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Lionel Messi: Mastering the Business of Sports and Technology

Lionel Messi: Mastering the Business of Sports and Technology

Messi’s Move to America

On February 9th, Chinese authorities canceled two football matches Argentina were set to play in China. It was the next step of escalation in a diplomatic crisis. A crisis caused by Lionel Messi. Because he dared to be injured. He missed a friendly between Inter Miami and the Hong Kong Eleven.

Fans went mad, newspapers started conspiracies and one lawmaker said that “the Hong Kong people hate Messi” and that “he should never be allowed to return to Hong Kong”. Messi sells tickets. His absence causes riots. This Messi Mania has made a lot of people very rich. Inter Miami’s Revenue has tripled since Messi joined.

Inter Miami signs Lionel Messi
Inter Miami signs Lionel Messi

Apple has added 2 million subscribers to its season pass. Adidas has sold millions of pink shirts. But what about Lionel Messi? What has he earned? His salary is half what he received at PSG. He isn’t in the Champions League anymore. You could argue he has gone to MLS to retire, just like many before him.

But Messi hasn’t gone for fun and sun. He has gone because America offers him the chance to change strategies – and follow in the footsteps of Michael Jordan and Lebron James. Lionel Messi is on the way to become a billionaire. He has a very concrete plan for it. And if this plan works out, he might even become the richest athlete of all time.

The Rise of Athlete Billionaires

If Lionel Messi wants to make it big in business, he certainly picked the right country. The United States has many examples of superstar athletes becoming successful investors or founders.

Take Michael Jordan. This is his career earnings in basketball. And this is what he has earned off the court. 97 percent of Jordan’s 3 billion dollar net worth has come after his retirement. Jordan Brand, The Charlotte Hornets, Draft Kings. Jordan’s investments have earned him a place on the Forbes list of the 400 richest people in the US.

 As the first athlete ever. And this has inspired many. Lebron James is still playing in the NBA but has already reached a billion dollar net worth. His contract with the LA Lakers pays well, but his biggest asset might be the production company Springhill Entertainment. Lebron also has a stake in Fenway Sports Group, the owners of Liverpool FC.

Serena Williams has interests in the Miami Dolphins and UFC. Since retirement from tennis, she runs a venture fund; Forbes has her net worth at 290 million dollars and climbing. You might have noticed a theme here. Athletes are taking their big paychecks and sponsorship deals and investing in a mix of big brands and promising start-ups. Most of these are either sports teams or companies with some connection to sport. A logical strategy. Invest in what you know.

Not to mention that these athletes have spent decades surrounded by top executives in the industry. They probably picked up a thing or two. Many of the big deals involving these athletes have come about thanks to their close connections to the brands. Jordan and Nike are the most successful example. He reportedly earns 5% of Jordan brand sales. About 250 million dollars a year. And he is arguably being underpaid.

If he would have done the same deal today, Jordan probably would have asked for more. Because over the last forty years, the sports, media, and technology industries have all radically changed. The result is that more power than ever rests in the hands of superstar athletes. There are three key changes. Historically, athletes had no way to communicate with their fans directly, at least not with a lot at the same time. Social media changed that.

Athletes can talk to an audience intimately, repeatedly, and on a global scale. If you want to sell face cream or a pair of sneakers, you don’t need to buy a slot on NBC or take out a page in a newspaper. You can simply post a picture and reach hundreds of millions of people. So athletes have greater control than ever over their story and its distribution. When Michael Jordan was in his prime, the average NBA salary was around 2 million dollars.

Today, the average is 9.5 million. Stars like Steph Curry earn over 50 million per season. Athletes have more money earlier in their lives. That’s more opportunity to invest. When Maria Sharapova decided to launch her candy brand, she didn’t need to go to outside investors; she simply funded the project herself. It is cheaper and easier than ever to start a company.

If you need a website, you can use a platform like Shopify. Want to create your own mini-documentaries? Just start a YouTube channel. Top athletes can use these tools for themselves, and they can also invest in one of the countless new ideas that are created using them. These startups know the value of partnering with an athlete and often go looking for a high profile investor.

This gives athletes an advantage when looking for the next big thing. To sum up, it’s never been easier and more lucrative to start a business as a professional athlete. And nobody might be better suited to exploit these new opportunities than Lionel Messi.

How Did Lionel Messi Make His Money?

To better understand these opportunities, we need to learn about the business of Lionel Messi. Messi’s precise net worth is unknown, although the internet likes to suggest 400 million. That’s believable when you consider that Messi’s career earnings are projected to hit 1.6 billion by 2025. That’s both on and off the pitch.

