Inter Miami ticket price debate: Are Messi-driven increases justified or unsustainable?

When Inter Miami announced last week that they would nearly double their season ticket prices next season, understandably, many current season ticket holders were outraged. 

“All the talk about how much La Familia meant to the club was just lies,” wrote one Miami fan on X. “Just looked up my invoice from last season and I have an 83% increase. This is the price of loyalty in Miami,” said another season ticket holder. 

In 2024, at the conclusion of Inter Miami’s fourth year of competitive play, getting into an Inter Miami game will be more expensive than paying to watch a match in the Premier League. Lionel Messi’s summer arrival in MLS has attracted celebrities, new sponsors and far greater media attention, but is Inter Miami taking the wrong approach in attempting to capitalize on his presence? Are they crossing a line that they can’t come back from?

The Athletic’s Felipe Cardenas and Pablo Maurer discuss. 

Cardenas: Well, Pablo, there were a lot of people who were upset about these ticket price increases. It’s Messi, but is it worth it? 

Maurer: My first thought on that is an obvious one: Inter Miami has done the work on their roster to justify, to a certain extent, the price increase. If we’re just looking at percentages — 30%, 40%, whatever — they literally added the greatest player in the history of the game and two other exceptional talents. That’s not free. It’s silly, in a way, to compare Inter Miami’s season ticket prices with almost any other team in Major League Soccer, because they are nothing like any other team, in terms of ambition and potential entertainment value. Their baseline offerings also fall relatively in line with some of MLS’ other premiere clubs. 

That being said, if you’re paying $2,500 for a Miami season ticket, you also have to realize that you are paying that amount for a team that plays in MLS. The caliber of Miami’s opponents often won’t be great. Miami’s opponents often won’t have the same ambition they do. The quality of play in the league as a whole, while growing rapidly, still isn’t a premium product. 

Cardenas: I agree. I think that this was all expected and clearly this is part of the Inter Miami ticketing strategy. A lot of it probably stems from their business development team, which if I’m not mistaken is run by Xavi Asensi, who came from Barcelona. He’s very much involved in all the strategic work off the field. And to your point, yes, they have Messi. They brought in the world’s greatest player, one of the most famous humans on the planet. And they’re going to take full advantage of their time with him. 

There has been so much demand to go to these games. The secondary market has been completely flipped on its head by the amount of money that people are willing to pay to watch Messi. You and I have covered many games, in Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere. It is always a sellout — and Messi hasn’t played in every one of those games. There is a general feeling in Miami right now that being at the stadium gets you access to this entire experience, all of it. Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. The random celebrities who show up. And above all, just the aura of Messi himself. For many people, just being there is worth it.

Maurer: Yeah, in some ways you have to liken it — on a much smaller scale — to the way people viewed these Beyoncé and Taylor Swift concerts this summer and fall. If you’re a fan of soccer in Miami or even some far-flung corner of the United States, in some ways you want to go just to say you were there. My brain always goes back to the ‘70s, to Pele. Every avid soccer fan above a certain age in this country will claim to have seen Pelé in those three years. Many did, but a lot of it is just mythology. 

What you said about demand is true. I also think, though, that avid fans of the game of soccer in the United States don’t think about MLS or the sport as a whole as a demand-driven product, they very much have the “grow the game” attitude they’ve had for years, and that drives people to want franchises in the U.S. to be a little more community-focused and much more economically accessible than other sports. But make no mistake — if you “support” an MLS club, you are at the end of the day a consumer. The league and its clubs have always put their business interests first and they likely always will. I am not advocating for that, by the way — I am very much a bleeding-heart socialist at heart. But it’s the reality of this country.

Cardenas: I go back to a story I wrote in August where I spoke with University of Miami economics professor Ayca Kaya. We talked about what the ticketing strategy is for Inter Miami. Are they pricing out a lot of people? Are they willing to establish a high line for ticket prices at the expense of a few empty seats? Her analysis was that yes, they are clearly targeting the most affluent market in South Florida. And that market, according to her, is among the most affluent in the country. Conversely, the lower income community in South Florida is among the most impoverished in the US, according to Kaya. 

But it’s worth saying — when I walk around talking to fans at these games, I don’t feel like I’m talking to a bunch of millionaires. I’m talking to people from all over the world, people from all walks of life. There are people who have said, “I’m going to do anything possible to get into these games.” I talked to a nursing student who worked double shifts, a family from Argentina that had been in the area for less than three months — now Messi is here and they feel like they belong. Those things are gonna pull people into the stadium.

Maurer: It’s true. But things have changed a lot. I went to the 1994 World Cup for very little. As a little kid I grew up in Boston and went to Red Sox games, even when they were an exceptional team, in the ‘80s, for peanuts. Those are core memories for me, and they were formed for $6 for a bleacher seat. In the past 20 years, professional sports at large in this country have become a premium product for the wealthy. You mentioned a family of four, maybe they saved up money or worked double shifts to get those tickets. That’s crazy to me.

