What a day, huh? Soccer transfer talk is a heck of a drug.
Lionel Messi, the world’s greatest soccer player, is coming HERE, to the USA, and to Major League Soccer. And to AppleTV and Adidas, who are chipping in. To a closed league. With no promotion and relegation.
Members of The Church of Latter-Day Promotion & Relegation™ are likely self-flagellating themselves as penance, seeing America’s top-flight, often-maligned league finally succeed in this long-rumored poaching endeavor.
Which means, Messi will eventually be HERE, in New York City, playing against both New York City FC and, to a lesser extent, in New Jersey to play Red Bulls.
If it all comes to pass, NYC waits until next season to host Messi, but RBNY hosts Miami this year on August 26.
NYC goes to Miami Sept. 30 for their first crack at the world champion — get your Third Rail $10 road trip tickets while you can on the Chant app! Which reminds me, it’s time to look at flights…
Here’s a quick whiparound of today’s Messi reaction on Twitter…
We saw the tea leaves swirling on Monday night…
While the world buzzed this morning…
Then the announcement from Messi himself…
Expert trolling by the US Open Cup folk:
News of the deal slowly leaked out this morning, and the soccer media was overjoyed.
How will this change American soccer and MLS in the future?
Lonely Hearts Soccer Club with Alexi Lalas on Messi, MLS expansion, pro/rel … and Messi at MetLife Stadium?
I was lucky enough to catch Alexi Lalas’ spontaneous Twitter Spaces session today on the MLS Messi news. Thanks to Alexi for inviting me in to chat as well for a good nine-minute chat.
You can hear the whole session here, but here are his reactions to my questions (I joined at 50:00 mark), as I struggle for oxygen on the smokey Connecticut coast.
Did MLSSoccer.com drop the ball today on the Messi launch?
False 9: Everyone’s celebrating the Messi news — It’s everywhere. The one place you don’t see any news about it yet is MLSsoccer.com. (Note: this at 3 PM ET) It feels really odd that the league doesn’t have even something, a teaser or anything ready for when this moment may have happened. After the rumors and everything, it’s like you think you would have something pre-written and ready to go at the push of a button and take advantage of this media machine.
Alexi Lalas: Well, I mean this well this probably came about very quickly. I mean, I’m done and I’m just reading tea leaves here. This was going back and forth, and to your point, this isn’t done. So I think MLS has a responsibility — they can’t tease something if they feel that the deal is done. But if they just don’t want to do anything until literally he is there and signs something I can understand that. So yeah, I mean, until it’s official, it’s not official.
And look, this could blow up. Who knows? Strange things happen and the Saudis could come back and, as the line goes, make him an offer he can’t refuse.
How fast can Messi-fueled MLS grow, and could we see pro/rel?
False 9: I wrote a piece a while back that you tweeted months ago about the possibility of MLS expanding to the point where they could split into two tiers — a premier league (small-case) and MLS2 and so on. Does this open the door now for accelerated MLS expansion — for (MLS Commissioner Don) Garber to say “Anyone, if you have $500 million, the line starts to the left,” and we’re gonna expand as fast as we can now that Messi’s here and hopefully he will not be the last big name to come in with this extra media attention. What are your thoughts on that?
AL: Yeah, I mean, it dramatically shows intent. But more than intent, actually, execution. If you’re Major League Soccer, and if you’re Don Garber, and you’re hoping to entice future owners that are now going to be paying even more than $500 million, maybe those owners look and say, “Hey listen, if this is the direction that it’s going, and 2026 is coming along, even though it’s a dramatic increase in terms of $500 million than previous, it’s still a good deal.”
So yeah, I mean that’s what he is absolutely hoping to sell, and I think will be selling that going forward and all of the new eyeballs. And you know if you’re Don Garber, and you have potential owners out there, if and when that first game with Messi happens, you’re damn right you’re going to have them sitting in your box with you to take it all in and breathe it all in. And hopefully, it’s that magic potion that gets them to write the check.
This is an advertisement for Don Garber and for the ownership of Major League Soccer and to what they are, what they want to be, and more importantly, when you are selling potential teams, what they could be.
I mean we remember that first game with (David) Beckham, and all of the attention, and the “Beckham Cam,” and, you know, behind the scenes, it was crazy — It’s a whole other book that I could write about that first day … It was incredible theater and drama, but it makes you want to be a part of it.
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So yeah, I mean, this is an advertisement for Don Garber and for the ownership of Major League Soccer and to what they are, what they want to be, and more importantly, when you are selling potential teams, what they could be.
As it relates to Pro/Rel, and MLS1 and MLS2, you know, again, until someone actually tells me how you would go about doing that … Like you just said, San Diego just came in and paid $500 million, but within that is the understanding that you are going to mitigate the business challenge that comes with the potential of relegation. And now you’re going to go back to people and say, “Oh no, we actually are going to do [relegation.]”
So how do you make them whole? How do you change their minds to accept that, “OK, this is, this is still good for me” and how does somebody in that initial year when that changeover happens? … While I’ve talked about this, and to your point, it.sounds good. But the devil is in the details, and I still haven’t figured out what those details are … it’ll be interesting to ultimately see how that works.
And again, that’s an intra-MLS type of promotion-relegation. And again, you know Messi’s coming to a league where there is no relegation. I guess, from his perspective, since he’s coming into Miami, that’s a good thing because he doesn’t have to worry about that danger.
False 9: How many MLS teams do you think would take advantage of Messi’s visit to their city and look to expand? For example, New York City hosts them or Red Bulls host Inter Miami — do you think they could maybe look at MetLife Stadium and say, “You know, we could put 80,000 in there?“
AL: Yeah, I think so. First off, I think Miami is going to have to do that, right? Because, I mean, and that’s nothing against their temporary stadium because they’ve actually done a really good job in Fort Lauderdale … but, it’s also very small and they could with Messi now conceivably sell three times that.
If you have Messi coming, and you can sell 60,000 tickets to something like that, then maybe you say ‘Alright, I will rent out whatever the normal dome or whatever stadium is there,’ because it just makes financial sense. So it would not surprise me if those games are shifted to a different place
“But not always, because there is an element of making it the most prized ticket out there, and again, introducing people to your environment, that’s going to last much longer than Messi. You don’t want to be selling something that’s false, ultimately, in terms of the experience. And often times, that experience is directly related to that environment, to that stadium.
You are losing a little bit of value and maybe long-term type of thinking. maybe you think, ‘Hey listen, we will take the hit in that we could make three times what we’re making.’ But again, we’re bringing people and we’re making that ticket as prized a possession as anybody has ever seen when it comes to sports in that market.
False 9: Absolutely, I’m very, very happy as a season ticket holder that [NYCFC] already made us renew for next year at a set price, because those tickets are gonna get mighty expensive when Messi comes to town.
AL: Well, I guarantee you that the Inter Miami front office folks over there, if and when this gets done, the first thing that you’re going to see in your inbox if you’re a season ticket holder is, “Hey, let’s make sure you renew those season tickets!” So everybody will. So it’ll be interesting to see.