Analysing the impact Messi and Ronaldo have made in the MLS and Saudi Pro League | OneFootball

Analysing the impact Messi and Ronaldo have made in the MLS and Saudi Pro League | OneFootball

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Hayters TV

·22 February 2024

Analysing the impact Messi and Ronaldo have made in the MLS and Saudi Pro League

Article image:Analysing the impact Messi and Ronaldo have made in the MLS and Saudi Pro League

Messi and Ronaldo; two of football’s greatest ever players who have achieved things not many will ever match in the game. But as their careers begin to head towards the final years – Ronaldo is two years older than Messi at 38 – are their moves from Europe’s elite leagues to Saudi Arabia and America paying off in terms of cementing their legacy?

When Ronaldo brought an end to his European career by moving to Saudi Arabia from Manchester United in 2023, many questioned why he had chosen a league of little quality and interest despite the financial element of the deal being obvious.

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But what followed was an exodus of some of the game’s top talent such as Neymar, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante, who all moved to the Middle East for enormous transfer fees and contracts.

Six months after the five-time Ballon d’Or winner moved to Asia, his sporting rival, Lionel Messi, was also on the move with the Saudi Pro League touted as a potential destination after his spell at PSG.

In the end, the World Cup winner opted to move to the USA and arrived at Inter Miami with the team rock bottom of the Eastern Conference at the time.

On the pitch, Miami have massively improved since the arrival of Messi, who has been joined by his former Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba with the trio lifting the 2023 Leagues Cup, the club’s first-ever trophy. He was also later joined by another former Barca team-mate in Luis Suarez.

As for Ronaldo, in his first half-season, he lost the league to Nuno Espirito Santo’s Al-Ittihad and currently sits second this campaign behind Al-Hilal.

But away from performances on the pitch, have the pair, who have won 13 Ballon d’Or between them, made an impact?

Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia

Ronaldo’s move has been part of a much larger attempt from Saudi Arabia to become a giant in the sporting world, with golf,  F1 and boxing also being backed by the country.

These sporting coups for the country have made people more aware of the nation, with multiple star athletes endorsing their new home.

Undoubtedly the world has become more aware of the Saudi Pro League, with Al-Nassr’s Instagram following having grown from 834,000 to 24.6 million, as just one example.

The global awareness for Al-Nassr and other Saudi clubs has rocketed, with children around the world wearing Al-Nassr or Al-Hilal kits, a thought that would not have been imaginable three years ago.

With this growth in demand for the Saudi Pro League, Sky Sports showed the last half of the 2022/23 Saudi Pro League, with DAZN then paying £400,000 to become the sole broadcaster in the UK for one year in August.

More eyes from across the world have tuned in to, or at least been made aware of, the Saudi Pro League but locally there is still a gaping issue.

League One, the English third division, has managed to attract a better average attendance of 9,540 across their 24 clubs compared to Saudi Pro League’s 16 teams having an average of 9,483 fans per game.

The average has massively increased since Ronaldo arrived, with Al-Nassr only seeing 8,121 fans fill their 25,000-seater stadium in November 2022 compared to the 17,638 this season, but it still indicates that a lot more could be done to increase interest among Saudi fans.

And despite Ronaldo’s arrival, the Saudi Pro League is still lacking quality and is ranked outside of the top 35 leagues in the world, according to Opta.

Messi and Miami

That is six places lower than Messi’s new league, but unlike the situation Ronaldo entered into, the MLS has been far more established over a longer period of time.

The MLS has always had a healthy number of fans who would attend games, but that didn’t stop a growth in attendance. 22 clubs have seen an increase in crowd numbers, whilst as a whole the MLS saw 10,900,804 people fill stadiums across the season, a league record. Gates average out at just over 22,000 per match – well over double the Saudi crowds Ronaldo is playing in front of.

The main impact Messi has had on the pitch has been turning around the fortunes of a previously lacklustre MLS side.

When Inter Miami entered the league, with David Beckham as their figurehead, there was a lot of excitement about what could be possible, but they were hardly competitive in their infant years.

Messi has changed the perception of the club, and after opening their 2024 campaign with a 2-0 victory against Real Salt Lake City, this could be the year Miami truly announce themselves in the MLS.

The Argentinian’s arrival has also been a blessing for the business side of the sport. Inter Miami are now the fourth most followed of any US sports team on Instagram and the DRV PNK Stadium continues to be fill its 21,550 capacity. That is twice the size of Luton Town and AFC Bournemouth’s grounds and nearly 5,000 more than pack out Brentford.

Apple TV has also found the benefits of being the host broadcaster of the MLS. Ahead of Messi’s arrival the viewership was predominately US-heavy, but now a whole host of other nations have bought subscriptions.

The MLS had already found its place in the domestic market, but after years of being neglected by European fans, it looks to have finally broken that barrier.

Unsurprisingly, the two best players of this generation have managed to garner interest from football fans and businesses wherever they have moved.

The money both players have raked in has been enormous but the two players have shown a desire to win and are continuing to show that their influences have not been wasted, while also continuing to shine on the international stage with their respective countries.

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