FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — As hundreds of newfound Inter Miami fans rushed to sell their tickets for upcoming games in which Lionel Messi might not play, the club angered some of its more loyal supporters by revealing a steep hike of season-ticket prices for 2024.
In an email to 2023 season-ticket holders — members of what was once Major League Soccer’s thinnest fan base, many of whom sat through a dreadful season before Messi arrived — Miami announced a pricing scheme that doubled the cost of some season tickets year over year and will make the league’s latest glamour club one of the most expensive tickets in all of soccer.
At Manchester United, 2023-24 season tickets ranged from roughly $650 to $1,160. At Miami, they will range from $867 to $2,720 for standard seats, $13,005 for club seats and $45,900 for suites.
The inflated prices largely mirror the boom in demand for single-game tickets since Messi chose to come to the United States. Miami has already cashed in on that demand. Using a so-called dynamic pricing model, it raised ticket prices significantly, initially by hundreds of dollars. Resale prices spiked even further, especially for away games. Before Messi even stepped on an MLS field, he reportedly drove the average Inter Miami ticket price up 500%.
But after a couple of months, the physical demands of this traveling circus caught up to him. And now, his mysterious injury is driving prices in the opposite direction.
Tickets trickled onto the secondary market in the 24 hours after Messi sat out Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup final. With his status up in the air going forward, as of Thursday evening, there were roughly 600 pairs of resale tickets available for Saturday’s game against NYCFC via Ticketmaster alone — up from around 560 one day earlier. There were more in other quantities, and dollar figures were dropping. The cheapest 75 pairs available cost an average of $156 at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday; by 6:30 p.m. Thursday, that average had fallen to $129.
There were another 1,000 or so listings on Stubhub, with prices dipping below $60 for a seat 22 rows up on the sideline. There were more than 800 listings on Seatgeek, where the cheapest ticket was $54 before fees.
There is overlap among the resale sites, of course, but in other words: There are thousands of tickets available at a 21,000-seat stadium, at prices never before seen in the Messi era of MLS.
Some of those sellers are likely responding to the possibility that Messi again won’t play. Miami head coach Tata Martino said Wednesday that his superstar will play at some point before the end of the MLS regular season (Oct. 21), but Messi is still considered day-to-day, and if a Wednesday cup final was a no-go, a Saturday league match presumably won’t be the time to “run risks,” as Martino has said.
It remains a pivotal match in Inter Miami’s season. A win would vault them into legitimate playoff contention; a loss would make them a long shot. Thousands of fans — including members of La Familia, the raucous collective of supporters groups who populate the north stand — will therefore pack into DRV PNK Stadium and back the team, whether or not it includes Messi.
But there is a heavy contingent who come to see one man and one man only.
“No es ‘Inter Miami.’ It’s ‘Messi Miami,’ no?” Manrique Ugalde, a first-time attendee at DRV PNK Stadium, told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday, summarizing a common sentiment.
It is Messi’s name on the backs of thousands of jerseys, fake and real, every time Miami plays. It is Messi for whom the fans chant and for whom many pay lucrative sums. His absence Wednesday, which was somewhat unexpected, disappointed them. Some Saturday ticket holders have surely considered preempting that disappointment.
Messi’s injury, in a way, is an ill-timed reminder of the tenuousness of a ticket’s value. And to be clear, the plummeting value of Saturday’s tickets is not Messi’s fault. It’s a product of overcrowded schedules and an insatiable appetite to milk Messi for all his commercial worth. Naturally, he was billed as the headliner of every Inter Miami game from the day he signed through the end of the season. Fans took the bait and opened their wallets without second thoughts — because Messi had become more phenomenon than human.
But he is human. He’s fallible. “We are not machines or robots, right?” his friend and teammate, Sergio Busquets, reminded the public earlier this week. “We would like to play every game, every minute, not have injuries, not have fatigue. But it’s one thing we can’t control.”
They, as players, cannot think about ticket prices when their health is in question. Nor can Martino as the coach. Prices were and are in the hands of Inter Miami’s front office. So that’s where fans directed their annoyance or outrage, whatever they harbored, upon receiving the prices for 2024 season tickets.
Some of Inter’s price tiers were actually comparable to those at other prominent MLS clubs with moderately-sized stadiums. LAFC, for example, is selling a season ticket behind one goal at the 22,000-seat BMO Stadium for $855 — only slightly less than Miami’s price for a similar seat.
St. Louis City FC sold its equivalent seats for anywhere between $850 and $1,870 at the brand-new, 22,423-seat CITYPARK in 2023, the club’s inaugural season.
What seemed to irk Miami fans, though, was the massive jump from one year to the next.
If existing season ticket holders can’t afford to renew, Inter Miami know someone will take their place and pay the new higher price because Messi is there now. A pretty rubbish thing to do to existing fans.
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) September 28, 2023
To many, it reeked of a cash grab that spat in the face of loyalty. And while it surely won’t leave DRV PNK Stadium empty in 2024, it could come back to haunt Miami when Messi is no longer around.
Yahoo Sports’ Andy Deossa contributed reporting to this story.