The world of football as we know it changed forever when Ronaldo departed Manchester United for Saudi Arabia.
The nail in the coffin came 5 months later, when Lionel Messi ultimately opted for the MLS after turning down Saudi Arabia and with Barcelona unable to fix their financial issues in time to get their club hero to come home.
It became obvious that simply offering truckloads of money isn’t always enough when Messi turned down a billion-dollar offer from Al Hilal. After all, why would it be enough when the World Cup winner ranked second in 2023 on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid athletes? The guy secured generational wealth years ago and isn’t solely going after racking up more zeroes.
That’s why he made it clear that Barcelona was his priority. All he wanted to do was come back to where he never wanted to leave in the first place. Two years on from his exit, and the same reasons that gave Messi no choice but to sign for PSG still apply today: Barcelona just doesn’t have the funds for a player of his caliber.
So, if there was no realistic route for a fairytale Barca return, and Al Hilal was never even considered in his mind; the last option on the table was Inter Miami. In the past, he had spoken highly of the US and back in December 2020, he said it was his dream to one day suit up for an MLS club.
He’s also owned multiple properties in South Florida for years, so it was almost a no-brainer decision to come stateside.
And so it happened. Messi is now in Miami (let’s forget about the fact that he’s playing in Fort Lauderdale for a moment). What ultimately turned his head to the 305 was more than just a “dream” or owning a couple apartments and houses.
Yes, Messi did admit in an interview back in June that it was a “family decision”.
However, his contract and agreement with the MLS, Inter Miami and other parties tells us that there were other bits and pieces that eventually sealed the deal for the greatest player of all time.
Like we mentioned, it was going to take more than just billions to lure Messi away from Europe.
This is where Apple and Adidas stepped in.
As you probably know, Messi is an Adidas athlete. He’s been sponsored by them since 2006, and he upgraded to a lifetime contract in 2017. He’s been the face of their football promotion for nearly two decades, starring in countless commercials and marketing projects over the course of his career. At many points, he’d feature in crossovers with athletes in other sports as well as celebrities.
It’s safe to say that Messi is basically synonymous with Adidas. Although undisclosed, it has been reported that the brand with the three stripes will be handing him a cut of revenue for moving to the MLS. It should be noted, though, that this particular deal has nothing to do with the league itself; it is strictly an agreement between the company and Messi.
With Adidas being Major League Soccer’s official kit provider, it’s almost as if Messi has gone full circle in his career. Funny enough, the Argentine had never played for a club sponsored by Adidas until now; Barcelona and PSG are both with Nike. On top of that, the only times throughout his career that we ever saw him fully suited up in Adidas gear were with Argentina.
Yet another milestone in an illustrious career already full of them.
As for Apple, their deal with Messi does indirectly involve the MLS.
As part of a $2.5 billion decade-long media rights partnership, Apple TV became the official and exclusive provider of all MLS matches earlier this year. Messi’s arrival in the United States means that he will get a cut of revenue from new subscribers to the MLS Season Pass streaming service within the platform.
When details about Messi’s Inter Miami contract finally emerged, it came as no surprise.
The 36-year-old is earning close to $60 million per year until late December 2025, excluding the revenue cuts from Adidas and Apple. If you factor everything else, including signing bonuses and a stake in Inter Miami, Messi’s total annual earnings as an MLS player shoot up to $125-$150 million.
Off the base salary alone, Messi still finds himself in the top earners of world football. However, that amount is still significantly below other world class names.
Ironically enough, Messi was previously in the Top 5 until former Barcelona and PSG teammate and good friend Neymar decided to opt for the Al Hilal move. This officially made the Brazilian the most paid footballer in the world and of all time, which undoubtedly would’ve been Messi if he had chosen the Saudi club.
Here is the full list of the world’s highest paid footballers below, strictly off base salary:
Yes, Messi’s salary at Inter Miami doesn’t even come close to what he would’ve been making in an Al Hilal shirt, but he’s still racking up some serious cash. He could’ve chosen Al Hilal to secure billionaire status way sooner, but he’ll still reach it anyways, regardless of how much longer it takes.
What was obviously more important for him in the present day is securing the best future for his family, and moving to Miami was the best choice for him, Antonella and their three kids.
Whether you want to call it “unprecedented” or “unusual”, what we can all agree on is that Messi’s Inter Miami contract is a landmark for the sports history books.
Irwin Kishner, co-chair of the Sports Law Group, said it best:
"That deal has never been given to anybody in baseball, basketball, football, and so it's very unique. It's a generational-type thing, and it's hard to think if you would ever see anything comparable."
Not only is it a player - who is the best at what he does - receiving salary for being a member of a professional team; it’s a combination of agreements between multiple parties in order to make a statement and, of course, give the guy what he outright deserves.
What these different groups put on the table for a player of this caliber has to be attractive, first and foremost. As humble as he is, Messi won’t just settle for the bare minimum; he is surely intelligent enough to know his worth and know what he desires for the future of himself, his family and his brand.
That’s why Messi, unlike many other athletes and similar to the post-career moves by Michael Jordan, plays his cards carefully. Taking billions from Saudi Arabia would be just too easy, and it really would not look good on his resume being who he is. He has a much bigger plan than simply going after financial freedom for the generations to come for the Messi family.
Despite lacking some zeroes, Inter Miami and Major League Soccer’s proposal is way more appealing than any other offer Messi received, especially knowing that the United States is a huge market for sports. Soccer isn’t the most popular sport here, but the arrival of Messi is already changing that.
One thing this may change is how streaming services negotiate with star players. After Apple’s agreement with Messi, other platforms like Amazon Prime Video and Youtube TV may be desperate to get something similar going. The marketing and promotional content for the MLS Season Pass is almost entirely about Messi; you probably have seen the billboard that Apple put up last month in Miami.
This being said, it’s hard to believe that a contract like this would become a new standard. It will definitely become something of an end goal for future superstar athletes, but by no means should it be something easily accessible.
What this will also do is shake up the way athletes negotiate their contracts, especially for those that are on the same level as Messi in their respective sports; namely LeBron James and Steph Curry. Could this open the doors for them to go after a unique contract situation similar to Messi’s revenue-sharing deal with third parties?
We’ll just have to wait and see.
In recent history, no athlete has made the instant impact that Messi has made upon arriving to the United States. You’d have to go way back to the 1960s when Brazilian legend Pele arrived in the Big Apple to play for the New York Cosmos.
It caused a soccer explosion across the country. If it weren’t for that move, we may not have seen David Beckham come to the MLS, which in turn would mean that Messi would have never come to Miami because there would be no designated player rule to accommodate such a player.
Right now, all eyes are on Lionel Messi - not just in the United States but across the world. Apple TV is making sure of that because despite having exclusive rights to broadcast MLS games via the Season Pass, they made sure that the service is available worldwide.
No matter where you live, you have full access to every touch of the ball Messi makes in pink and black.
It’s been a wild ride so far, with Messi scoring 10 goals in his first 7 games to lift the Leagues Cup, the first trophy in Inter Miami’s short history as a club. He has also helped the side into another final in quick succession, beating FC Cincinnati in the US Open Cup on penalties.
Most recently, he took care of business off the bench in his MLS debut at New York Red Bulls, tapping in a beautifully orchestrated goal that will be on repeat for years to come.
If you really think about it, when haven’t all eyes been on Messi?