Messi effect: Apple boss urges MLS clubs to sign more stars

By AFP   February 22, 2024 | 11:06 pm PT
The head of Apple TV's collaboration with Major League Soccer has urged clubs in the league to follow the example of Inter Miami's deal with Lionel Messi and sign more top stars.

Eddy Cue, Apple's senior vice-president of services, told reporters at Inter Miami's 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday that Messi had made a huge impact on subscriptions bringing in new viewers from Europe and South America as well as North America.

"I'm excited that there are teams that are definitely pushing hard. Obviously what Inter Miami has done is an example of that and I think there needs to be more teams doing that and I think there will be," Cue said.

"At least I've seen it enough now that there's a level of excitement... when anybody asks what do I want from anybody, any of the teams, I'm like, sign some more players!" he said.

Lionel Messi celebrates his goal for Inter Miami against Dallas on Aug. 7, 2023. Photo by Reuters

Lionel Messi celebrates his goal for Inter Miami against Dallas on Aug. 7, 2023. Photo by Reuters

Miami's recruitment of big-name international players is unprecedented in MLS with Messi having been joined initially by two former Barcelona team-mates in Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets.

In December, Miami added another top international with the acquisition of former Barca and Liverpool striker Luis Suarez.

Getting MLS clubs to open up their wallets to spend big on international talent would require a shift from clubs that have focused mainly in recent years on bringing in lower cost, young talent from South America.

MLS commissioner Don Garber, speaking earlier, said he was aware of reports suggested changes could be coming to the league's salary cap and roster rules that could make it easier to bring in big players but said the league was aware it had to remain smart in how it approaches growth.

However he acknowledged that Inter Miami had been able to generate what are widely expected to be record revenues from the Messi deal.

"If we thought every team could deliver that by signing players, I can assure you that MLS would adapt its rules to be able to deliver that," he said.

"Our thinking in terms of strategic player spending - we will do whatever we need to do to grow our fan base, to grow the competitiveness of our league, and to grow our revenues and ultimately the credibility and viability of MLS on a global stage," he added.

"Nothing is going to stop us from doing that. We just want to be thoughtful about it," he said.

Contrasting opinions

Cue suggested there may be different views among the 29 club owners in the league.

"There's a lot of owners, there's a lot of teams and so in life when you have that many, it's always hard to move everybody in the same direction. (Don Garber) does that very well but it's a tough job and so I try to help because I bring a sort of either different or at least another perspective on it," he added.

But Garber did paint a positive picture of MLS's growth.

"Season tickets are up, our overall ticket sales are up, our sponsorship is up, social media and our media coverage is up. All of that is bringing global recognition to the league," he said.

Apple have not released subscription numbers for their first season of their subscription broadcast service MLS Season Pass but Sports Business Journal reported this month that they had reached two million -- with the numbers doubling after Messi signed for Miami in July.

MLS season ticket holders are given free access to the service while there were a number of special offers available for fans. The report did not state what proportion of the two million subscribers had paid the full fee.

Cue said he had been surprised by just how big a difference Messi had made to the numbers.

"I was shocked. I had no idea because I knew it would make a difference but I thought it would take time. He just moved the needle really fast on a global perspective and the U.S. perspective," he said.

"So, no, I did not appreciate the power and the reach that he had... it's amazing to see," he added.

Cue said Messi had also managed to attract an audience for MLS games from outside the United States and Canada.

"I won't give you the exact number but I will tell you pre-Messi it was very U.S. top. Post-Messi it was it changed materially because he added a significant number of subscribers from South America and from Europe, so it was a big change," he said.

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