Cardenas: I understand that the essence of football is that it’s the world’s game and it should be accessible to anybody. And this is going in the complete opposite direction. But to your point, I don’t think Inter Miami is too concerned about that. I know that they’ve preached that the team is the community’s team. That it’s everybody’s team. But at the end of the day, it’s becoming very exclusive. The vibe of the games is exclusivity — with all the A-list celebrities who are there, and that opportunity, just the chance that you might see greatness from Messi. All of those things make it a very different and a very unique experience.

LeBron James, Serena Williams and Kim Kardashian attend Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami debut on July 21st. (Photo: Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Maurer: It is absolutely part of the appeal. It is bizarre to be sitting there and see these insanely famous people milling around a few feet away from you. And at the end of the day a lot of people want to be around that element. Exclusivity is attractive to certain people. 

But long-term, that won’t sustain this team. There is only one Messi. I don’t care if you turn around in three or four years and you replace him with any number of people. There is no immediate replacement for him, he is a singular force. So when he leaves, and there’s nobody of his ilk to go out and get, who knows what happens, right? All of your core audience, all of these everyday people that you’re alienating and pricing out right now, they probably won’t ever come back. And we’ve seen what happens to “glamor” teams in other sports when they lose their shine. Look at the Lakers. 

Cardenas: You’re right in that there will never be another Messi. But there are going to be multiple big names that come to Miami, or are linked to Miami. Co-owner Jorge Mas and the business team at Miami have set a precedent that they can’t really reverse now. They want to be a global brand and they have to win games, which is one reason they brought in Tata Martino. If they don’t win games, none of this really matters.

Maurer: Yeah, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Alexi Lalas a while back in regards to the LA Galaxy’s ticket prices when David Beckham arrived. They jacked them up, and Alexi’s point was that they never came back down, even when he left. There’s no going back from us. Like the Galaxy, Miami is always going to have to be in for huge players. They’ll have to make a move for Christian Pulisic in a few years. Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappe, whenever all these players are ready to move on from their situations in Europe, Miami will have to be in for all of them. 

Cardenas: True. It’s also interesting to compare Miami’s prices to other leagues in the U.S. — the NBA, NFL and then even other soccer leagues abroad, like La Liga, the Premier League, all of them. Miami Heat season tickets start at around $1,300 for 41 home regular season games and Miami Dolphins season tickets start at around $1,200 for eight to nine regular season home games. But I don’t think it’s a fair comparison. This is not a slight at MLS, but let’s be honest — this is just Major League Soccer. It isn’t the NFL. It isn’t the NBA. It’s not the Prem. It’s not La Liga. If you compare those leagues to MLS from a quality perspective, a brand perspective, MLS just doesn’t stack up. If Inter Miami believes that they are on par with other leagues around the country and even some of the bigger global soccer leagues, that’s fine. Maybe it’s part of their strategy. But I don’t know that it’s a fair comparison.

Maurer: We’ve talked about all of this and still haven’t scratched the surface of the ticketing situations at other clubs, which have been pretty directly affected by Messi. In my market, some long-time D.C. United fans are canceling their season tickets because of hikes of 20-30%. And it feels very directly related to Messi, as the club’s renewal emails all mention the fact that they’re guaranteed a game against Inter Miami.

Cardenas: Yeah, I met a guy recently before the inter Miami-Atlanta game in Atlanta that had three season tickets. He sold his three tickets to the Miami game for $600 each. 

Maurer: You also mentioned comparing the ticket prices to big teams abroad. Lots of clubs in La Liga or the Premier League are far less expensive than Miami. And some of those teams are at least in-part fan owned. Again, MLS and its clubs are very much big business. Miami is not owned by the community, it is owned by billionaire entrepreneurs and David Beckham. Fans have a stronger voice in Europe, plain and simple. Anyways, like I’ve always said, the solution to all of the problems plaguing American club soccer is as simple as dismantling late-stage capitalism, you know? 

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Cardenas: Well let’s end with this — is any of this sustainable? The ticket prices, all of it.

Maurer: I mean, no, it’s not sustainable. We haven’t even mentioned Miami’s new stadium, by the way. If you think ticket prices are high now, wait until they’re not playing in this tiny, modular stadium in a different town. And there is only one Messi, there is only one player who can take you from absolute irrelevance to this profile. Frankly, in the history of the game, there have only been three players who can do that: Messi, Maradona and Pelé.

Cardenas: I’m gonna say that it is sustainable. It could be sustainable if the Inter Miami project becomes what everyone internally at Inter Miami hopes it could be: a global brand and an MLS power, a hub for global stars. We talked about the exclusivity and the celebrity of it — if they can continue to do that even post-Messi, this could be a long-term thing. They have to become a Man City, or a Real Madrid, one of these megaclubs. The biggest club in North America, who are regularly winning titles. When they lose, it’s a shock. If they can achieve that, this is probably sustainable. 


(Top photo: Alex Bierens de Haan/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

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