Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami extended its Leagues Cup winning streak by beating Charlotte FC 4-0 in Friday’s quarterfinal match at DRV PNK Stadium in Florida.
Leagues Cup, the tournament that brings together 47 clubs from Major League Soccer (MLS) and Mexico’s Liga MX, has quickly become a hit, thanks largely to the Argentine soccer star’s performance, which included a goal against Charlotte.
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“Messi’s debut in the tournament’s opening game has caused an unbelievable surge of interest in the Leagues Cup,” Camilo Durana, EVP of club services and fan development at MLS, said in a phone call. “Across MLS Leagues Cup and club social-media handles, we’ve gained 24 million followers since the end of last season. And obviously Messi, with his 480 million Instagram followers, has been telling the story of his Leagues Cup experience.”
Messi’s debut against Cruz Azul of Mexico drew 1.75 million viewers on Univision—making it the second-most watched Spanish language club soccer telecast in the U.S. of all time, behind only Chivas vs. Barcelona in 2008, which drew 1.93 million according to the network. Apple, the league’s official broadcaster in the U.S., does not share viewership numbers but said the inaugural tournament’s first week had the three most-watched matches ever on MLS Season Pass, with viewers in almost 100 countries and regions worldwide.
“From a viewership standpoint, we have far exceeded expectations,” Durana said.” And much of that has been driven not just by domestic viewership but international viewership across the board. Throughout the Leagues Cup, 50% of our consumption is in Spanish and the other 50% is in English. So it speaks to the engagement of U.S. Hispanic audiences and the growth we’re seeing throughout Latin America.” The league partners with TV Azteca and Televisa to broadcast matches in Mexico.
The tournament’s stadium attendance has also outpaced projections.
According to MLS, 800,000 fans have attended Leagues Cup matches, for an average of 18,000 fans in each of the 45 group-stage games. Inter Miami’s two group-stage games rank as their first- and second-most attended matches in the club’s history.
In addition, 22 of the 24 million followers MLS has gained since last season have come since Messi’s arrival was announced in June. Inter Miami has 13.4 million followers on Instagram, larger than any NFL, NHL or MLB team.
Messi’s on and off-the-pitch impact on the league means more money for MLS.
“Our partners are thrilled, and we are already getting outreach from new partners to come on board next year,” Durana said. “We’ve seen a surge of interest and fully expect to see it far exceed this year’s sponsorship numbers and sponsorship roster in 2024.”
The Leagues Cup tournament will take place every summer around the international tournaments. “It’s definitely an art and science because we’re part of that global soccer ecosystem; we work hand in hand with CONCACAF and FIFA to build calendars,” Durana said.
In addition to the Leagues Cup, the U.S. will host Copa América in 2024, the FIFA Club World Cup in 2025 and the FIFA World Cup in 2026.
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