Florida, July 20 (US): Seats at DRV PNK Stadium quickly filled with fans eager to catch a glimpse of the new Inter Miami star.
Arguably the greatest footballer of all time, Lionel Messi stood on the stand in the middle of the pitch looking at his new home.
“Thank you, Miami,” Messi told the crowd. “I am glad to be here with all of you.”
The next chapter of the 36-year-old’s career begins here. Not at the Camp Nou in Barcelona or the Parc des Princes in Paris. The Associated Press (AP) reports that DRV PNK Stadium at Inter Miami, a cozy venue in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is decked out in the team colors of pink and black.
Messi will make his Inter Miami debut on Friday against Cruz Azul in the League Cup. Coach Tata Martino told ESPN on Wednesday that he hasn’t decided if Messi and new Inter Miami teammate Sergio Busquets will start, or how long they’ll play.
When the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner announced in June that he would be joining Inter Miami, the club, only entering their fourth season, had to scramble to add renovations to the stadium to accommodate the extra interest.
Inter Miami is now playing home games at the 18,000-seat stadium 45 minutes north of the site in Miami where the team wants to build a permanent complex. DRV PNK Stadium is built on the previously named Lockhart Stadium, which was originally designed for high school sports. It’s across the street from the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, where Messi and his family arrived last week.
Silver bleachers were added last week to the northeast and southeast corners, increasing capacity by nearly 3,000 seats. That would still be far less than the nearly 100,000-seat Camp Nou, where Messi rose to international stardom.
“You may never be able to add enough seats to accommodate all the interest that the team is feeling,” said Stephanie Tothacker, an outside attorney for Inter Miami. “I think we did everything we could in such a short period of time.”
Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham could be linked with adjusting his coming from abroad to play in MLS. Beckham joined LA Galaxy in 2007 after spending the early years of his career playing at Old Trafford with Manchester United and then at the Santiago Bernabeu with Real Madrid.
The league was a lot different when Beckham made his move.
“I think there were 15 teams in the league at that time,” Beckham said. “Not many teams had soccer-specific stadiums. Now, there are 30 teams in the league, and most teams do.”
The average MLS attendance this season is just under 23,000. Inter Miami averages 16,482. In June, Messi donned the Argentina suit for an exhibition match against Australia in Beijing in front of more than 50,000 people.
In the weeks since Messi’s announcement, some have speculated that the team could move its home games to the 65,000-seat Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, home of the NFL’s Dolphins and venue for the 2026 World Cup. This is the case for many MLS teams.
Atlanta United FC and Charlotte FC share their home spots with the NFL’s Panthers and the Falcons. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta seats about 70,000 for NFL games and 45,000 for football games. Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte has a capacity of 74,000. Charlotte FC’s first-ever home game last year set the MLS attendance mark of 74,479, which could easily be the number of people who turn up to watch Messi play for the new MLS team.
Inter Miami co-owner Jorge Maas said on Tuesday that the plan is to play the remaining games of the regular season at home at DRV PNK Stadium, but there is the possibility of certain games being played at Hard Rock Stadium.
“We have the semi-finals of the US Open Cup. I expect if we win that match, I expect the US Open Cup final to be on a big court,” Maas said. “If we’re able to be a home team Houston win on the other side of the bracket, I would probably expect this game to be at Hard Rock. We have a very good relationship with the folks at Hard Rock. We could sell 70,000 seats here if we wanted to.”
A game between the Galaxy and Los Angeles FC recently saw a record crowd of 82,110 at the Rose Bowl.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, “MLS was launched in the big leagues of soccer.” “We’ve been through 20 years of building smaller stadiums specifically for soccer. I still think that’s our model… But if a team wants to play a game in a big stadium and thinks they can sell 80,000 seats, the league will say, ‘Just tell us where and we’ll show up with Apple cameras. ‘”
It wouldn’t be surprising if 70,000 people turned out to watch Messi’s first MLS match.
A group of fans arrived at DRV PNK Stadium on Tuesday morning, some as early as 6:45 a.m. to catch a glimpse of Messi, who took part in his first training session with Inter Miami. Practice started around 8:45 am but was not open to the public. Members of the media were able to watch the first 15 minutes. A small crowd of fans waited in the heat and rain.
Around noon, they pulled up to the side of the stadium parking lot where Messi’s car was leaving the Inter Miami training complex. Another attempt to reach the peak of the star.
Some have never been in an MLS or Inter Miami game, but they will be at DRV PNK Stadium, early on, on Friday.
“I was there and started running,” said Diego Martinez, who flew in from New Jersey and waited six hours on Tuesday. He will attend his first game at Inter Miami on Friday. “It will be crazy.”
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