Jorge Mas meets us in his office on the 12th floor of an elegant Coral Gables office building with a view of Miami to the east. He apologizes for wearing a t-shirt and jeans because the air conditioning wasn’t working. This is where Mas manages the MasTec ($9.28 billion market cap) engineering firm and designs the future of Inter Miami, the soccer team he founded in 2018. Three years later, he became the club’s owner-director. Jorge Mas has just turned the soccer world upside down by signing Lionel Messi, who chose Inter Miami over a return to Barcelona and a lucrative offer from Saudi Arabia.
Mas is a Cuban-American entrepreneur and son of Jorge Mas Canosa, the prominent anti-Castro leader who died in exile in 1997. He shares team ownership with his brother José and former UK soccer star, David Beckham. In the past few weeks, he made more moves to transform the franchise and the city of Miami, but also Major League Soccer (MLS) and the future of sports in the United States. Mas stunned everyone again by signing midfielder Sergio Busquets, a long-time Messi teammate, and Argentine coach Tata Martino, who previously coached the star for FC Barcelona and Argentina’s national team.
Our interview took us to the location where the club plans to build a new stadium, where Mas told us everything is ready to welcome the star. Messi will make his Inter Miami debut on July 21 against Cruz Azul (Mexico) amid unprecedented anticipation and sky-high ticket resale prices. One of the final details to be ironed out is Messi’s new number 10 jersey. A preliminary design lies on a credenza among a clutter of motivational phrases and books by Henry Kissinger and NBA coach Phil Jackson. The Miami-born Mas, who also owns a stake in the Real Zaragoza (Spain) soccer club, says more surprises are ahead, and confirmed that Messi will be paid “$50-60 million” a year. Mas also promised Messi an ownership share in the club upon retirement, a percentage of income from global broadcast rights (owned by Apple TV), and revenue from the sale of Adidas equipment.
Question. It’s the most expensive signing in MLS history. Was it less than Saudi Arabia’s offer?
Answer. So I’m told [smiles].
Q. Were you always planning on bringing in Messi?
A. In 2019, we began to think about how we could bring him to Miami, a booming global city. We want people to identify US soccer with Miami. It’s a great place to live and it’s all about business. Everyone wants to move here.
Q. The taxes are favorable...
A. We don’t have local or state taxes... and there’s an important element of familiarity. Messi will be back in this hemisphere, almost the same time zone as Rosario [Messi’s hometown in Argentina]. But selling him on the idea of soccer in the United States was the most important task. This is the biggest commercial market on the planet. Messi can turn the MLS into one of the top two or three leagues in the world.
Q. Why will this time be different than, say, after the 1994 World Cup [played in nine US cities]?
A. A lot has been invested. There are two big milestones [in US soccer]: Pelé's signing by the New York Cosmos [in 1975] and David Beckham by Los Angeles [Galaxy] in 2007. Messi will take the league to another level. I believe he has a desire to make a mark, and he will be able to continue doing this after his playing days are over. When he retires, he will have a role in the club.
Q. It’s the Beckham model... and he ended up founding Inter Miami.
A. I envision a life after soccer for Messi very similar to David or Michael Jordan’s lives. He will be able to work in a market that keeps on growing. He will have opportunities here that don’t exist in other places.
Q. What was the courtship like?
A. Long. It took three years and the last 18 months were very intense. We had many conversations with Jorge [Messi’s father and representative]. By the end of May, I knew we had a deal. David’s conversations with Lionel were limited to soccer because he was still playing [for Paris St-Germain], and he didn’t want to pressure him. We spoke in Barcelona, Miami, Rosario, Doha... I spent the entire World Cup in Qatar watching Argentina. The Apple TV contract was a very important factor in closing the deal.
Q. What percentage of the [Apple TV] contract is for him?
A. I don’t know. Our part of the deal is the salary package and ownership stake after retirement. What I do know is that conversations with Apple are going very well and that their interests are aligning. If soccer grows in the United States, he will benefit. It’s a fair deal.
Q. What about the Adidas deal?
A. He was already an Adidas player. He’ll receive income from jersey sales, but that’s no different from any other top athlete.
Q. What role did the MLS and the other teams play in the signing? Some say they helped out financially.
A. They haven’t put up any money, but the MLS played a key role with sponsors.
Q. Does it benefit everyone?
A. Of course! I predict that we’ll have five or ten times more soccer fans within three years.
Q. That will be easy with Latinos, but what about the average American who follows professional football, baseball, basketball and more?
