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Messi shocks soccer world with announcement he'll join Miami's MLS team

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Argentinian soccer legend Lionel Messi says he's coming to Miami. Bienvenido a Miami. Messi has decided to come to the U.S. to play Major League Soccer with Inter Miami. And soccer fans in South Florida are thrilled. Joining us now to talk about all the excitement is Veronica Zaragovia with member station WLRN in Miami. Veronica, so is this as big as when LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach and play for the Heat?

VERONICA ZARAGOVIA, BYLINE: (Laughter) Funny you should ask because, yes, it's a unifying thrill that this sports God is coming to our region here. But also, with geography, everybody's saying that Messi is coming to Miami, but the stadium where Inter Miami plays is actually in Fort Lauderdale.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

ZARAGOVIA: But, yes, it's a very exciting moment for everybody.

MARTÍNEZ: And, I mean, you got to, like, just kind of walk around a bit and to kind of check out how excited people are.

ZARAGOVIA: Oh, yeah. People's faces have been lighting up, you know, from the moment the news started spreading until it got confirmed. And I walked into a Pele Soccer store yesterday, early afternoon, on Miami Beach. And there, the manager was already using this heat press machine to put Messi's name and the number 10, which was his number with Argentina in the World Cup and with Barcelona, on the back and - of these pink jerseys for Inter Miami. And at the store, I met a fan, Christopher Long (ph).

CHRISTOPHER LONG: I just found out that Messi's going to Inter Miami. That's crazy. Yeah, now I'm going to try to get tickets. They're going to think Inter Miami is the biggest club now in MLS. So now we got to prove it now in the season, winning the games, and make David Beckham proud. MLS, baby. Champs. Let's go.

(LAUGHTER)

ZARAGOVIA: And he's referring, of course, to the retired soccer player David Beckham, who is one of the owners of Inter Miami. And the team could really use Messi right now. They're last in the MLS Eastern Conference standings.

MARTÍNEZ: So yeah, because he could go anywhere in the world, so why pick Inter Miami?

ZARAGOVIA: Well, he gave an interview to a Spanish news company called Mundo Deportivo. And he said he didn't want to repeat the bitter exit from FC Barcelona in 2021, when they didn't have the money to keep him. And Messi also said he's ready to leave European soccer, especially after winning the World Cup for Argentina. And then, also having a family has really influenced his decision. He talked a lot about wanting to spend time with his sons and enjoy day-to-day life.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, that makes sense. Now, he could have gotten a lot of money going to Saudi Arabia. What is Miami offering Messi?

ZARAGOVIA: Well, we don't know exactly the amount of money involved yet. He said in that interview that the deal is still being ironed out. But the Athletic reported that it could include a piece of the MLS and Apple's broadcast partnership and the option to own an MLS team in the future. And, well, the Saudi Arabia deal, according to the Athletic, would have paid him $400 million per year. So maybe geography and being closer to Argentina while being here in Miami won out over the cash. And plus, Miami has the largest population of people from Argentina in the U.S., so he'll definitely fit right in.

MARTÍNEZ: There you go. So when will people see him in the new kit?

ZARAGOVIA: Well, to figure that out, I checked for that on SeatGeek. It's a website to buy tickets. And starting July 21, the ticket, the cheapest one, is already $530. And that's for the standing area. They usually cost about $20. And the price goes up into the thousands for some games from there. And we checked ticket sales with other MLS clubs that are playing Inter Miami later this summer and prices have jumped already fivefold. And that's for people to see Leo Messi play.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Veronica Zaragovia with member station WLRN in Miami. Veronica, thanks a lot.

ZARAGOVIA: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRONTIDE'S "SANS SOUCI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care, as well as Surfside and Miami Beach politics for the station. Contact Verónica at vzaragovia@wlrnnews.org
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