Lionel Messi’s Miami move sparks an instant ticket bonanza — even for MLS games he likely won’t play

Lionel Messi is coming to MLS, and ticket prices are soaring. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz, File)

Even before the announcement, before Lionel Messi said the words that will transform American soccer, before MLS could even clarify that no, hold on, no contract has yet been finalized, the bonanza began. It swept across the league, and picked up an unofficial name. “The Messi Effect,” some team officials are calling it. On Day 1 of this wild new world, MLS opponents sold tens of thousands of tickets, prices soared, and Inter Miami gained 4.1 million Instagram followers, surpassing every NFL team.

Messi is at least a month away from debuting in MLS. He is off to Asia soon for two mid-June friendlies with Argentina. Then he plans to rest. He’ll reportedly vacation back home in Rosario, then in Europe. He’ll officially sign with Miami on or after July 5. He’ll need some time to acclimate, and something of a mini-preseason after a mini-offseason. And only then will he play for Inter Miami, perhaps on July 21 against Cruz Azul, or perhaps as late as August.

Nonetheless, the Messi Effect bubbled up at D.C. United, which hosts Miami on July 8 — and sold upward of 3,000 tickets on Wednesday alone, according to a club source, for a match in which Messi almost certainly won’t play. By Thursday morning, the cheapest verified ticket available via the club and Ticketmaster had jumped to $300.

Even the Philadelphia Union, set to host Miami on June 24, saw a “spike” in standing-room-only ticket sales for that game, according to a club spokeswoman.

But for the games that Messi will actually grace, the spike was even more pronounced, according to club spokespeople and ticket brokers. By early evening, the Chicago Fire were on pace to sell some 10,000 tickets by end of day for their Oct. 3 game against Miami — more in one day than they’d previously sold since tickets first became available — despite raising the price of the cheapest ticket to $250.

Charlotte FC also sold more than 10,000 tickets Wednesday for Oct. 21, and will open the upper bowl of Bank of America Stadium, which it shares with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. The cheapest were priced at $125 apiece, and by 11 p.m. ET, the last pair had been snapped up; only resale tickets were still available, for anywhere between $182 and $10,000. (The get-in price for Charlotte’s prior game, against Toronto, in the lower bowl: $26.)

On the secondary market, meanwhile, prices rose to unprecedented heights. The New York Red Bulls, who typically command $20 or $30 for cheap resales, quickly sold out their Aug. 26 game against Miami — and saw the lowest StubHub prices climb to almost $500, including fees.

For LAFC on Sept. 3, the get-in price is around $700.

Even in St. Louis, which hosts Miami on July 15, before Messi’s expected debut, it had risen above $200, toward $300. Some savvy ticket holders, who’d read about realistic debut dates, instantly considered cashing in on the likely misguided spike — and, in some cases, recouping the entire price they’d paid for season tickets.

Clubs themselves also saw an opportunity to capitalize on Messi’s pull. Orlando City, for example, announced an updated ticketing scheme for its Sept. 24 rivalry match, including “priority access” for anybody who purchases new pro-rated season ticket packages or “four-match packs.”

Atlanta United had also been eyeing its Sept. 16 date with Miami for months, as Messi rumors swirled. Club officials had already decided that, if Messi were to join Inter, they’d open the upper bowl of their 71,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium for that game. Within hours of Wednesday’s announcement, those rafters tickets were available for $125 a pop; and around 12,000 sold in 15 hours, according to a club spokesman.

And as for Inter Miami?

July 1 tickets — before Messi’s arrival — remain available for $34.

Every game thereafter shows only a suspenseful message: “On sale date and time are in the works – please check back!”

Miami’s stopgap home, DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, holds just 18,000 people. Any rational observer would assume that executives have at least explored the possibility of playing Messi’s games at Hard Rock Stadium, the 65,000-capacity home of the Miami Dolphins. Inter Miami spokespeople did not respond to email inquiries, and a Dolphins spokeswoman said she had “nothing to share at this point,” but some sort of unique ticketing plan will surely be unveiled over the coming days and weeks.

And no matter what it is, demand will be astronomical. By Wednesday at noon ET, Google searches for “Inter Miami tickets” had already increased by more than 10,000% over what they’d been less than 48 hours prior.

(Google Trends)

For now, a fan’s best bet is a reseller, like StubHub, where the cheapest pair of tickets for July 21 versus Cruz Azul are $541 apiece — more than a pair would be for Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

Messi’s debut, whenever and wherever it may be, will likely end up being the most expensive ticket in MLS history.


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