As Lionel Messi is expected to play his first soccer game in the U.S. on Friday, businesses in South Florida are preparing for a frenzy of fans — but also wondering if his debut will bring less economic benefits than they had anticipated.
Miami seems to have embraced the Argentinian soccer sensation, with many parts of the city decorated with Messi-themed art and graffiti in black, white, and pink — the colors of his new team, Inter Miami FC. And officially, Friday’s game is fully booked.
But a look at Ticketmaster Friday revealed many tickets still for sale on the secondary market for the projected first game of Messi with Inter Miami FC, with prices dropping below $200 — about $50 lower than they were Thursday.
The team has announced Messi is likely to start on the bench for the night match against Cruz Azul from Mexico City, part of the Leagues Cup tournament featuring MLS and Liga MX teams.
A number of factors at the beginning may ultimately reduce the event’s financial impact.
The game on Friday is happening at the peak of summer — traditionally when South Florida’s tourism season slows down.
Messi is also arriving amid an unprecedented heat wave that has seen Miami’s heat index break records more than 20 times in the last 35 days, according to the Miami Herald.
Data from the commercial real estate data and analytics group CoStar showed little change in Miami hotel bookings from the same dates last year.
While the best seats for Friday’s game had reached prices as high as nearly $16,500 on StubHub Thursday, there were still plenty of seats available. Many of the tickets being sold seem to be from resellers — meaning existing ticket holders looking to cash in on the star’s appeal.
While Messi’s arrival in Miami has been anticipated for years, his actual signing — finalized last Saturday — caught Emi Guerra, co-founder of Breakwater Hospitality Group, which owns multiple bars and restaurants in South Florida, off guard.
Guerra declined to comment Thursday on the reservation activity he was seeing at his restaurants ahead of the debut, though he said social media interest indicated good attendance; team co-owner David Beckham said this week that Messi’s official presentation Sunday garnered 3.5 billion total views between social media impressions and TV and online viewers.
One unlikely beneficiary of Messi Mania may be the city of Fort Lauderdale, about 40 minutes north of Miami in neighboring Broward County. That’s because Messi will actually be playing in Inter Miami’s DRV PNK Stadium, which is next to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
But the commute — and the lack of bars and restaurants near the stadium — may make for a more subdued welcome there.
Tim Petriello, a Fort Lauderdale-based restauranteur, said that with tourism in South Florida having slowed from its late-pandemic highs, any interest in the area would be welcome.
“It’s been a little hard to organize anything, but we understand,” Petriello said Thursday, explaining he had not put together any watch parties at his venues. “But we still want to be part of this and want to be supportive.”
In an interview, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said Messi, 36, could play out the rest of his career in that city, given the current estimated timeline to complete an Inter Miami stadium in Miami is 2025 at the earliest.
But Trantalis acknowledged it was still early to assess the full impact of Messi’s arrival on the local economy, though insisted local hotel bookings had seen an increase. CoStar did not have any data on Fort Lauderdale bookings.
“There’s definitely been an uptick in demand,” Trantalis said.
Messi’s ability to create excitement among soccer fans around the world is undeniable. Google showed a clear rise Friday in searches for Inter Miami compared with Thursday and last Friday, especially in Latin American countries.
And Inter Miami is expecting that its revenues and overall franchise value will double over the next year.
While South Florida has a large population of Latin Americans — and attracts many more as tourists — it was not evident how many of them would be coming to watch him live Friday.
A spokesperson for Argentina’s Aerolíneas Argentinas S.A., the main airline of that country, said that while demand is always high for Miami flights, the company had not yet made extra arrangements for a surge ahead of Friday’s game — though future games could be a draw.
“Everybody wants to see him,” said Marcelo Bottini, Aerolíneas Argentinas’ regional director.