There’s no question that the color of Summer, 2023, has been pink.
The release of the movie, Barbie has had the worlds of fashion and interior design abuzz and has led everyone from celebrities to social media influencers, to don pink outfits, accessories and more.
Do a Google search for Barbie and your browser window turns pink.
According to an article in Architectural Digest, the set designers of the movie used so much of one particular shade of fluorescent pink paint, it contributed to a global shortage.
The world of sports has not been immune to the pink takeover, specifically with the arrival of the GOAT of soccer, Lionel Messi, at Inter Miami CF of Major League Soccer.
From one well-known singular name to another, Barbie’s got nothin’ on Messi.
The seven-time winner of international soccer’s most prestigious individual award, the Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball), who just this past winter led his native Argentina to a World Cup championship, Messi has decided to make like LeBron James in 2010 and take his talents to Miami and play for the team there owned in part by another soccer legend, David Beckham.
In fact according to some ports betting odds, Miami went from being +15000 on June 1 to +1200 on August 8 to win MLS Cup in 2023 – tied for the sixth-best odds in the entire 29-team league. Clad in their pale pink home kits, Inter Miami CF earned a last-minute victory over visiting side Cruz Azul, 2-1, at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale on Friday, July 21.
And although Messi did not start in that first game with his new team, in his new city, in his new league, in his new country, he made a seismic impact on the outcome. The fans were on the edge of their seats awaiting the moment he’d step on the field. In fact, chants of “Mess-EE, Mess-EE,” could be heard throughout the stadium, the first one during game action occurring just eight minutes into the match and could be heard clearly through the Apple TV+ streaming coverage as Messi sat on the sideline.
Early in the second half, he stood up off the bench to an electric roar from the sold-out crowd of 20,512 fans, most of whom were wearing either his baby blue and white stripe Argentina jersey, his navy blue and red FC Barcelona jersey, or the blue and white of his last team, Paris Saint-Germain. He checked into the match in the 54th minute of play (about nine minutes into the second half for the casual soccer fan).
When he stepped on the field, he was immediately handed the black captain’s armband, slid it up his left arm and proceeded to thrill the fans every time he touched the ball – no touch greater than his last of the game, nearly 40 minutes after he stepped on the pitch, with the score tied at 1-1.
Messi was fouled by two players about 25 yards away from the Cruz Azul goal. Everyone in the stadium – and watching around the world – knew it would be the 36-year-old midfielder’s kick to take as stoppage time had nearly expired. He bent at the waist, adjusting the ball in the grass to his liking, backed four steps away from the ball, awaited the referee’s whistle, took three quick strides and struck the ball with his left foot, lifting it around and over the wall of opposing players 10 yards away, curling a shot into the top left corner of the goal out of the reach of Cruz Azul’s helplessly sprawling goalkeeper.
Fans in the stadium who witnessed Messi’s magic exploded into cheers, some were even moved to tears witnessing one of the game’s all-time greats pull off such an amazing game-winning shot.
The video clip of the game-winning shot, found on Major League Soccer’s YouTube channel, had collected more than 4.1 million views in the first nine days it was posted. At that time, the MLS channel had just over 1 million subscribers.
The next time out, Tuesday, July 25, against Atlanta United in Miami’s second group stage game of the inaugural Leagues Cup 2023, Messi scored twice in a 4-0 win, ensuring the team would advance to the knockout round of the tournament. Messi’s magic continued in the knockout round as he added four more goals (two in each game) in wins over Orlando City SC and FC Dallas pushing Miami into the quarterfinals back home against FC Charlotte in a match scheduled for Aug. 11. The match vs. Dallas the first away match for Messi since he arrived in MLS and despite triple-digit temperatures at the opening tap, a sold-out crowd of 19,096 crammed into Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX. And they were not disappointed. Leagues Cup 2023 culminates with a championship game August 19 at the home field of the highest-seeded remaining team.
It had been a tough start to the season for Miami, which is slated to resume the MLS portion of their schedule at home on August 20 against visiting Charlotte. Inter Miami will do so while in last place in the 15-team Eastern Conference of MLS. Three days later, Miami visits FC Cincinnati in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals in a match streamed on Paramount+.
If his first four performances are any indication (seven goals and one assist), the recent addition of Messi – and other international standouts such as midfielders Sergio Busquets, Diego Gomez, and Facundo Farías and defender Jordi Alba – has suddenly put Miami in a position to contend for any trophy it plays for over the next three seasons. Can the team come from its current last place spot in the Eastern Conference and grab a playoff spot in 2023? Don’t bet against it. In fact according to sports betting odds, Miami went from being +15000 on June 1 +1200 to win MLS Cup in 2023 – tied for the sixth-best odds in the entire 29-team league.
Messi’s contract runs through the 2025 season with an option for 2026. And Inter Miami CF has a new stadium on the horizon, Freedom Park, ideally set for completion at the start of that option season of 2026. Coincidentally that’s also the same year the U.S., in conjunction with Canada and Mexico, will host the men’s FIFA World Cup.
