The round of 16 in the first-ever Leagues Cup kicks off on Sunday with a match between FC Dallas and the emerging favorite, Inter Miami. The tournament, which features crossover play between Major League Soccer (MLS) and Liga MX teams, has become a sensation thanks to Miami star Lionel Messi, whose impact has been immediate and undeniable.
Messi’s arrival has meant unprecedented commercial success for his team. Since the 36-year-old’s signing with the South Florida franchise, the club has witnessed a significant increase in social media following and international brand exposure. His pink No. 10 jersey is sold out and back ordered, and every game Messi has played so far has been sold out.
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Perhaps the most significant impact of Messi’s arrival hit home last week, when Ares Management Corp. (NYSE: ARES) closed on a $75 million preferred equity stake in Inter Miami, its second investment in the franchise. The club said it would use the funds for growth, including financing of its long-running stadium project, Miami Freedom Park.
But the real differentiator, and the one that is likely to create lasting financial impact for the club, has been on the pitch. Miami came into the tournament with the worst record in MLS, at 5-14-3. But with Messi and with his fellow Barcelona imports, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, the team has transformed into the top contender for the Leagues Cup title. They started as +1200 and are now +600 to win the tournament.
All that winning creates revenue. In addition to ticket sales, the Leagues Cup title brings with it $40 million in prize money, according to people familiar with the matter. There will also be regional bragging rights and a spot at the 2024 CONCACAF Champions Cup, which will dole out over “$5 million in financial distributions and prize money, an increase of more than five times compared with the CONCACAF Champions League era.”
While the team’s Leagues Cup performance has been phenomenal, other potential windfalls are within reach. If Miami can win a majority of its 11 remaining MLS matches, it could qualify for the playoffs, which would deliver another financial boost. Before Messi signed with the franchise, Points Bet had Miami at +20000 to win the 2023 MLS Cup; now the odds sit at +750, which is third best among the league’s 29 teams.
The Leagues Cup final will take place on August 19, and Inter Miami’s first post-cup MLS match kicks off on August 20 against Charlotte.
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