Lionel Messi is bringing a lot of attention to the MLS. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Messi Mania will hit the New York City metro area Saturday, and with it brings some of the highest ticket prices in MLS history.
Although Lionel Messi has already played in eight matches for Inter Miami since he officially joined the club in mid-July, he’ll make his Major League Soccer regular season debut against New York Red Bulls in one of the most anticipated – and expensive – soccer games of the year. Saturday’s match counts toward the regular season standings, while Messi’s previous eight matches (seven in the Leagues Cup, one in the U.S. Open Cup) were part of in-season tournament competitions. Miami currently sits last in MLS’ Eastern Conference with 11 games to play.
Before Messi even set foot on an MLS pitch, tickets for games rose to ridiculously high prices for even the possibility of a glimpse of arguably the greatest soccer player of all time. Messi’s dynamic play since he joined has only elevated the interest in his games. He’s scored 10 goals and assisted three more in the past month as Miami won the Leagues Cup last Saturday and advanced to the U.S. Open Cup final with a win over FC Cincinnati on Wednesday.
And as Messi finally heads into the regular season, the average ticket prices for the Red Bulls-Inter Miami game rose by almost 1,000% percent compared with the 2022 season, according to multiple secondary ticket markets. A year ago, the average Red Bulls ticket sold for $46-$66. But after Messi signed with Inter Miami and over the past month, the average price to see him reached as high as $503. That’s 48% more expensive than the New York Jets home opener ($339) and 67% more expensive than the New York Giants home opener ($301), according to TickPick.
“It just goes to show you how expensive or how much demand there is to see Messi,” TickPick brand manager Kyle Zorn told Yahoo Sports, “and what he’s bringing to every single away venue that he’s going to.”
This Red Bulls game isn’t just the company’s highest-seller this season — it’s the highest-seller in Red Bulls history, according to Zorn. TickPick sold 108% more tickets to this game than to the second-closest Red Bulls match against New York City FC in May.
Other ticketing agencies saw similar numbers. A Vivid Seats representative told Yahoo Sports prices for this Red Bulls match were around 184% higher than previous record: a 2022 friendly against Barcelona, which is also Messi’s old team (although Messi played for Paris Saint-Germain by that point in his career). Saturday’s match will also likely have the fourth-highest average ticket price ever for an MLS club, behind two other Messi games (at FC Dallas and at Nashville SC) and the 2021 MLS Cup final between New York City FC and the Portland Timbers.
The Messi effect trickled down to the rest of MLS as well. SeatGeek, another secondary ticketing company, told Yahoo Sports they’ve seen a 15% overall increase in the average ticket price across all MLS games.
A once-in-a-lifetime moment
Prior to his arrival, Messi played his entire professional and international career overseas and only played on American soil a handful of times. He saw action for Barcelona during a 2006 friendly against Mexican side Club América, and later played for Argentina in the 2016 Copa America Centenario.
The chance to watch an all-time great like Messi play live is another major factor in the ticket hike, according to SeatGeek. And these once-in-a-life-time experiences have driven price increases in the past.
NBA tickets rose by 14% during Kobe Bryant’s final season in 2015-16, according to SeatGeek, and average Los Angeles Lakers tickets rose by almost 200% for the year. Bryant’s last NBA game on April 13, 2016, drew a season-high average price of $977. A similar situation unfolded in the NFL when Tom Brady signed with Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. Home game prices doubled to see Brady, while away tickets tripled, per SeatGeek (the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role with the limited demand at the time).
Celebs may show up en masse — but will Messi actually play?
There is a question, though, of how much Messi will even play — if at all. Inter Miami head coach Tata Martino hinted that he may rest players for this match after Wednesday’s game went to penalty kicks. Messi has also started seven of his eight matches since he joined the club, and Martino has expressed concern about Messi’s minutes piling up.
So, while tickets prices will be high for this match, spectators may not get to see much, if any, of Messi.
If they do, some big names could be there.
Messi’s appearances this summer have drawn some high-profile names to MLS venues. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, tennis star Serena Williams and former New York Yankees star Derek Jeter all attended Messi’s debut in Miami on July 22. DJ Khaled’s son cried during player intros and Messi gave Kardashian’s son, Saint, a signed jersey after the game.
Rapper Rick Ross attended his first-ever soccer game on Aug. 2 just to see Messi play against Orlando City SC and said Messi’s decision to play in Miami “changed the entire energy of the state.”
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and teammates Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Sam Hubbard all were in attendance during Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal as well — though they were rocking FC Cincinnati jerseys.
Zorn believes Messi’s arrival in the New York area — although the team plays outside the city in Harrison, New Jersey — could bring a whole new level of celebrity to the stadium. Just think of the names that attend Madison Square Garden to watch the New York Knicks or New York Rangers.
But two groups who won’t be in attendance are players from the Jets or Giants. The two NFL teams will square off in their final preseason matchup at nearby MetLife Stadium — about 10 miles north of Red Bull Arena. Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers had been making the rounds of the hottest New York events since he joined the team, from Knicks and Rangers games to a Taylor Swift concert and the 2023 Tony Awards.
Rodgers, who’s set to make his Jets debut, will have to miss this one. Everyone else in the New York area seems to willing to pay big money for the chance to go.