Why Inter Miami's Lionel Messi deal isn't done yet; MLS, Apple pushing for All-Star involvement

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Why Inter Miami's Lionel Messi deal isn't done yet; MLS, Apple pushing for All-Star involvement

Lionel Messi’s announcement on Wednesday that he intends to come to Major League Soccer to play for Inter Miami was one of the most important moments in the history of MLS and American soccer.

It was also one for which the league was not prepared.

Multiple league and team sources confirmed that MLS and commissioner Don Garber were not ready for any public announcement about Messi coming to MLS, as first reported by Fox Sports. The league indicated as much in their own public statement, in which they wrote they were “pleased” that Messi had stated his intent to join Inter but, “work remains to finalize a formal agreement.”

One week later, that final agreement is still a work in progress.

No contract between Messi and MLS has been signed, or even finalized, and the lack of an agreement has had a ripple effect on how the league and Inter Miami promote Messi’s arrival. It has also impacted the timeline of multiple deals being negotiated in tandem with Messi’s contract, from a new coach to the players set to join Messi in the summer transfer window.

Part of the reason for that is the complicated nature of the deal.

The proposed contract includes the option to purchase an equity stake in Inter Miami, and part of the deal also necessitates discussions with Apple regarding revenue share on new subscriptions for the MLS Season Pass service. A source briefed on the current negotiations said the Apple deal will be based on revenue driven by new international subscribers. There is also the structure of the compensation itself, the tax implications of how the contract is drawn up, as well as things like marketing and image rights. Those negotiations go down to granular levels, like which entities own rights to Messi’s name and the No. 10 for use on different products, for example.

Due to MLS’s single-entity structure, players sign contracts with the league, not individual teams. As such, Garber has been keeping other team owners abreast of the negotiations with Messi.

The summer transfer window opens in MLS on July 5. After that point, Messi (and new signings across the league) can be added to rosters and eligible for selection in official competitions. Messi is currently in China with the Argentina national team, but it has been reported that he is expected to depart before the team goes to Indonesia on June 19th in order to go on vacation. When he joins Inter Miami is very much still a part of negotiations.

Sources say there are discussions with the league about Messi taking part in the MLS All-Star Game in some way.

The Athletic reported Messi’s potential debut will be on July 21. But sources close to the league and D.C. United, who are hosting the event on July 19 at their home stadium, Audi Field, said the hope is that Messi might play a part in those festivities.

One source close to the league’s broadcast operations at Apple said that the tech giant is understandably keen to get Messi involved in some way. The All-Star Game is part of MLS Season Pass, the league’s streaming service on Apple TV+. Sources elsewhere around the league describe that desire as a “no brainer”.

A source familiar with D.C. United’s All-Star plans say that the club has been told that whether Messi participates in those festivities in any way is largely up to the player himself; the club, that source said, has been told that Messi wants to make a decision on his involvement after taking some time off.

What remains unclear is what exactly Messi’s involvement in the All-Star Game, which would presumably come before he plays a competitive minute for Inter Miami, would entail. One source at D.C. United, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter, said the idea of having Messi take part in the league’s skills competition, typically held the day before the All-Star match itself, has been considered. Another source suggested he might play in the game itself, going on to say that they’d assume Messi would be a coach or commissioner’s pick.

Another option would simply be for Messi to make an appearance at the game or the festivities surrounding it, which feels most likely, should he be involved.

Inter Miami faces its own logistical challenges. Multiple sources familiar with the club’s preparations for Messi say that many facets of the team’s travel — hotels, charter flights and the like — are being reevaluated. MLS teams currently use charter flights to get to away matches but the level of comfort on the airplanes they use isn’t much greater than the public, commercial flights they used before going to an all-charter setup post-COVID-19.

Everything else is secondary to Messi officially putting pen to paper on a contract. Meetings between Miami and the league are consuming time that could be dispensed towards the coaching search, roster upgrades and more, but none of it matters until this intended deal is signed.

(Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)