The era of social media football marketing: Inter Miami’s success and failure with Lionel Messi

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12th February 2024 – (Hong Kong) Lionel Messi’s absence from the Hong Kong exhibition match continues to cause controversy, with neither Messi nor the club’s subsequent apologies managing to calm the anger of fans. Instead, the controversy has now spread to mainland China.

“Many Chinese fans bought expensive tickets specifically for Messi. They deserve a formal explanation and apology,” wrote one netizen on Weibo. In fact, American fans have also experienced this disappointment and anger. Last September, when Inter Miami faced Atlanta United in the Major League Soccer (MLS), Messi was also absent. Many fans who had paid high prices for tickets only found out on the day of the match that Messi would not be playing. Moreover, he didn’t even show up at the stadium but stayed home resting.

The club later explained to the media that Messi needed rest due to his extensive playing time since joining the team. However, many fans from all over the country rushed to the stadium after learning that Messi had joined Inter Miami. They searched for the team’s matches and bought tickets, only to see Messi posting a picture on his Instagram at home, eating pizza. American netizens also mocked, saying, “The pizza doesn’t look good,” “Messi deserves better pizza,” “Messi didn’t come to the United States just to eat pizza.”

Fans find it hard to accept why Messi couldn’t at least come in person to allow them to see him. CNN quoted fan Rohan Jhanjee in their report, saying, “I hope he could at least come, and we could see him with our own eyes, even if he just sat on the bench. Seeing him would make the money spent worth it because he is like a god!”

For many, Messi is not just a football player anymore. His achievements, including eight Ballon d’Or awards and ten La Liga titles, have made him a football superstar. And Inter Miami has benefited greatly from Messi’s star aura.