At Inter Miami, Messi earns just over 20 million per year. That’s far more the league’s second highest earner, but half what he earned at PSG. But Messi has other incentives. Apple is offering Messi a fee for every new subscription to their coverage of MLS – he added around 2 million already.

Adidas is giving him a percentage of merchandise sales – and it’s the best selling Adidas shirt of any sport in North America. Lionel Messi will have received millions. That’s on top of Messi’s personal sponsorship deals. Adidas will give him 25 million per year for the rest of his life. A deal with Socios delivers another $20 million per year. Messi certainly has enough resources to make important investments.

The difference will come from where he decides to put this money. In this area, he doesn’t have the best record. Messi has launched three different brands over the last few years. None have achieved mainstream success.

The Messi Store is a partnership with MGO Global and its chief brand officer Ginny Hilfiger. The sister of Tommy Hilfiger. MGO pays Messi a royalty to sell jackets, T-shirts and other apparel with Messi’s name and branding. The merch strategy. It has worked for big name Youtubers, so why not for the biggest footballer on the planet? Before Lionel Messi’s move to MLS, the Messi Store had annual sales of 100 thousand dollars.

A figure that would barely register on Lionel Messi’s balance sheet. And to be honest, when you look at the store, this is not surprising. It looks like Messi ordered his online store on Wish. His hotels in Spain and Andorra suggest to be a bit more successful, at least they still operate seven years after opening.

And yet, hotels don’t seem like the best way to leverage the fame and appeal of the world’s greatest footballer. Apart from true superfans, even supporters of Lionel Messi are likely to select their next holiday destination based on quality, price, and personal preferences – not whether it includes a novelty “Ballon d’Or” dessert.

The Messi Experience Park claims it will be the greatest theme park in the world dedicated to football. Located in Nanjing, China, it hopes to welcome 4 million visitors a year. Only problem, it was supposed to open four years ago. It has cost approximately $200 million to develop so far. Off the pitch, Lionel Messi is in need of a big win. Most of these failures can be blamed on advisors.

Messi has been focused on playing at the highest level for the last two decades. But his adventure in the U.S. – in a league with far less pressure – offers a chance to re-think. To network. And Messi has made a new friend. Together they have a plan that could see Lionel Messi become one of the richest athletes in history.

Messi’s Billion Dollar Plan

Meet Razmig Hovaghimian, a tech investor. Born in Cairo to Armenian parents. Razmig moved to California at age 16. After graduating from Berkeley, he founded Vikki, a streaming service that translates video content into multiple languages. This was before Netflix and Youtube introduced multi language subtitles. This start-up was eventually purchased by Rakuten.

Razmig Hovaghimian

This puts Razmig in the room with Rakuten’s biggest partner, Barcelona. Here he meets Lionel Messi. They bonded over technology and innovation. Messi was particularly interested in how Michael Jordan was investing. So in 2022, while Lionel Messi was still deciding his future, the duo met in Miami and decided to open Playtime, a holding company that manages Messi’s investments.

Miami became an important place for Messi. It represented his future. Perhaps that’s why he chose Inter Miami over Barcelona. One club offered high growth and a bright future. The other represents his past, and isn’t in a very good place financially. PlayTime will manage an initial 200 million dollars. Most of this will be Lionel Messi’s personal money. Investments will be focused on things at the intersection of sports, media and technology.

That’s a broad category.

Although Messi is supposedly interested in how the consumption of live sports is changing, both with live events and in broadcasting. PlayTime lists three investments on its website. Matchday is a virtual collectible football card game. A rival to Sorare. Momento is a platform for fans to buy sports memorabilia.

The company already sold six of Lionel Messi’s World Cup shirts for $7.8 million. It will also offer fans NFTs of memorable games that they have attended. BallerTV is a streaming platform that focuses on youth sports. Messi clearly believes that technology will change how we view sports. So far he is placing his bet on NFTs, collectables and youth sports.


These are all billion dollar industries, but also very risky. Time will tell if he is correct. When Lionel Messi moved to the U.S. he cut his salary in half. He also passed on a contract in Saudi Arabia that would have made him an instant billionaire. But Messi is thinking strategically.

 Changes to media and technological landscapes allow superstars like him to build and monetize an audience at larger levels and with greater flexibility than ever before. His move to America and establishment of Play Time suggest a plan. He wants to emulate Michael Jordan and Lebron James.

Lionel Messi’s adventure in Miami will position him well, allowing him to address the world’s biggest market better and benefit from the high-leverage magic of software and startups. In a couple of decades, it is not inconceivable that football’s GOAT is not only among the richest athletes but the world’s wealthiest people – although he might have to find some better ideas to invest in than NFTs. But while Messi the footballer’s time is dwindling, Messi the businessman is just getting started.

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