Marc Daniels Monday Notebook: Messi Didn't Take LIV Route And Won Big

Leagues Cup 2023 - Final: Inter Miami CF v Nashville SC

Photo: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

He could have taken the money and no one would have blamed him and there would have been nothing wrong if he did.

Whether the Saudis were offering him one, two or whatever billions, Lionel Messi chose another option. He chose MLS, Apple, Beckham....and America.

Messi has nothing left to prove and nothing missing from his resume. His recent World Cup was the last missing piece to secure his place in the debate of greatest to ever play. So when it appeared there was no deal to be made in Europe, he had two options to choose from. He could take the billions and play in a league with little respect on the world stage and perform in front of a few thousand fans and hope there would be a new media deal to showcase his games in Saudi Arabia. The group that gave you LIV wanted to buy the world's best player in hopes of creating awareness of its league and send a message to any other top player that they were open for business and the checkbook had plenty of zeroes to make it appealing. LIV tried that and got Phil Mickleson and others to bite. I have no problem with those who took the cash and joined LIV and believe Greg Norman and Phil have changed the sport and PGA in many ways already and more to come. 

While Messi said no, Cristiano Ronaldo said yes and signed a $220M deal for two years to play in Saudi Arabia. Ronaldo saw options in top European leagues dwindle as did Neymar. The Brazilian star is the latest to say yes to the Saudis. Reports are his deal is worth $300M a year. Other top players have also taken the cash to join Ronaldo and Neymar. Kylian Mbappe reportedly turned down billions but was tempted. 

Messi chose Miami and America. Why? Only he can tell you that and he has in many ways. He will make a fraction, in salary, compared to what he could have made if he went to Saudi Arabia. But is far and away the winner of all of those who had a choice. 

Messi has admitted the appeal of bringing his talents to America was a big part of the decision. His wife apparently wanted Miami as well to live and raise their kids. Here he comes to a league that will benefit from him playing in MLS but MLS was trending upward before his arrival. Franchises are closing in on an evaluation of one billion in some markets. Corporate sponsorships are way up. The average age of an MLS fan is younger than traditional US sports and marketers love that demographic. Social media loves Messi and young fans in this country now get to see this superstar up close and personal.

His deal with the league, Apple and league sponsors will pay all of them a lot of money. Messi has brought new eyeballs to Apple and excited MLS fans who now have a sense of ownership in Messi, even if he plays for another team. His performance in seven matches for Miami has been spectacular. He has scored 10 goals and his presence on the field is one that electrifies anyone watching.

Inter Miami won the Leagues Cup on Saturday night in a dramatic PK shootout beating Nashville. The month-long tournament between MLS teams and squads from Liga MX- Mexico's top division- was a huge success and Messi was the reason. When he played it was a big deal. When he scored he was an even bigger deal. Match highlights appeared on shows and places that rarely covered matches like this or even the sport itself. Fans, media and the sports business world have been buzzing about Messi. The soccer fans in this country have been captivated and the rest of the world as well.

Messi's success here has played well across the rest of the soccer community as top leagues have started new seasons. Messi's brand is as big as it can be. And that's why he has won and won big.

Read anything about Cristiano Ronaldo's match from Friday in Saudi Arabia? Even know the name of the team he plays for? Have any idea that some matches in that league drew crowds below 3,000 fans? Do you know who Neymar will play for or any of his teammates? Do you know where to find matches from the Saudi league on TV or even online? And that's why Messi wins.

MLS is not a top league in the world. Depending who you ask, it might be the seventh, eighth or ninth best in the world. But it has Messi and a ton of buzz. And his being here is already making a few other European players think of MLS as a place to play. No, not the elite players in Europe but some with quality years left and some knowing there are plenty of jerseys to sell in the United States. 

Messi's timing is not a coincidence either. Soccer in America will only get more chances to shine on a global stage. The 2024 Copa America tournament will be played in the US and Messi is expected to play for his native Argentina and the World Cup is coming in 2026. Don't think for a second Messi and his handlers didn't know the calendar and the exposure for him and the brand in the next few years.  

Few will begin to follow the Saudi league in the next few years. Millions will be watching Messi every time he takes the pitch. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is not the best thing to do. Messi could have taken the money. Instead he chose to take the opportunity and grow his brand and grow the game in a country with room to grow in his sport. Messi will be cashing out for years to come as soccer in America is about to really start cashing in.

Final Note: Messi has played in the most World Cup matches with 26 playing in the last five events.

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