Lionel Messi’s impact on MLS is clear and undeniable

Miami will play at Atlanta United on Saturday

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Brad Guzan was playing in Los Angeles for Chivas in 2007 when David Beckham joined the L.A. Galaxy.

Guzan saw the impact that the signing of one of the world’s more popular players had at home. Then, when Guzan was bought by Aston Villa in England, he experienced the growing international interest in MLS caused by Beckham’s decision.

Simply because of the signing of one player.

Sixteen years after Beckham helped MLS become more globally known, the worldwide awareness and reputation improvement is happening again with the signing of Lionel Messi, one of the great players in the sport’s history and who will be with Miami when it plays Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday.

“It was like, ‘Oh, yeah, America. Yeah.’ David Beckham was going to retire, make all this money in Hollywood initially,” Guzan said. “What he was doing was putting the league on a platform to allow for worldwide notoriety and Messi’s obviously, gone and done that probably to the next level. And it’s these types of moves that allowed for the growth and the interest in our league and in our sport in this country.”

Messi’s impact on MLS is undeniable.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium is expected to be sold out Saturday, meaning more than 68,000 tickets sold and distributed. Tickets are going for as much as $9,000, according to one brokerage site.

That isn’t an outlier. Everywhere Messi goes in MLS the stadiums fill up to watch the World Cup winner with Argentina. Places that don’t typically sell out, such as Red Bull Arena, sold out to watch Messi. Celebrities attend matches wherever Miami plays.

Those who can’t attend are watching. It was reported that ratings from Spanish-language broadcasts surge when Messi plays. A match between Miami and Cruz Azul drew 1.75 million viewers on Univision, making it the fifth-most watched MLS broadcast across all broadcast partners.

“It shows other players around the world and everyone else that MLS isn’t a joke, and we want to be one of the best leagues in the world someday, and you have to get the best players around the world to play in your league if you want it to be considered one of the top ones,” Atlanta United fullback Brooks Lennon said. “So it’s really cool to have him come here and end his career in MLS in Miami. And just to be able to play against him is obviously a very cool experience.”

Apple, MLS’ first-year streaming partner, has gained more than 1 million subscribers for MLS pass, including more than 300,000 since it was announced in June that Messi was going to join the league, according to the Sports Business Journal.

“Just from the outside looking in, you hear about the numbers and Apple and Miami’s revenues and all those things and just every team every place that he goes to sells out, ticket prices are absurd, you know, it’s the hottest ticket to get,” said former Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst, who joined MLS in 2005. “So, I think that it’s phenomenal.”

Parkhurst said he’s so keen to watch Messi he wishes that Apple would move Miami’s matches to a unique time so that everyone could watch Messi and then watch their favorite team. Coincidentally, Saturday’s match will be at a unique time 5 p.m. It will be the only MLS match to start then. With the exception of a match that will start at 3:30 p.m., the rest will start at the traditional 7:30 p.m. slot in their respective time zones.

What’s happening with Messi is what Guzan said in 2007 that the players and fans of soccer believed would happen in MLS.

“When you sign players like Messi it only expands that notoriety, it only broadens the publicity not only to the United States or North America, or even North and South America and now goes over into Europe and you’ve got people tuning in worldwide, whether it be Asia or or anywhere around the world because of his brand and because of his name,” Guzan said. “People want to watch him and so that part is huge for the league, because then the league itself is on show, and I think it’s only going to continue to grow and it’s only going to continue to get better.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1

March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1

March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0

March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1

March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1

April 1 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0

April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1

April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2

April 23 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1

April 29 Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1

May 6 Inter Miami CF 2, Atlanta United 1

May 13 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 1

May 17 Atlanta United 4, Colorado 0

May 20 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 3

May 27 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

May 31 Atlanta United 3, New England 3

June 7 Atlanta United 0, LAFC 0

June 10 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 1

June 21 Atlanta United 2, New York City 2

June 24 New York Red Bulls 4, Atlanta United 0

July 2 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 0

July 8 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

July 12 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

July 15 Orlando City 2, Atlanta United 1

July 25 Miami 4, Atlanta United 0 in Leagues Cup

July 29 Cruz Azul 1 (5), Atlanta United (4) 1 in Leagues Cup

Aug. 20 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 0

Aug. 26 Atlanta United 4, Nashville 0

Aug. 30 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 2 Atlanta United 2, FC Dallas 2

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 5 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA