Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said Saudi Pro League’s rapid growth and spending won’t threaten the U.S. league’s potential expansion into emerging viewing markets.
“You know, it’s not just about Europe, right? It’s about here. So I’m not threatened by that at all,” Garber told reporters Sunday night during a ceremony to present Lionel Messi as the newest player for Inter Miami CF.
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“I’ve seen it happen with China, and I wasn’t concerned about that any more than I’m concerned about what’s happening in Saudi Arabia, it’s quite the opposite.”
Cristiano Ronaldo, who was first targeted by MLS, opted for Al Nassr in the Saudi league and other stars in Europe have since followed him, including Real Madrid and France striker Karim Benzema and Brazilian striker Roberto Firmino.
The league, bankrolled by the $620 billion Public Investment Fund (PIF), and the country aspire to elevate its football league to be among the top 10 in global revenue generation by 2030.
Garber, however, said he is confident MLS can bring in revenue by selling subscriptions to the league globally.
“The fact that we can spread the power and influence of professional football around the world, I think, gives us all who are in emerging markets an opportunity,” Garber said, adding that the league is already broadcasting in Spanish and with some games in French, and would consider other languages in other markets.
“I think there will be more opportunity for us to be very, very targeted to specific audiences, whether that’s in Portuguese or other languages.”
Messi is the biggest star to play in the United States since Pele joined the now-defunct NASL’s New York Cosmos in the 1970s.
Inter Miami managing owner Jorge Mas confirmed that the Argentina captain and newly signed designated player will make between $50 million and $60m a year — more than the 2023 team salaries of Real Salt Lake, Orlando City SC, New York Red Bulls, St. Louis City SC and CF Montreal combined — in a deal that runs through the 2025 season, with sources telling ESPN there is an option for the 2026 campaign.
Longtime friends and former Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba join him on the roster.
The 30-team MLS is in its 28th season.
“The league has significance, it’s got 30 teams, and it’s got a valuation of $15bn,” Garber said. “Think about that, $15 billion, that’s the collective value of all of our teams. When I came in it was $250 million.
“So I don’t think that there’s any look back. It now is ‘What’s the future going to look like?’
“You have heard us say that we want MLS to be a league of choice, a league of choice for players, for fans, for partners, and ultimately for investors.
“When you have the best player of all time making Major League Soccer his league of choice, I think it’s a real testament as to where MLS is and where it’s going in the years ahead.”
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