Lionel Messi could be the Missing Piece of the MLS puzzle
By Victoire H. Cogevina Reynal
Its official, Beckham’s MLS franchise is coming to Miami and the whole world is watching
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SR All Stars
Beckham, who retired from professional football after a very successful career in the world’s most coveted teams (Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris St Germain and LA Galaxy just to name a few), announced in 2013 he would form his own team. As part of the original contract he signed with the LA Galaxy, the former captain of England’s National Team was given the option to buy an MLS franchise for a fixed price of 25 million dollars at the end of his playing career. Just to add some context, back then the MLS was a newly formed league that nobody paid much attention to aside from the fact that Beckham himself had decided to retire there. Since then, the league has grown considerably and proof of this is that the owners of the two newest franchises entering the league will pay $150 million each for their respective teams.
The speculation became official last Monday (January 29th, 2018) in Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center at noon, when an auditorium filled with excited fans and VIP guests witnessed the newly-configured ownership group announce that Miami had finally been granted an MLS expansion franchise. The new partners include the Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son, the Mastec owners, Jorge and Jose Mas, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure and entertainment mogul Simon Fuller and of course the man himself, David Beckham. They all gave passionate speeches and openly announced they are planning to build the world’s most successful sports club. Even MLS commissioner Don Garber agreed.
One might think these are very big words to be throwing around, however I believe it won’t be as impossible as it sounds. The MLS has been challenging (to say the least) to football fans across the world because of many debatable reasons, including (but not limited) to its complicated rules, sometimes poor quality matches and lack of big fancy players. However this might change in the next few years, and I believe Beckham will single handily be responsible for this.
The man understands the key role entertainment has in monetizing a sport and, rest assured, his team will bring all the European glitz and glamour the MLS is so desperately missing.
However, a few things need to change with him: the Designated Player Rule AKA the “Beckham rule” was launched in 2007 to allow MLS teams to sign players outside their very restrictive salary cap. In short, the MLS implemented a whole new rule just to enable Beckham’s signing. Although this rule has continued to allow the league to add high profile players and a gave its clubs a competing chance for star players in the international soccer market, it is not enough.
Players such as David Villa, Ricardo Kaka, Sebastian Giovinco and Nicolas Lodeiro just to name a few could be considered the contemporary versions of Beckham. They all gave the MLS more visibility, however none of them brought to the league the global appeal it needs.
What if the MLS created the “Messi Rule” allowing for the best player of all time to come and spend his last playing years in the United States? What if they made a bold move to drive league growth the same way Neymar Jr. is doing for League 1? Or Beckham himself did for the MLS 10 years ago?
Let’s just imagine the impact this would have on the average attendance per game or even the marketing revenues! TV rights (lifeblood of most sports) nowadays bring soccer a fraction of the money that they do for other pro sports in the United States – $90 million a year for MLS vs. $2.7 billion for the NBA. The current deal expires in 2022, do you want to estimate how much this deal would go for if Messi is involved? Bear in mind that coincidentally, Messi’s contract with Barcelona FC ends in the summer of 2021.
The “Messi Rule” could be either having the MLS force clubs to pay or fundraise Messi’s fee with the excuse of the overall benefit of the league or possibly getting the sponsors involved in the payment. Either way this would be a fantastic case study on investment returns and I don’t see why the very wealthy men that already own these franchises wouldn’t want to see it grow exponentially. Same goes for Adidas where, if their sponsored star player and league combined, it could only translate into billions of dollars of sales revenues.
On the other hand, many of you may think, why would Messi ever agree to this? Well, if the MLS were to include a franchise option in his contract the same way they did for Beckham, as well as other perks that wouldn’t be unimportant to his personal life, like having his family live in the United States, the idea is not that absurd.
Some consider the MLS the future of American pro sports, when others argue its entrepreneurial limitations. Experts say the model has serious defects and therefore prevents the league from developing significant momentum. However, Beckham brings, once again, a new wave of undeniable hope to the league, and bringing Messi would only emphasize his quest of building and owning “one of the greatest clubs in the world.”
In fact, the MLS should consider this a statement to a really broad global audience that they are serious. A bold experiment intended to finally make football relevant in this country.