Inter Miami beats out Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, World Series champs for sports business award

Inter Miami is nearly a year into its Lionel Messi experience, as the Major League Soccer team continues to reach new heights since the Argentine World Cup champion’s arrival last July.

Inter Miami beat out three of the four reigning major-sport champions to win Team of the Year, while Messi’s acquisition sparked Deal of the Year honors at the 2024 Sports Business Journal Awards Show Wednesday night in New York.

"With the signing of global superstar Lionel Messi, Inter Miami instantly became one of the most popular and recognizable American sports brands worldwide," Sports Business Journal said in an online post announcing the award.

Messi’s transcendent and worldwide impact continues to leave significant marks on and off the soccer pitch for Inter Miami and MLS, while he’s at the center of soccer’s latest thrust in the United States, which will host Copa America 2024 this summer, the FIFA Club World Cup in 2025, and FIFA World Cup in 2026.

“It's just that effect that Leo has on the game and the world,” soccer legend and Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham said during a May 8 “Jimmy Kimmel Live” appearance. “One of the reasons we wanted to bring him to America was to inspire the next generation. That was my plan.

“I obviously wanted to bring him for the player he is and the person he is. I played against him numerous times – actually twice, thankfully – but I've been a fan of him and watched him for many years. And I always had the plan to bring the greatest player to ever play the game in my opinion to our team. Luckily, it happened.”

Inter Miami is in first place in the MLS Eastern Conference with three games remaining until Copa America begins June 20, where Messi will shine likely for the final time in a major tournament to cap a legendary career with Argentina.

After Copa America, Messi will help Inter Miami defend its Leagues Cup title – the first championship in the club's four-year history won last August, just seven games into his stint with the team – and pursue the MLS Cup title later this year.

Off the pitch, Inter Miami has experienced unprecedented growth through online exposure and business. Inter Miami was the most googled sports team in 2023, while Messi’s Inter Miami jersey was the best-selling in MLS. Inter Miami owns the third-most followed sports team account on Instagram in the United States, behind the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers.

Inter Miami has also signed partnership deals with JP Morgan Chase to play in the newly named Chase Stadium, Royal Caribbean is the club’s new jersey sponsor, while other companies like Visa and Lowe’s have come aboard.

“It’s really amazing how Inter Miami is becoming cultural currency,” said Luciana Resende Lotze, head of marketing for Visa Latin America and the Caribbean. “What we see is lots of people dressing in the [Inter Miami] shirt. The pink is being associated and recognizable. That’s where we see part of culture, and people wanting to be part of this experience and enjoying it.”

Gerardo Soto, Lowe's vice president of brand marketing and sports partnerships, noted the growth of soccer in the United States, “and I know Messi is going to be a big part of that with driving that audience.”

Inter Miami beat out the reigning NFL Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, the reigning MLB World Series champion Texas Rangers, last year’s NHL Stanley Cup winner Vegas Golden Knights, and the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves for Team of the Year.

Inter Miami’s acquisition of Messi, which included a stake in the club upon retirement and media rights deal with Apple TV, beat out the Josh Harris-led acquisition of the NFL’s Washington Commanders, the UFC/WWE merger to TKO Group Holdings and media rights deals by NASCAR, the NCAA and National Women’s Soccer League for Deal of the Year.

Beckham, who is as famous as Messi on a worldwide scale, reassured Messi about joining Inter Miami by sharing his experiences with MLS club L.A. Galaxy from 2007-12. But it was Jorge Mas’ steadfast pursuit of Messi, which lasted several years before the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner decided Inter Miami would be home to the twilight of his career.

“When we first began this journey five years ago, it was always our desire to shine a light on South Florida and Miami, and to bring amazing people together to change a sport in the United States of America,” Inter Miami owner Jorge Mas said earlier this year.

“When people from around the world think of football and think of South Florida, they focus specifically on what we’re doing and what we’re accomplishing.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Inter Miami wins Team of the Year award from Sports Business Journal