into the top-trending search in the world.

Ticket Sales

Exploding interest in MLS is present offline as well, in the stands. Tickets for the match between Dallas and Miami were sold out in a matter of minutes, and reportedly in record-time for the Texan club in their home stadium. 

20,500 tickets sold out in 18 minutes, some of which reached a resale price upwards of $600. Messi and his participation in the eight-goal thriller decided with a penalty shoot-out showed why tickets were of high demand.

Everywhere Messi visits is experiencing ticket-mania and it's expected to continue as Inter Miami finishes out the season.

According to data from TicketiQ, the average ticket price to see Inter Miami in their home stadium for the rest of the 2023 MLS season has skyrocketed 459% from $152 to $850, while tickets to Miami's next seven matches on the road increased by 558%.

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No price is too much for fans wanting to see the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner in action.

Only time will tell how much of an impact and legacy the No.10 will leave in the league. So far, the Argentine legend has managed to turn a poor-performing club on and off the pitch into one of great prominence not only in the United States, but around the world.

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