The sporting landscape in North America has traditionally been dominated by four sports – American Football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey.
Soccer historically struggled to compete with the ‘Big Four’, but things have slowly changed over the past few years.
Having firmly established itself as the fifth major sport in North America, soccer is now a genuine rival to the other quartet.
Inter Miami’s recent acquisition of Lionel Messi will likely be a landmark moment, helping soccer reshuffle the established order.
With that in mind, we look at the key metrics in North American sports before assessing why Messi could be the catalyst for change.
The NFL dominates the list of the most valuable sports teams in North America, filling 15 of the top 20 spots in the standings.
1. Dallas Cowboys – NFL – $8bn
2. New England Patriots – NFL – $6.4bn
3. Los Angeles Rams – NFL – $6.2bn
4=. New York Yankees – MLB – $6bn
4=. New York Giants – NFL – $6bn
6=. New York Knicks – MLB – $5.8bn
6=. Chicago Bears – NFL – $5.8bn
8=. Golden State Warriors – NBA – $5.6bn
8=. Washington Commanders – NFL – $5.6bn
10. Los Angeles Lakers – NBA – $5.5bn
11. New York Jets – NFL – $5.4bn
12. San Francisco 49ers – NFL – $5.2bn
13. Las Vegas Raiders – NFL – $5.1bn
14. Philadelphia Eagles – NFL – £4.9bn
15. Houston Texans – NFL – $4.7bn
16. Denver Broncos – NFL – $4.65bn
17. Miami Dolphins – NFL – $4.6bn
18. Seattle Seahawks – NFL – $4.5bn
19. Green Bay Packers – NFL – $4.25bn
20. Los Angeles Dodgers – MLB – $4.08bn
Just three MLB teams make it into the top 20, while the NBA has two representatives. Teams from the NHL and MLS are nowhere to be seen.
The New York Rangers are the most valuable team in the NHL, with their $2.2bn valuation a whopping $1.88bn behind the 20th team in the overall list.
Major League Soccer teams are even further adrift, with Los Angeles FC the only team to hit the $1bn valuation mark to date.
Miami’s $600m valuation makes them the 11th most valuable MLS team, but Messi’s signing will significantly impact that figure.
The NFL is unsurprisingly the biggest North American professional sports league for annual revenue, generating $18bn in 2022.
1. NFL – $18bn
2. MLB – $10.8bn
3. NBA – $10bn
4. NHL – $5.2bn
5. MLS – $1.55bn
While the NFL’s annual revenue puts the other leagues in the shade, their sponsorship income is not too far ahead of the NBA.
One of the most interesting elements is the proximity between the figures in the NHL and MLS, which we will assess later.
1. NFL – $1.88bn
2. NBA – $1.64bn
3. MLB – $1.19bn
4. NHL – $0.75bn
5. MLS – $0.68bn
Average television audiences for each game in the NFL are significantly greater than any of the other four top leagues in North America.
1. NFL – 16.7m
2. NBA – 1.59m
3. MLB – 1.51m
4. NHL – 460,000
5. MLS – 343,000
It is a similar story with average attendances, with NFL games attracting way more people than matches in the other leagues.
1. NFL – 69,442
2. MLB – 26,843
3. MLS – 21,033
4. NBA – 17,968
5. NHL – 17,070
While the NFL lords over the other sports in the previous categories, its players may feel aggrieved when they compare their average salaries to those in the NBA.
1. NBA $10.4m
2. NFL $4.5m
3. MLB $4.4m
4. NHL $3.5m
5. MLS $491,000
Why Messi Will be a Game-Changer in North American Sports
Messi’s move to Miami has taken a long while to come to fruition, with the links dating back to when David Beckham and his partners were awarded the franchise in 2018.
Miami and MLS have pulled out all the stops to tempt Messi across the Atlantic Ocean, making him the highest-paid player in the history of the competition.
Messi resisted the temptation to join the Saudi Pro League gravy train by rejecting a reported $400 million per year offer from Al-Hilal.
His move to Miami is similar to Pele’s switch to the New York Cosmos in 1975, although the benefits were largely short-term.
One of the main legacies Pele left behind was inspiring a new generation of players to take up the sport, who subsequently went on to qualify for the 1990 World Cup.
Hosting the tournament four years later gave US soccer another boost and was ultimately the catalyst for MLS to become successful.
Beckham’s signing by Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007 moved things forward again, helping MLS gain much greater international recognition.
Fast forward 16 years and Beckham has played an integral role in persuading the finest player of his generation to move to North America.
Demand for tickets for Miami matches has already gone through the roof, sparking talk that some MLS clubs may move games against them to bigger stadiums.
This could fire soccer up to second on the list for average attendances as clubs seek to cash in on the excitement surrounding Messi.
His presence in MLS should also have a major impact on television audiences, giving the league a genuine chance of overhauling the NHL in this category.
MLS sponsorship revenues will also benefit from the Messi factor and could see soccer leap ahead of the other North American sports in the next few years.
In simple terms, Messi is one of the most marketable sports stars in the world, boasting the global reach that no one in North American sports can match.
With Messi tipped to follow Beckham into club ownership when he eventually hangs up his boots, MLS looks set to benefit from his presence for many years to come.
Messi has instantly made Miami a box-office team, which will have the knock-on effect of firing MLS into another stratosphere.
He will also influence a new generation of North American players and fans – factors which are sure to negatively impact the other four major sports.
Soccer remains the fifth spoke in the North American sports wheel at the moment – Messi’s influence is guaranteed to change this before the end of the decade.