The Miami Heat were hosting their first NBA Finals in nine years Wednesday, and the Florida Panthers will host their first Stanley Cup Final in 27 years Thursday, and they were shoved off the marquee of the larger sports world Wednesday afternoon.
Lionel Messi picked South Florida.
Inter Miami became Inter Messi.
“I’m not returning to Barca, I’m going to Inter Miami,’’ Messi said on Wednesday, referring to the Barcelona team that is part of his legend.
Ignore the larger world’s reaction of surprise and a tinge of disappointment over Messi in effect retiring from elite-level soccer. Let’s go straight to the local reaction of fun and excitement and a synergetic idea to what now happens: Buy your Super Bowl tickets, Miami Dolphins fans.
This is every South Florida team’s year. That’s what Messi coming continues. Every day is Thanksgiving and Christmas to fans since Miami and Florida Atlantic went to college basketball’s Final Four, followed by the Heat and Panthers making the playoffs as eighth seeds and Palm Beach native Brooks Koepka carrying the PGA Championship trophy into a Panthers playoff game.
Even the Marlins are six games over .500.
And now Messi is our bestie.
How many wishes did the sports genie grant us?
Not four. Not five. Not six …
Messi made La Decision of Inter Miami over Barcelona and Saudi Arabia. Think of that: Messi picked a franchise that can’t win anything and has been penalized by the league for the manner they’ve operated over one of the greatest brands in sports and the oil-stained billions that just bought the golf world.
How can you not appreciate him just for that?
No doubt Apple TV, adidas and Major League Soccer offered him assorted deals that made it the kind of transformative sports contract that helped his decision. Having a home in South Florida helped.
Messi is 35. He left Paris Saint-Germain after two seasons. He won the most recent World Cup with Argentina in 2022. He’s won everything in soccer, including the debate over Ronaldo as the game’s greatest.
Now comes one different challenge in a much lesser soccer league. From a pure talent perspective, this is like a baseball superstar going to Single-A baseball league to end his career.
But this has been the end-play for many European soccer stars, including Inter Miami owner David Beckham. It’s been a rumored one for years around Messi. Even before Messi announced it, there was one tell-tale sign of what was coming: You couldn’t buy tickets for Inter Miami CF games after July 1.
“On sale date and times are in the works – please check back!” the Ticketmaster site read.
That told you the price is going up – no doubt way up. It’ll be top dollar for a hot ticket at levels unseen for a MLS game.
Could the venue change from the 20,000-seat DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale to the 70,000-seat Hard Rock Stadium?
Why not? Everything is open to change Inter Miami, and soccer in America for a while. That’s the hope anyhow. Every Inter Miami game will be splashed big on Apple TV, the new rights-holder to MLS games. The World Cup comes to the U.S. in 2026. No doubt Messi will have a big marketing part in that.
But he’ll play here, in South Florida, in a way that will be watched around the world. Even the dwindling population who appreciate soccer as much as a case of hives should be interested in seeing excellence.
Messi’s presence will no doubt bring other big names, just as LeBron’s presence did. This is Inter Miami’s chance to build a super-team in a manner the Heat did. Can it build a Dream Team? Will it?
The Heat and the Panthers rightfully re-took the stage in the manner that matters in sports. The games. The titles. Those elements ultimately will decide how big Messi’s impact is in some form. But Wednesday’s announcement showed the potential for before-and-after pictures he brings.
The good news keeps getting better in local sports, too. One paper has a slogan, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” Our sports section becomes: “All The Good News That Fits.”
Inter Miami joined a week unlike any other in South Florida history. Two championships series. Now Messi. On the heels of that Final Four. The Super Bowl is in Las Vegas, Dolphins fans.