Messi effect among topics global soccer execs discussed at Soccerex event in Wynwood

More than 2,000 soccer industry movers and shakers from 80 countries gathered at the Mana Wynwood Convention Center Tuesday for the Soccerex conference, just a few blocks from massive Lionel Messi murals that welcomed the Argentine star to Inter Miami five months ago.

Messi’s impact on Major League Soccer was among the many topics discussed at the convention, which runs through Wednesday.

MLS commissioner Don Garber and Apple senior vice president of services Eddy Cue, a Miami native, told the audience that more than 1 million people tuned into Messi’s games on Apple’s MLS Season Pass.

Cue later added in an interview with the Miami Herald: “More than 1 million people watched Messi’s games live, regular season and Leagues Cup games, which is amazing when you compare it to other sports, leaving out NFL and college football.”

Cue said Apple, which last year signed a 10-year $2.5 billion streaming deal with MLS, saw significant spikes in MLS Season Pass subscriptions in Argentina and Brazil after Messi joined the league and in Mexico before and during the Leagues Cup. By the end of summer, Apple saw bumps in viewers from the UK and France and other European countries.

“This was our first season and we wanted to make sure we gave MLS fans we had here in the U.S. the best experience in the world, the ability with one click to watch all MLS matches with no blackouts,” Cue said. “We thought we wouldn’t grow internationally until later, and obviously, we’ve accelerated that, given Messi.”

Xavi Asensi, Inter Miami’s chief business officer, spoke on The Messi Effect and said the club is projecting $200 million in revenue in 2024, more than triple what it was before Messi’s arrival. “Night and day,” he said.

Cue and Garber said heading into next season, there are initiatives planned to drive even more viewership outside the United States.

“We’re a league that’s playing in a global sport that has global fans and viewer aspirations, and the only way we can do that in accelerated fashion is with a global partnership, which is easily accessible to fans around the world,” Garber said. “You add to that the most important player in the history of the game. It gives us energy behind this broad global strategy.”

Other topics addressed at the conference were the upcoming 2024 Copa America and 2026 World Cup, both of which will be held in the United States, with the World Cup being co-hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens will host World Cup games, and will likely also be a venue for Copa America, though those sites have not yet been announced.

Copa America, from June 20-July 15, will feature all 10 South American countries and the top six teams from CONCACAF (North and Central America and the Caribbean).

Miami-Dade mayor Daniella Levine Cava and Miami mayor Francis Suarez, who wore an Inter Miami jersey for his welcome remarks, stressed how South Florida has become a key player in the world of soccer. Along with Messi’s arrival, FIFA recently opened a headquarters in Coral Gables that will house 300 employees, and the CONCACAF headquarters are in downtown Miami.

Among the many entrepreneurs networking at soccerex were two with Inter Miami ties: former player Brek Shea and Gaby Mas, daughter of team co-owner Jorge Mas.

Shea and former U.S. national team teammate Geoff Cameron hope to launch a soccer-specific training facility in South Florida for amateur through elite level players who want to be in peak form and are between teams or don’t have access to soccer-specific trainers and physical therapists.

Mas, 27, is the founder of (re)boot, a fashion line that focuses on upcycling and recycling worn soccer equipment to tackle textile waste. Mas played soccer at Carrollton School and Pinecrest Premier and noticed she had a closet full of old jerseys that were going to waste. She saw the same issue on a bigger scale around the Inter Miami equipment room and decided to take action.

Mas has a master’s degree in service design from the Royal College of Art in London and approached the club about repurposing excess materials to construct game-worn jerseys and training shirts that could be re-sold. She is now licensed to do the same throughout MLS. Tuesday she announced a partnership with Avery Dennison, which will supply jock tag labels on each jersey, incorporating technology that will offer an interactive digital experience for fans via their mobile devices.

“Now it’s about doing outreach and getting funding, so we can collect enough material and repurpose it to sell as official merchandise, which would be the first upcycled official fan merchandise in the league,” Mas said. “I want to get people on board with upcycling and participating in the circular economy.”