By Victor Mather
A holiday deal offered by the New York Red Bulls soccer team features some merchandise, including a travel mug, as well as tickets to two games, including its first home game.
But there is some fine print. The MLS schedule will not be announced until the end of the year, and if it turns out that the home opener is against Inter Miami, fans who buy the package will get tickets for the second home game instead.
The reason is Lionel Messi.
Miami is the team of Messi, the global superstar, and a chance to see him is a lot more appealing than a random game against, say, Toronto FC. Any time he comes to town will be an event, and teams don’t want to just throw such a golden ticket into a package deal.
Some Red Bulls fans who noticed the fine print were annoyed and expressed that on social media — words like “gouge” were common. But at least a few others shrugged it off as a smart business move.
“It’s purely naive to expect the league not to try to capitalize on this at all costs,” said Dan Rodríguez, a Red Bulls fan from Westchester County, New York.
The Red Bulls did not respond to a question about the ticket offer. Even if fans lose the Messi game, the deal still includes a game against the team’s regional rival, NYCFC. And because there are 29 MLS teams, the chance that the first game will actually be against Miami and Messi is slim.
Around the league, though, teams are seeing a gold mine in Messi. Not every team has set its full pricing yet, especially since the schedule has not been announced. But the Columbus Crew is charging at least $382 for its home game against Miami — and $421 and $679 for better seats. In contrast, tickets for ordinary Crew games this year could be had for as little as $40, or less as part of a season ticket package.
Dynamic pricing is not unusual in MLS or other sports. A big game against a rival might cost slightly more, but not several hundred dollars more.
Miami itself is charging between 46% and 82% more for standard season tickets than it did this year, when Messi joined midseason. Less expensive packages are now about $800 for 17 games, and other season tickets are $4,000, $7,000 or even $10,000 for seats with club access.
That puts Miami as one of the priciest season tickets in the world. The most expensive season ticket to Tottenham, in the Premier League, costs $2,498, and it is $1,021 for La Liga’s Barcelona, World Soccer Talk reported.
Messi signed for Miami in July, when many tickets were already sold. That meant fans already in possession of tickets to his games were able to cash in on a resale, while no extra money flowed to the teams. For next year, teams have time to plan and get some of that markup for themselves.
Buying a season ticket to see another team that is scheduled to play Miami is one way to see Messi. Fans who do so will enjoy seeing Messi when he comes to town, or flip their tickets on the secondary market for a big payday.
Of course that’s assuming Messi plays. He will turn 37 during the MLS season and missed some games this year with a scar tissue ailment. When he did not play, many fans, some of whom had forked over top dollar, grumbled.
After he missed a game in Chicago in October, for which 61,000 tickets had been sold, the Chicago Fire offered $250 credit for season ticket holders and $50 to single-game buyers as recompense.
MLS teams around the country will have visions of full houses of fans in expensive seats, and not of refunds, for 2024.