Lionel Messi was recently honored by becoming the first non-U.S. citizen to win the title of Athlete of the Year in TIME magazine’s prestigious annual poll.
The name Lionel Messi continues to be hailed as he receives the title of TIME’s Athlete of the Year. The Inter Miami star has been honored for the remarkable impact he has brought to football in the United States. The 36-year-old star moved to Inter Miami in July this year and immediately made a transformative impact on Inter Miami and Major League Soccer (MLS) as a whole. Messi played a significant role in helping the team secure their first-ever championship by winning the Leagues Cup 2023.
Messi’s influence extends beyond the confines of the locker room and has helped reshape the perception of football in the United States, historically considered weaker compared to other sports like basketball or American football.
Notably, on the day Messi debuted for Inter Miami, Apple added approximately 110,000 new registrations in the U.S. to the MLS Season Pass service, a digital streaming service covering all MLS matches. This figure represents a 1,700% increase, an unprecedented surge not seen in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, or Europe. Additionally, Inter Miami witnessed record-breaking revenue of $120 million in 2023, doubling what they reported 12 months prior, and they are now planning to surpass the $200 million mark.
Messi’s arrival in the MLS is undoubtedly generating a new wave of interest in football in the United States. FC Dallas President Dan Hunt shared with TIME about the new motivation Messi has brought to the entire MLS. “It’s truly the impact that Messi brings. U.S. audiences don’t care about Messi scoring goals; they just want to see him live,” Hunt explained.
The renowned TIME magazine, known for its iconic Person of the Year award, has been presented annually since 1927. In its nearly 100-year history, this award has gone to famous figures such as Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., and Elon Musk.
However, the Athlete of the Year award was first introduced in 2019. The Argentine star became the first non-U.S. citizen to receive this title. Prior winners of the Athlete of the Year award include the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (2019), LeBron James (2020), Simone Biles (2021), and Aaron Judge (2022).
Messi admitted to TIME that he considered other possibilities, including returning to Barcelona or moving to Saudi Arabia, before choosing MLS. “The truth is I had some interesting choices on the table, and I had to analyze, think, even consult with my family before making the final decision to come to Miami,” Messi said after receiving the award.