Lionel Messi will be out of contract with Inter Miami at the end of the 2025 MLS campaign. Despite that being almost two full seasons away, the emphasis for Major League Soccer is clear. If it does not lock down Messi for more time, it risks losing the momentum the Argentine has built on MLS Season Pass. Messi has helped the league develop its subscriber base in his brief time in Miami. If he leaves after the 2025 campaign, droves of global soccer fans will not have the impetus to subscribe.

There is one key figure that Major League Soccer will have an eye on. The league has yet to hit its subscriber goal that Apple set for the league. The unspecified threshold for the number of subscriptions must be reached for MLS to generate rights revenue beyond the $250 million Apple pays for each season of the league. If it surpasses that magical subscriber number, crucially MLS will earn 50 cents for every $1 MLS Season Pass earned. That money can go back into the league to help in various ways. For example, MLS could move to sign more stars and build a further base.

MLS needs to surpass the minimum guarantee

In December 2023, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said he was confident MLS Season Pass would hit that threshold that launches the revenue sharing. In his own words, he said, “It’s a partnership, and that’s the most different aspect of it. After we hit the minimum guarantee from Apple, we make 50 cents of every dollar. That’s the risk in this deal. I’m highly, highly confident we’ll get into that revenue share.”

As of press time, MLS has still not hit that subscriber number despite having a reported two million subscribers.

Apple and MLS have been mute on what exactly that threshold is. Plus, currently, a chunk of those do not pay for their MLS Season Pass subscription. Season ticket holders, for example, get the product for free.

Moreover, Messi’s arrival in the summer of 2023 led to rapid growth for MLS Season Pass. Some reports claim Messi’s first appearances on the platform led to a 75% growth for Apple. With two years left for Messi, including the one that started this past month, time is ticking for Major League Soccer.

Signing Messi to a contract extension is sensible for MLS Season Pass

Messi’s arrival shows two things. For one, Messi is wildly popular, but that was a given. Although not the best indicator of popularity among casual soccer fans in the United States, Lionel Messi’s following on social media is second to only Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet, the strong numbers upon Messi’s arrival also demonstrate that fans are willing to pay for MLS Season Pass if there is star power available. The solution is, therefore, to get more Messi. Providing Lionel Messi with a contract extension would inch Major League Soccer closer to the revenue-sharing agreement that Don Garber so desperately covets.

While it is a positive for the 2023, 2024 and 2025 campaigns on MLS Season Pass, the 2026 MLS season faces the uphill task of courting subscribers without him. If Messi is the impetus for someone to join MLS Season Pass, they may retain their subscription as they develop a fandom of other players, clubs or the league entire.

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The alternative for Major League Soccer would be to bring in another star. In the past, that has been the likes of David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Thierry Henry. The only problem is that MLS cannot go any better than Major League Soccer, at least by the 2026 season. Lionel Messi is in a category that he only shares with a player like Cristiano Ronaldo. Even if Neymar were to join MLS as the league’s heir to Messi’s stardom, he would struggle to captivate an audience like Messi has.

The outlook by 2026

The decision will come down to Messi. Major League Soccer and Inter Miami would sap every ounce of profit they can get out of the Argentine while he is available. Yet, in the 2026 season, Messi will be turning 39 years old. He has already made a priority of playing for the Argentina national team. Also, Inter Miami is affording him rest time to ensure he is fit for the 2024 season. That surely raises concerns as to how available Messi will be for 2026.

He remains a draw, even if he is not his brilliant best. Major League Soccer will have extending the Argentine at the top of its list of tasks over the next several months.