Messi's MLS signing to benefit league, Whitecaps and sport generally

Messi to help entire MLS

News that Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi plans to sign with Major League Soccer's (MLS) Inter Miami sent shockwaves and excitement through the North American soccer community.

Vancouverites who have been involved in soccer management and professional sports ownership told BIV today that they were surprised with Messi's announcement and believe his involvement with the league will give a huge lift to interest in soccer across the continent.

The timing could not be better, they said, because Mexico, the U.S. and Canada are set to co-host the 2026 World Cup, with Vancouver being one of the host cities.

"This harkens back to Pele signing with New York [Cosmos in 1975] and David Beckham signing with L.A. [Galaxy in 2007,]" said Arthur Griffiths, who is president at Arthur Griffiths & Associates and has a long history as a sports industry executive and a former owner of the Vancouver Canucks and Vancouver Grizzlies.

No firm compensation details have been released but it has been reported that Messi will get a slice of the MLS and Apple's broadcast partnership. German sportswear giant Adidas - long a league sponsor - is also said to be chipping in some money to make the signing possible.

Griffiths said that he has never heard of such an arrangement, where a league would get involved compensating a player to sign with a team.

"This is definitely new," he said. "It just goes to show you the creativity involved, because everybody's going to benefit."

MLS commissioner Don Garber told the New York Times in November 2007 that Beckham's signing in Los Angeles gave a huge bump to sales for MLS merchandise.

“We have sold more than 300,000 Beckham Los Angeles Galaxy jerseys, which was 700 times the number of Galaxy jerseys sold in 2006," he said.

Griffiths told BIV that he was not sure of the arrangement in the MLS, but the situation in the National Hockey League and National Football League is that teams share merchandise sales revenue when the merchandise is sold outside of a certain distance from a home arena.

Sales for an Alexander Ovechkin jersey in Abbotsford, for example, would see some revenue go to the Vancouver Canucks.

That means that the Vancouver Whitecaps are likely to benefit because sales for Messi jerseys could be substantial.

The team would also likely see significant spike in attendance when Inter Miami plays at BC Place.

Former Vancouver Whitecaps president and player Bob Lenarduzzi said that when Miami plays in Vancouver it is possible that there will be enough interest to open the stadium's upper bowl.

He also equated Messi's signing with Inter Miami with Pele signing with the New York Cosmos in the 1970s. One difference, he said, is that the state of soccer in North America is on much stronger legs today than it was in the 1970s.

He noted that MLS last month awarded an expansion franchise to San Diego, after the ownership group paid an eyebrow-raising $500 million fee.

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