It’s hard to imagine Lionel Messi playing for a club team other than FC Barcelona, but after an emotional announcement stating his departure, Messi was officially introduced as PSG’s newest player. The move from arguably the world’s biggest club to PSG has a huge impact on the soccer industry.
So what does this means for fans, the teams, leagues, broadcasters, and sponsors? Here are three initial takeaways.
Social media encounters the “Messi effect.”
There are many different ways to look at Messi’s social impact, but no matter how you do it, the numbers will be… huge. Since it was first announced he would not be signing a new contract with FC Barcelona, his name has been mentioned a whopping 14.2 million times on Twitter through August 11th.
As you’d expect, the subject of his move to Paris has been much-discussed on the social platform best suited for conversation. If we wind back the clock to a few weeks prior, Messi lifted his first international trophy for Argentina. Did that moment in mid-July cause more chatter on Twitter than his surprise move to PSG?
If you compare the 24 hours after Argentina lifted the Copa America trophy with the teased PSG announcement on August 10th, yes. There were 940,000 more mentions of Messi on Twitter surrounding the Copa America Final on July 10th. You can see that represented in graphical form below. Hell of a 30-day period for Messi, who was mentioned 20.6 million times from July 10th through August 10th.
On Instagram, Messi’s move garnered him 5.9 million new followers from August 6rd through August 10th. Not a bad follow-up from his post with the Copa America trophy becoming the most-liked sports post in the history of the social media platform with 20.7 million likes. To follow that up, his post following his emotional goodbye from FC Barcelona has nearly 20 million likes. Will his first PSG post reach similar heights? We’ll see, but it’s unlikely given his time spent at FC Barcelona versus his cup of coffee with PSG, to this point.
So, that’s the Messi story – what about the impact on PSG’s social accounts? Below is an illustration of the club’s follower growth on Instagram.
In the past few days as rumors of Messi’s impending move to PSG solidified, the club gained nearly 3 million Instagram followers on August 9th and 10th. On the 11th, the day of the official unveiling, PGS’s Instagram handle gained an additional 3.4 million followers.
Over on Twitter, we looked at PSG’s French, English, and Spanish accounts. Since Messi declared his intentions to leave FC Barcelona, the English and Spanish accounts have gained 150,000 and 178,000 followers through August 11th, respectively. That may not sound like that many considering Messi has averaged over 600,000 new Instagram followers per day the past month, but PSG’s English and Spanish accounts had added between 600-900 and 200-800 followers a day the week prior, respectively.
PSG’s more-followed French account has gained over 230,000 followers since Messi announced his FC Barcelona departure. In less than 24 hours from the account’s first teaser post on August 10th to the formal announcement on the 11th, there were 35 Messi-centric posts with the following cumulative engagements (and growing):
- Replies: 62,837
- Retweets: 886,205
- Likes: 3,993,900
- Video Views: 69,157,100
So, what does all this mean? Simply put, players run the show. The majority of fans are more attached to players than they are teams, particularly among newer, younger fans. Messi being one of, if not the, most popular athletes on the planet certainly makes him a bit of an outlier. However, we’ve seen a shift toward player loyalty over the past decade thanks, at least in part, to more fluid movement between clubs and the increased importance of social media and player connectivity.
Broadcasters scramble ahead of new season.
In May 2021, ESPN announced it had signed a new eight-year deal with LaLiga to broadcast the Spanish league on its family of networks, including every match made available on ESPN+. Surely, ESPN approached the LaLiga deal knowing Messi departing FC Barcelona was a possibility; however, it’s one thing to see it as a possibility and another to see it become a reality.
Does Messi leaving for the French Ligue 1 negatively impact the LaLiga product in the minds of both ESPN and their US viewer? Yes, it does. Starpower matters and there’s no doubt Messi is a huge driver of viewing interest. While this is a setback, LaLiga still has much to offer with arguably the two biggest club team brands in the world. FC Barcelona is still FC Barcelona and features an American and other well-known names among soccer fans. Real Madrid is still Real Madrid, a club name that even the most casual of fans will recognize. Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia, Villarreal, and others are still popular clubs with domestic and European success.
This upcoming season may well provide a true benchmark test of the LaLiga brand strength. How many fans will tune in despite the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, and more – all players whom we grew accustomed to seeing in Spain – now plying their trade elsewhere? FC Barcelona’s first LaLiga game this season is a Saturday showcase on ABC. It will be interesting to see the narrative around the game, the associated social chatter, and ultimately the ratings performance.
If the wind has been taken slightly out of ESPN’s sail, then it’s fair to assume that beIN SPORTS must be flying. The network just lost the LaLiga rights, which, at the time represented a huge loss. While this is still the case, the network has now retained the draw of Messi with his move to PSG thanks to their broadcast contract with Ligue 1.
Just how big is the Messi impact? beIN’s performance with Ligue 1 will give us some real indication in the coming weeks and throughout the season. I know I will be tuning in, at least initially, to see Messi with his new team.
Brands get in on the action.
From social media, to the broadcast booth, and now to brands. The switch from FC Barcelona to PSG means a number of corporate brands now have a different narrative and asset to tap into. Here are a few examples of brands getting in on the action.
Perhaps the first brand to make any formal Messi-related post, Budweiser’s football account released a video on August 8th featuring Barcelona residents, former FC Barcelona players, and Messi himself saying thank you for the memories during his tenure at the club.
One of Messi’s biggest and longest-tenured sponsors, adidas, has not made any formal posts regarding their premier athlete’s move to PSG. However, the adidas France account acknowledged his move and welcomed him to the country.
PSG’s jersey sponsor, Accor Hotels, operates 5,100 locations in over 100 countries. Their post acknowledging his move to the club features a five-player lockup image overlooking the Eiffel Tower and downtown Paris. To no surprise, it’s their most-engaged post (by considerable margin) as far back as I could scroll.
Other brands to watch
Messi is an official partner with Gatorade, Lay’s, Pepsi, and several other brands. PSG, of course, is sponsored by Jordan Brand / Nike. How will they use the adidas-sponsored Messi? It will be interesting to see how all stakeholders play into his move to PSG over the coming days, weeks, and throughout his next two seasons in Paris.
While not necessarily brands in the traditional sense, lest we forget other athletes offering their congratulatory words as one of sports’ biggest brands, Messi, moves to a club rising in popularity.