A. Those are the type of people who will be interested in the best player in the world. Here in the US, a lot of people watch the Premier League [UK] and La Liga [Spain], as well as Mexico’s MX league – more than the MLS. There are fans of Manchester United, Madrid, Barça... That’s all going to change.
Q. And you? What’s your favorite team?
A. Real Madrid. My love for soccer began in 1973 at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium [the home of Real Madrid]. I have been a Real Madrid fan for many years and it’s close to my heart, as Florentino Pérez [the current president of Real Madrid] knows. Now I am pink and black [Inter Miami’s colors]. Becoming president of Real Zaragoza also redirected my loyalties a bit. I’ve grown very fond of Zaragoza [northeast Spain] and its people.
Q. What’s your goal in Zaragoza and what do you think you’ve achieved there since you began in 2022?
A. It is a well-structured project in which I represent a group of investors [including Joseph Oughourlian, president of Prisa, the publishing group of EL PAÍS]. The goal is clear – return to the top division. The foundation needed improvement – the academy, the training center, La Romareda [stadium] – all are a top priority. We want the stadium to look good for the runup to the 2030 World Cup and for the city itself. Zaragoza deserves a world-class stadium. My vision for the next five years: Zaragoza will boast a state-of-the-art stadium and a team competing in the top division.
Q. What will [Sergio] Busquets do for Inter Miami?
A. It’s essential for us to surround Messi with players of his caliber. We have been talking to Busquet for about a year now. He will be very important in the locker room and even more so for the guys in the academy.
Q. You said surround him with players… who else is on the way?
A. Two or three more.
Q. Jordi Alba?
A. We’ve been talking with Jordi Alba.
Q. Luis Suárez?
A. He’s under contract and has a clause, so I’m not sure that will happen. We have also talked to Di Maria, but it seems like he is about to sign with another team. All our announcements will be made by July 15.
Q. Are you worried about upsetting the competitive balance between Inter Miami and the other teams?
A. Leo’s [Messi] arrival is good for everyone. It will generate interest among the young and not-so-young soccer fans who will want to see him play.
Q. How do all the upcoming international competitions in the US figure into your plans? The Copa America and the FIFA Club World Cup in 2025, and the 2026 FIFA World Cup jointly hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada.
A. We’re building a new, $400 million stadium in a much more convenient location, right next to the [Miami] airport. The plan is to open in the fall of 2025.
Q. Will there be team tours in Europe or Asia?
A. Yes, during the preseason, which for us is in January and February.
Q. You’re currently playing in a 18,000-seat stadium about 40 kilometers [25 miles] north of Miami. Will the new stadium accommodate all the demand that’s brewing?
A. We have upped its capacity from 23,000 to 30,000 seats, and we are focusing more on all the VIP accommodations.
Q. Will skyrocketing ticket prices discourage fans from following the team?
A. We’re going to try to hold prices down. This is a city of hardworking men and women, not just wealthy people. I want the fans who have been with us from the beginning to continue enjoying the team. The tickets will be more expensive, but there will be more availability as well. The situation with tickets for [Messi’s] first game was that 1,000 had already been sold and they shot up on the resale market. I’m not a fan of the secondary market, but that’s the way it is.
Q. Will the time come when the MLS can attract big-name players who are not in the twilight of their careers?
A. Some Latin American players have used the Portuguese league as a springboard to Europe. I believe that now they will come here first and move up to the big clubs. I hope that in three years we will be the new platform for young players, specifically South Americans.
Q. What are Messi’s goals for Inter Miami? The team is having a tough season and is in last place in the Eastern Conference.
A. We still have an opportunity to win two cups. We are in the semifinals of qualifying for the CONCACAF tournament [41 member associations representing countries and territories in North America, the Caribbean and Central America]. We still have a chance of making the playoffs in our league, but it will be tough.
Q. [Messi’s] performance with Paris [St-Germain] was disappointing. What if the same happens here?
A. He’s a competitive beast... and he did win in Paris. Not the Champions League, but he won. A single player can’t win the Champions League alone. I can only speak for Miami, but I think what happened there is very sad. He didn’t deserve to be booed at those games.
Q. As the president of the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, how do you see the situation in Cuba?
A. Very complicated. My late father’s struggle for Cuban freedom was a 60-year battle. The biggest crime of the Castro regime has been the separation of families. We are burying a generation of Cubans who have lived entire lives far away from their loved ones. I always cite the example of my mother. She left Cuba at a very young age to come [to the US] and marry my father. She was never able to go back and see her father. It’s incomprehensible. Cuba could be an extremely advanced country. It’s very sad and we live it every day – Miami is a product of that exile.
Q. Have you ever been to Cuba?
Q. Would you consider going without any political change?
A. No, no.
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