Canadian clubs talk of ‘Messi Effect’ as Inter Miami superstar grabs headlines | CBC sports

Lionel Messi joined major league soccer club Inter Miami in July and the results were visible almost immediately.

His club won the newly formatted League Cup competition, which features teams from Mexico's LigaMX and MLS, with the Argentine scoring ten goals in the process.

Since his arrival, he has also been featured heavily in advertising for the league and its broadcast partners.

Canadian major league soccer clubs share the pros and cons of having one of the world's best players join the league when it comes to marketing and preparing to play against them.

Vancouver Whitecaps sporting director Axel Schuster said Messi's signing is a chance for the league to better market itself.

“There is no frustration,” he said of whether Messi's signing has affected the work of other clubs in the league. “I think all the stories surrounding Messi are a door opener for us to provide additional content from across the league.”

Messi's signing and performances in the League Cup grabbed the headlines and he was heavily promoted by Apple TV – Major League Soccer's broadcast partner.

Many of their La Liga ads feature photos or clips of the Argentine in action.

“Messi's move to MLS has had a tremendous impact on the league and interest in the league and, in my opinion, the assessment of the teams associated with the league,” said Cheri Bradish, director of the Future of Sport Lab and sports initiatives at Toronto Metropolitan University.

Bradish has previously worked for the Florida Sports Foundation, Nike Canada, the Florida State University Department of Athletics, the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

But, she said, the league and its clubs need to be clear and plan for what will happen if the 35-year-old decides to retire.

When Messi joined Miami, he signed a two and a half year contract.

“You use this as an opportunity to build new relationships and strengthen old ones with your customers, partners and other stakeholders. But you also need to keep the long-term in mind, which is when Messi or other star players aren't in the league,” Bradish said, referring to the way the NBA has dealt with Michael Jordan's retirement.

Patrick Leduc, director of football culture at CF Montreal and a former Montreal Impact player, said Messi's signing could help boost the culture of the sport in Canada.

“Overall I think it's great for the league. I think it draws attention, it's exciting,” he said. “Does it indicate some weaknesses in our league? Maybe it does, but that doesn't take away from the fact that overall it's a positive thing that's happening.”

Leduc, in various versions, has referred to the longevity of Montreal and Vancouver as football clubs and said he believes Messi's signing could attract new fans from outside those cities to support them.

Montreal have already played Inter Miami this season, which means they may not play the world champions until next season.

Toronto FC is the only Canadian club still playing Inter Miami.

“Superstars have always been good for leagues”

Schuster said superstars like Messi are proven to benefit leagues.

He points to Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's spells at Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively.

Schuster was working in German football at the time but said it was obvious how much attention the two Spanish La Liga players brought.

This was also seen when Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined LA Galaxy in 2018, he added.

“Superstars have always been good for leagues,” Schuster said. “It's our job now to take that momentum and let the secondary things grow behind it.”

Those secondary things, he said, included the development of young players and the success of MLS clubs in other competitions.

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