Long before Lionel Messi scored a single Inter Miami goal, or even announced he was signing with the team, the New York Red Bulls were planning for the commercial bonanza that would accompany his first MLS match in the country’s largest media market.
During this past offseason, knowing Messi could end up in Miami after the mid-summer transfer window, the Red Bulls lobbied the league to put their home game against Inter Miami on the back half of the MLS schedule, according to team president/GM Marc de Grandpré. Once the schedule came out, the club deliberately chose not to sell single-game tickets to this weekend’s contest when it posted all the others, knowing that if the stars aligned with Messi, the available inventory could be sold for significantly higher prices.
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The risk paid off. De Grandpré’s club plays host to Messi’s Inter Miami on Saturday in what will be the highest-grossing game in the team’s 13-year history at Red Bull Arena. Revenue from the game is expected to be roughly four times larger than a standard Red Bulls home game, and thanks to an innovative ticket approach, should produce larger crowds for other Red Bulls home games later this season.
It’s a story playing out across MLS this summer as Messi’s squad continues to dominate headlines—Messi is yet to play an MLS regular-season match, but Inter Miami is undefeated in eight games since he took the field, winning the inaugural Leagues Cup and advancing to the finals of the U.S. Open Cup. Teams fortunate enough to host Inter Miami in the back half of the season are seeing unprecedented ticket demand, VIP hospitality interest from celebrities, and one by one, record revenue hauls.
“We had a plan in place,” de Grandpré said on the most recent Sporticast episode, where he went into detail about the strategy.
Step one, he said, was working with the league in late 2022 to get the Inter Miami home game in the back half of the season, so it would feature Messi if he chose to sign with MLS. That push was successful.
Next, the ticket plan. Red Bulls season-ticket holders had access to the Inter Miami game all along, but the team was deliberately slow to sell the game to individual buyers. Tickets were not listed initially when the rest of the schedule was dropped, but a limited number were later listed in order to de-risk the strategy. At the beginning of the summer, de Grandpré said, the team was in constant contact with the league and Inter Miami trying to gauge whether Messi’s signing was a real possibility.
When it became clear that MLS was Messi’s choice, the Red Bulls instantly removed any inventory they had listed for the Inter Miami home game, and formulated a plan to maximize the revenue from the game. When the tickets eventually went back on sale, they were all part of bigger packages. Fans looking to score tickets to the Inter Miami game after the announcement could purchase them only as part of four-game plans or large group packages. The tickets sold out quickly, and the Red Bulls will host Inter Miami on Saturday with a gate that’s 2-3x larger than a normal game, de Grandpré said, by far the largest in the club’s history at the 25,000-seat venue. It will also be packed to capacity.
“We’re literally turning every stone over to make sure we can have as many people and fans and guests in the building as possible,” he said. “We can’t find more seats now. We are at capacity.”
The Red Bulls briefly considered trying to move the game to nearby MetLife Stadium, which seats more than 80,000 fans, but the Jets are facing the Giants in a preseason game at the same time. Holding the game at Red Bull Arena is also better for the MLS club’s partners, many of whom have a presence at the venue.
(If you’re wondering whether people might just attend the Inter Miami game and not the other Red Bulls games in the package, de Grandpré said the team ran a similar strategy last year with a July friendly against FC Barcelona, and that more than 80% of the fans who bought tickets returned for the other three games at Red Bull Arena.)
Beyond this one game, de Grandpré said there are other ways Messi’s arrival has had a direct impact on the Red Bulls business. The team recently listed season tickets for next year as part of its “Red Members” club, and sold more season tickets than in any week in club history. Sponsorship conversations have also increased, he said. The team has also recently renewed talks to sell naming rights to Red Bull Arena, which could fetch between $7 million and $10 million per year.
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