Miami has become the epicenter of celebrity activity in the United States, drawing in a number of familiar faces comparable only to the red carpets of the Oscars or the Met Gala: from Nicole Kidman to Marc Anthony, sports stars like LeBron James and Serena Williams, and global influencers like Kim Kardashian, who admitted to having flown to the city specially in order to see the dream of her son, Saint — who braided his hair for the occasion to form the M-10 symbol — come true. Lionel Messi-mania is at fever pitch at Inter Miami CF, whose signing of the Argentina captain shocked MLS fans and has caused an influx of U.S. cultural icons, who make the pilgrimage to the 21,000-seater DRV PNK Stadium in Florida to pay homage to the player considered by many the greatest of all time.
With a new title already added to his trophy cabinet — the 2023 Leagues Cup — the sporting impact of the seven-time Ballon d’Or has been instant at Inter Miami, a club founded in 2018 and currently languishing second-bottom in the MLS Eastern Conference standings. But the legendary forward has already transcended the playing field and his symbolism in Miami’s large Latino community, filling seats, murals, billboards and, above all, the income statements of his new club on the basis of his vast fame.
Marta Tamayo, a journalist specializing in sporting economics, confirms that the team’s owners expect turnover to double that of the previous year. “The average price of tickets for Inter Miami matches has more than doubled, going from $54 to $128. On the secondary market, tickets go for as much as $864, six times more than a year ago, and subscriptions to the U.S. league on Apple TV have doubled,” says Tamayo. In addition, since his arrival, Messi’s jersey is the best-selling merchandising item among all the major sports leagues in the United States.
Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham stated in July that the signing of Messi was going to be “the greatest sports signing in USA history.” In addition to being the club’s director of operations, the former Manchester United and Real Madrid player has become a luxury host for Messi and a brand ambassador for the stars who come to watch him play. Both he and his wife, designer and Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, have turned their social networks into a prime advertising showcase for Inter Miami. “The Beckhams in Miami are working to be the equivalent of what the Kardashians are to Calabasas [Los Angeles],” journalist Greta Álvarez, an expert in pop culture and a resident in the United States, tells EL PAÍS. “They are in the process of adding Miami as part of their brand and they are doing so by consuming much of the Latin culture that is so intrinsic to this city: we have seen David and Victoria dancing salsa, hanging out with Marc Anthony and drinking Polar, a famous Venezuelan beer. Is all this to promote Inter Miami? I think so, regardless of the fact that they are enjoying it and doing it with a lot of respect.”
The more than 100 million followers that the Beckhams have on their Instagram accounts are daily witnesses to each of the entertainment industry figures that are seen in the stadium, posing smiling with Karlie Kloss, Rauw Alejandro, P Diddy and Camila Cabello. “When I saw Messi, it completely unlocked my fan girl mode,” said Cabello, who had the luxury of chatting with the player in the dugout. Nobody who is anybody leaves the stadium without being photographed with one of the Beckhams or without a brief greeting from Messi. In the absence of eye-catching results on the pitch, it is a good thing for Inter Miami for a Grammy winner to be glimpsed in the stands.
The strategy of attracting famous faces has provided Inter Miami with a media impact that goes far beyond the sports pages. For example, in recent weeks, the club’s Instagram account has grown from one million followers to 15 million. The second most-followed club in MLS, the Los Angeles Galaxy, which Beckham himself popularized when he joined in 2007, has around 1.5 million followers. The dynamic is increasingly reminiscent of the one carried out in the 1980s by the Los Angeles Lakers, which for the past 40 years has filled its courtside seats with the most recognizable residents of the Hollywood Hills, with Jack Nicholson as the franchise standard-bearer. As legendary Lakers owner Jerry Buss put it: “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could have movie stars on a regular basis in the arena? Eventually, everyone would know that if they wanted to see a star there would be only one place to do it: in the Jerry Buss box.”
Beckham confessed to having dreamed a decade ago about Messi transferring his soccer skills to the Florida coast. “That’s what I wanted to see for the sport,” he said. It seems no coincidence that, amid the Messi phenomenon, Inter Miami has just announced the construction of what will be its new stadium from 2025, Freedom Park, a state-of-the-art facility with a larger capacity for spectators and a vast entertainment and gastronomic offering. In Álvarez’s words, Beckham has hit the nail on the head by making celebrity presence an integral part of the club’s marketing. “It’s a new team, and to get noticed beyond the cool pink jerseys and having the best player in the world on the team, it doesn’t hurt to have familiar faces at games. This elevates word of mouth and further helps the league position itself for a target audience that may not watch sports channels on television. Celebrities generate clicks, retweets and comments... and well, if they’re your friends or former neighbors, why not send them a little text message with an invitation to your club’s VIP box?”
The social impact of Messi’s arrival is even more striking in a country where soccer is far from being one of the most popular sports. However, more and more Hollywood stars have decided to look beyond the NBA or the NFL to invest in the beautiful game on a global level: Natalie Portman (Angel City FC), Reese Witherspoon (Nashville SC), Ryan Reynolds (Wrexham) and Matthew McConaughey (Austin FC) are just a few examples. At a time of seismic structural shift in international soccer, with the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund recruiting players like Karim Benzema and Neymar to join Cristiano Ronaldo in the Saudi Pro League, the duo of Lionel Messi and David Beckham is the most effective Western counterpoint to ensure that the glamour and barbiecore hedonism exuded by the promise of the American dream can stand up to the hegemony of petrodollars.
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