The arrival of soccer superstar Lionel Messi to Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami provides a major boost for Apple TV. The league’s new streaming partner can use the star to build the popularity base of MLS Season Pass. Many consider the Argentine the greatest player of all time. His highly anticipated debut did not disappoint. Those watching the English-language coverage on MLS Season Pass watched a game-winning free kick in stoppage time against Cruz Azul.

The match headlined the beginning of the Leagues Cup, which is available mostly through Apple and MLS Season Pass. It is part of the massive 10-year $2.5 billion deal between MLS and Apple. The match was also available on Univision. There, it garnered 1.75 million viewers. Future matches in the Leagues Cup schedule or MLS TV schedule are slated exclusively for Apple TV.

Apple success in MLS relies on Messi

Apple is banking on Messi’s presence driving subscriptions for its MLS Season Pass package. According to sources, MLS Season Pass had around 700,000 subscribers in early June. That number grew to nearly 1 million by Messi’s debut. That demonstrates substantial growth that league executives attribute largely to Messi’s imminent arrival. The company said viewership for its MLS coverage has “greatly exceeded forecasts.”

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Messi’s move to MLS is expected to have an immediate impact on Apple. Demand for Inter Miami jerseys with Messi’s name on the back skyrocketed. Shirt supplier Adidas rushed to print more jerseys after initial stock sold out instantly.

Messi’s financial success also relies on AppleTV

Inter Miami’s ownership group landed Messi thanks in part to an innovative deal that will see the tech giant pay him a share of MLS-related revenue generated on Apple TV+. Messi also obtained an equity stake option in Inter Miami. Beyond the financials, Messi’s presence gives Apple’s coverage more star power and gravitas.

The company promoted Messi’s debut with special production elements like 18 cameras capturing the action. The soccer great’s arrival immediately conferred greater global legitimacy on MLS. It follows a tradition of aging European stars joining the American league, like David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimovic before him.

Apple is keeping MLS Season Pass metrics under wraps. It even required some officials to sign NDAs. While outside sources estimate nearly 1 million subscribers, without public data, success is hard to gauge. Messi’s official clips from the MLS social media accounts pulled in over 50 million views. The secrecy frustrates fans, but it shows how serious Apple is about protecting figures for its $2.5 billion deal with all the talk of Messi.

Now or never for Apple and MLS

At 35 years of age, Messi is still in prime form, recently leading Argentina to the World Cup title. His move westward represents a shift in MLS’s ability to attract truly elite talent. With Messi expected to play in Miami for at least two more seasons, Apple is well-positioned to capitalize on the buzz and grow its MLS viewership. The tech giant will aim to convert casual Messi fans into regular league viewers.

If Messi can boost on-field success for Inter Miami and MLS as a whole, interest should remain high well beyond the initial curiosity surrounding his arrival. But Apple must strike quickly while Messi mania is at its peak. Otherwise, history could repeat itself as we are reminded of the days Pele was brought to the continent to make NASL a worldwide soccer success.

PHOTO: IMAGO & Icon Sportswire

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