Each week, a deal is selected that illustrates the themes driving change in the sports industry. They may not always be the largest deals in value or those of the highest profile, but they tell us where the leading players are focusing their efforts and why. Our thematic deal coverage is driven by our underlying Disruptor data that tracks all major deals across our sectors.

The deal

Ares Management, the Alternative investment manager, has invested a further $75 million into North American Major League Soccer (MLS) club Inter Miami, following the recent arrival of Argentine superstar Lionel Messi.

The club said it will use the money to develop its proposed Miami Freedom Park stadium and other growth initiatives.

Ares has now invested a total of $225 million in Inter Miami since 2021.

Why it matters

Ares’ latest outlay comes as Messi’s impact on Inter Miami and MLS in general continues.

Since his debut, the team has won four consecutive games in the Leagues Cup, the annual competition featuring clubs from MLS and Mexico’s top-tier Liga MX, with Messi scoring seven goals.

Inter Miami is not profitable at the moment but Messi’s pull has already sparked unprecedented commercial interest in the franchise, including sell-out crowds at their home games.

Messi's debut also delivered the highest domestic single network viewing figure for a MLS side since 2004. The team’s 2-1 win over Mexico’s Cruz Azul, in which Messi scored a late winner, secured an average audience of 1.75 million on major Spanish-language network Univision.

His arrival and Ares’ investment also come as the country prepares to host the FIFA 2026 World Cup alongside Canada and Mexico, with the country keen to capitalize on the event to boost the profile of the domestic competition.

Tanveer Aujla, GlobalData Sport analyst, said: “The draw of soccer’s greatest ever player is undeniable, with Messi having taken both the MLS and Inter Miami by storm since his arrival.

“Amongst the league, there is a sense that there are huge commercial opportunities available that may not come around again. The official MLS website even has its own Messi section on the front page, which reflects the hysteria and excitement surrounding his arrival. It feels like American soccer needs to capitalize on the presence of Messi, especially given that nation will be co-hosting the next FIFA World Cup in 2026.

“While soccer will never eclipse the other most popular sports in North America, Messi’s presence feels like the biggest opportunity that the sport has had to gain ground in the US, arguably since David Beckham joined LA Galaxy in 2007.

“The gigantic investment in Inter Miami by Ares is evidence of the commercial opportunities that Messi can provide through presence alone and could prove to be the start of an era of greater investment in the league as a whole.

“However, there are those who think that Messi’s arrival for the league is a bad thing, with some arguing why most teams should bother developing players through academy systems if a team can just sign a player departing Europe and turn their fortunes around.

“However, Messi is a rare case, and the likelihood of another player coming to the MLS and having such a substantial impact on a team’s fortunes is unlikely.”

The detail

In an interview with Bloomberg last month, Jorge Mas, the club’s managing owner, said the franchise’s value could reach $1.5 billion within a year.

Jim Miller, Ares co-head of sports, media, and entertainment strategies, said: “We are excited to upsize our strategic investment in the club. Our work together and the progress made since our initial investment has only reinforced our confidence in Inter Miami’s bright future.”

Last September, Ares Management raised $3.7 billion in a fund for investment in sports leagues, sports teams and sports-related franchises, and media and entertainment companies.

The Sports, Media, and Entertainment Finance fund, Ares’ first focused on the sector, comprises equity commitments of nearly $2.2 billion, with “anticipated leverage and related transaction vehicles” expected to deliver a further $1.5 billion of capital.

As well as Inter Miami, Ares has investments in Spain’s Atletico Madrid and Eagle Football Holdings, which owns England’s Crystal Palace and Olympique Lyonnais in France.

MLS changed its rules to allow for institutional funds to own passive minority stakes in teams. No single fund can own more than 20% of the team’s equity and no fund can have more than four MLS teams in its portfolio.

No team can sell more than 30% of its equity to funds overall.

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Image: Logan Riely/Getty Images