South Florida prepares for exuberant Inter Miami match with soccer legend Lionel Messi

With Lionel Messi scheduled to make his U.S. soccer debut on Friday, South Florida businesses are bracing for Messi Mania — and the possibility that the immediate economic impact of his arrival is more muted than they had hoped.

Immediately, Miami rolled out the welcome mat for the Argentine soccer star, with several parts of the city decorated with Messi murals and graffiti in black, white and pink – the colors of his new team, Inter Miami FC.

And islandofficial, Friday the game is sold out.

But a check of Ticketmaster Friday showed plenty of tickets available on the resale market for the Argentine legend’s expected first game with Inter Miami FC, with prices dropping to below $200 — about $50 below where they were Thursday.

The team has announced that Messi is likely to come off the bench for the evening game against Mexico City-based Cruz Azul, part of the Leagues Cup tournament featuring MLS and Liga MX teams.

A number of factors at the outset can ultimately blunt the economic impact of the event.

Friday’s game takes place at the height of summer — historically when South Florida’s tourist season grinds to a halt.

Messi also lands amid an unprecedented heat wave that has seen Miami’s heat index break records more than 20 times in the past 35 days, according to the Miami Herald.

Data from commercial real estate data and analytics group CoStar showed Miami hotel bookings were little changed from the same dates this time last year.

While prime seats for Friday’s game had reached prices as high as nearly $16,500 on StubHub Thursday, there were still plenty of seats available. Many of the tickets sold appear to be from resellers – meaning existing ticket holders want to capitalize on the phenomenon’s appeal.

While Messi’s arrival in Miami has been anticipated for years, his actual signing — completed last Saturday — surprised Emi Guerra, co-founder of Breakwater Hospitality Group, which owns several bars and restaurants in South Florida.

Guerra declined to comment Thursday on the reservation activity he saw at his restaurants ahead of the debut, though he said social media interest bodes well for attendance; team co-owner David Beckham said this week that Messi’s official presentation on Sunday achieved 3.5 billion views in total between impressions on social media and TV and online viewers.

An unlikely recipient of Messi Mania could be the city of Fort Lauderdale, about 40 minutes north of Miami in neighboring Broward County. That’s because Messi will actually be playing at Inter Miami’s DRV PNK Stadium, which is adjacent to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

But the commute – and the lack of bars and restaurants in close proximity to the stadium – may make for a more muted welcome there.

Tim Petriello, a Fort Lauderdale-based restaurateur, said with South Florida tourism down from its late-pandemic highs, any interest in the area would be welcome.

“It’s been a little difficult to organize something, but we understand,” Petriello said Thursday, explaining that he ultimately did not put together any watch parties at his venues. “But we still want to be a part of this and want to be supportive.”

In an interview, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said Messi, 36, could play out the rest of his career in the city, given the current estimated timeline for completing an Inter Miami stadium in Miami is 2025 at the earliest.

But Trantalis acknowledged it was still early to assess the full effect of Messi’s arrival on the local economy, although insisted local hotel bookings had seen an increase. CoStar had no data on bookings in Fort Lauderdale.

“There has definitely been an increase in demand,” Trantalis said.

There is no doubt what Messi is capable of creating in the global football community. Google showed a clear increase on Friday in searches for Inter Miami compared to Thursday and last Friday, especially in Latin American countries.

And Inter Miami expects its revenue and total franchise value to double over the next year.

While South Florida is home to hundreds of thousands of Hispanics — and a tourist destination for so many more — it was not immediately clear how large a contingent would travel to see him in person Friday.

A spokesman for Argentina’s Aerolíneas Argentinas SA, the country’s main airline, said that while demand is always historically strong for Miami flights, the company had not yet made additional accommodation options for an influx ahead of Friday’s game – although future games could prove an attraction.

“Everyone wants to see him,” said Marcelo Bottini, Aerolíneas Argentinas regional director.

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