Miami is known for its star power, but few superstars have had the same effect on the city as Lionel Messi has, and he hasn't even played his first MLS game for Inter Miami.
On June 7, Messi announced he would be signing with Inter Miami to play for Major League Soccer, a vaunted move for a player many consider to be the greatest to ever play the game.
Messi's deal has reportedly driven up real estate prices in parts of Miami, and it is also influencing smaller businesses across the South Florida region.
Greater Miami is home to the largest concentration of Argentines in the country. Messi's addition is a big point of pride for them just as much as it is a big source of money for many of their shops.
"[People] come, they see, they eat, so I can tell that we've been up a good 25%-30%," said Max Alverez, owner of Fiorito, an Argentine restaurant in Miami since 2012.
Alverez has coined his restaurant "La Casa de Messi" since the superstar announced he would be joining Inter Miami. The shop on the 5500 block of NE 2nd Avenue has been a haven for Argentine cuisine since opening, but it became a viral sensation in 2018 when Alverez had a mural of Messi painted on its front.
That mural has taken on a new meaning now that the Argentine native and his family are now South Florida residents.
"I just love this guy playing futbol," said Alverez. "I mean, I went to London to see him play in the Finalissima last year, I went to the World Cup in Brazil, went to the final in Jersey and Chicago."
In 2019, Bridgewater State University did a study that looked at what it called the "LeBron James effect"— in which a superstar comes to a city to play for its sports team. The study found businesses thrive when a sports superstar arrives, as increased game attendance drives more people to stay in hotels, pay for Ubers and eat at restaurants.
Considering Miami is the second-most visited city by international travelers in the U.S., according to the U.S. Travel Association, it follows that businesses in The Magic City stand to make a ton of cash as each of those visitors spends an average of $2,500.
"We all love [Messi]," said Diego Setti, co-founder of Prison Pals Brewing in neighboring Doral.
Setti is Argentine as well. Once he learned Messi was coming to Miami he and his team created the GOAT 10 Lager, a nod to the World Cup winner's greatness as it is adorned in Inter Miami's iconic pink and black colors, and boasts Messi's number 10 on the can.
Setti says since his team has rolled out the beer, he has seen more orders come in from all over the world.
"It is huge because we have orders from all over the world," he said. "[Vendors] are asking for beer from everywhere ,so for us it's a huge change."
In a sense, sports are fabricated, since people give them meaning, but the fanatical frenzy and economic impact that come from those who play them are as real as anything you might encounter.
"I could do anything for [Messi] because I love that guy. He's the best," said Setti.
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