The Lionel Messi Era is already paying off for the owners of Inter Miami CF.
Ares Management Corp. (NYSE: ARES) has closed on a $75 million preferred equity stake in Inter Miami, marking its second investment into the MLS franchise. The club said in a statement that it would use the funds for growth initiatives, including its long-running stadium project.
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It’s unclear how the preferred equity is structured—it could give Ares a fixed rate of return, an income share, or future options to convert to common equity. If equity is changing hands, it often happens at a higher valuation than normal due to the status of the shares.
Last year, Sportico valued Inter Miami at $585 million—the 10th highest in MLS—but those numbers came before Messi’s signing, which has dramatically upended the club’s business. Inter Miami is not profitable, but managing owner Jorge Mas recently said in a televised interview that revenue would double in the next 12 months and that the club could be worth as much as $1.5 billion next year as a result of the signing.
“Ares has been an important collaborator over the last two years in helping to accelerate the growth of Inter Miami,” Mas said Friday in a statement. “This latest investment comes at an inflection point for the club with the planned development of our new stadium and the joining of Lionel Messi, among other key initiatives.”
The news comes two weeks after Messi made his MLS debut, considered by many to be the most important moment for MLS since it launched in 1996. The Argentine star is one of the most popular and talented athletes in the world, and his arrival has instantly given both the club and the league a larger global platform.
He’s also being heavily compensated. Messi has already agreed to a 2 ½-year contract with Inter Miami that will pay him about $150 million in salary and team equity options, according to someone familiar with the details. He is also expected to sign side deals with some of MLS’ largest corporate partners—Apple, Adidas and Fanatics—to let him share in the upside of the commercial boost spurred by his arrival.
In 2021, Ares made a $150 million preferred equity investment in the team, a transaction that happened as owners David Beckham and Jorge and Jose Mas bought out partners Marcelo Claure and Masayoshi Son. The team was valued in the $600-$650 million range, sources told Sportico at the time.
Ares’ initial investment is believed to be the first private equity buy into an MLS franchise. Like every other major U.S. league except for the NFL, MLS changed its rules in recent years to allow for institutional funds to own passive minority stakes in teams. No single fund can own more than 20% of a team’s equity, and no fund can have more than four MLS teams in its portfolio. No team can sell more than 30% of its equity to funds overall.
Inter Miami made its MLS debut in 2020 as an expansion team whose roots date back to David Beckham’s original MLS contract. The team currently plays in Fort Lauderdale, an hour from downtown Miami. The club is hoping to finish a new privately financed stadium in Miami by 2025.
On the field, Messi has five goals and an assist in just three games for Inter Miami CF. The team currently sits in last place in the 15-team Eastern Conference.
With assistance from Brendan Coffey.
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