The Messi Effect
Paint is not the only pink item that is in high demand nationwide. Messi is everywhere.
Official Inter Miami CF Messi jerseys with Messi’s pink No. 10 – and even licensed replicas – have been hard to come by. Try and place an order on MLSstore.com or even Fantatics.com and you’ll be met with a “Pre-Order Now!” button along with a notice stating that you are purchasing a “pre-order item… which will be shipped no later than Tuesday, October 17, 2023.” The authentic jerseys are as much as $179.99 each and the replicas are going for $124.99.
Adidas is the official MLS jersey provider and its corporate communication department released a statement to MiamiMan which said, “The demand for Messi’s Miami jersey has been truly unprecedented. We’re working as quickly as possible to ensure that every fan who wants a jersey can get one online or at one of our stores.”
Visit the MLS website and you’re greeted with the opportunity to sign up for The Messi Insider, an MLS newsletter that you can have mailed to you covering everything Messi. Just provide your email address and you can keep up with Messi in Miami.
Tickets for Inter Miami CF matches have also been hard to come by as the team sold out Messi’s debut at DRV PNK Stadium – a match in Leagues Cup 2023, a new in-season tournament this year pitting the 29 MLS and 18 Liga MX teams against one another. And the prices for tickets to his Miami debut jumped 1,000% on the secondary market. The highest price for a ticket on StubHub was $8,280, and Ticketmaster was at $5,000. According to Vivid Seats, the average price for a seat was $423 and fans were traveling, on average, 588 miles to see the match. The game, which culminated with that storybook-ending goal, was well attended by celebrities too, including the likes of Serena Williams, Gloria Estefan, Kim Kardashian and the aforementioned LeBron James, who shared a long hug with Messi before the game. Ahead of Messi’s arrival, the team even expanded the amount of seating available at DRV PNK Stadium, going from 18,000 seats to more than 20,000. Overall, in Messi’s first three home games, the team has averaged 20,150 fans. Prior to Messi’s arrival, the team was averaging 16,483 fans per game at home.
Inter Miami CF’s Instagram account went from having about a million followers in early June to more than 12.8 million followers on July 31. That total far and away outdistances the New England Patriots’ 4.9 million followers, the Dallas Cowboys’ 4.5 million and the New York Yankees’ 3.2 million. In fact, it’s more than all three teams combined. And Messi’s personal following on the ‘Gram is outrageous. He has 480 million followers which is second amongst all individual accounts (non-corporate) to fellow footballer Cristiano Ronaldo’s 597 million.
The size of the media corps covering Inter Miami has increased drastically going from about 10 at most on a big night to more than 100 media members showing up for the 15 minutes’ worth of media access at one of Messi’s early training sessions.
According to Jay Kington, the founder and host of the Inter Miami Podcast, Messi has helped him and his co-host, Than Harrington, increase their reach.
“The Messi Effect is real (in many ways),” said Kington, who also has a full-time day job but has built the podcast and its corresponding website (www.intermiamipodcast.com) into a true go-to source for Inter Miami CF news. “In just about one week, we’re getting closer to increasing our following on Twitter 10-fold and our following on Instagram has doubled. Just the reach we now have… a good post say might get 5,000 views on Instagram and now we have posts hitting 100, 150 or even 200,000.”
Said Harrington: “I work third shift, so the day (Messi officially signed with Miami), I was asleep and I woke up to an absolute high-pitch squeal from downstairs. My eight-year-old son is screaming “Messi’s here, Messi’s here.” And all of a sudden, my phone is just lighting up. It is goosebumps, it is excitement, it is pure joy.
“Yes, Beckham coming to MLS was a big deal but Messi…” Harrington pauses to contemplate, “This is if Michael Jordan and Pelé and Tom Brady all united under one sport, this is that same level of wow factor,” Harrington added. “Messi just won the World Cup and achieved greatness that will solidify him as the best to ever do it. He could’ve chosen anywhere to go in the world and play but he chose Miami and he chose MLS. It’s mind-blowing and hard to put into words. There are still some days when I wake up and say, ‘Oh man, this isn’t a dream, he’s with us, he’s on the team.’ I’ve got goosebumps right now talking about it.”
Inter Miami CF held a Messi introduction night on Sunday, July 16, and although a wild severe storm dampened the night and wind-swept rain soaked the fans, it didn’t hurt anyone’s enthusiasm to see the GOAT.
“It was a big party, South Florida style,” Kington said. “I love Ozuna, he’s a singer/rapper and was going to headline and it was going to be like a music festival followed by the unveilings of Messi and Sergio Busquets (Messi’s former FC Barcelona teammate who also joined Inter Miami). South Florida weather had other ideas, the rain was coming down sideways and the show got moved too, after the unveiling. Everyone in that stadium had to be soaked from head to toe. There were hurricane-like winds. You get to a certain point of saturation and you don’t care anymore but you were there to witness a piece of soccer history and American sports history.””