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Meet the billionaire who convinced Messi to snub $400m offer in Saudi Arabia



Billionaire Jorge Mas persuaded the world’s biggest soccer star to join a bottom-of-the-barrel team that’s languishing in last place in its league.

Now he needs to make it pay off.

With Lionel Messi and Apple Inc. on his side, the 60-year-old construction executive is seeking to upend the business of US soccer and make it a lot more profitable. The linchpin of his strategy was signing Messi to a contract that jettisoned a traditional cash-for-services agreement in favour of revenue sharing accords and an equity stake in the team — a dealmaking strategy closer to Wall Street’s playbook.

Mas’s vision is that the international superstar will lure millions of new subscribers to the Apple TV+ streaming service and attract top players to Major League Soccer. Messi will get a share of the windfall from any increase in international accounts for Apple TV+, while Mas’s Inter Miami soccer club is set to earn millions from increased ticket and merchandise sales. The rest of the league will see a knock-on effect from the hype around Messi, Mas’s theory goes.

“I have very high aspirations for Inter Miami, for MLS and for the sport,” Mas said in an interview Monday, a day after thousands of fans stood in the rain to see Messi don the Florida club’s uniform for the first time. “I’m all in.”

Of course it’s a risky proposition, with almost everything riding on a player who has had a tremendous career but is also getting old by his profession’s standards. The 36-year-old has seven Ballon d’Or titles, holds the record for most goals scored in a calendar year — 91 times in 2012 — and led Argentina to World Cup success in Qatar in 2022.

He’s coming to Miami after spending two years at Paris Saint-Germain, where in recent weeks he was on the receiving end of fans’ taunts over his performance.

Messi follows a tradition of ageing soccer champions that moved to the US, with mixed results. Brazilian legend Pele came out of retirement at 34 and spent three seasons with the New York Cosmos in the 1970s, while David Beckham left Real Madrid in 2007 to join the LA Galaxy. There were also Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba. And still, US soccer’s promised popularity boom failed to materialise.

But Mas is a patient man. Flanked by Messi’s jerseys and Henry Kissinger’s books at an office in upscale Coral Gables, Florida, Mas says it took more than three years to bring Messi to Miami.

Part of the pitch included selling Messi on life in Florida — Mas touted the opportunity of coming to a “country that’s hungry for soccer, where he could literally change the sport,” and closer proximity to his family in Argentina. But there were also big financial incentives.

Messi’s contract with Inter Miami runs through 2025, with a base salary of $20 million per year that could reach $60 million with bonuses. Upon retirement, Messi will receive a minority stake in the team.

He also has a deal with Adidas AG and a unique arrangement with Apple TV+ that will benefit him if the streaming service attracts international subscribers. Mas estimates Messi could bring in 2 million overseas accounts over 18 months. “There is no other player in this country that can have the impact globally that Leo Messi can have.”

Adidas declined to comment, saying it never discusses details of its contracts. Apple didn’t reply to a message seeking comment.

While there’s no final estimate on what Messi’s Miami package will ultimately be worth, it was enough to entice him from a much more straightforward offer from Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal. That deal would have earned him around $400 million annually, according to news reports.

The Apple TV+ service is using sports to attract subscribers, inking a $2.5 billion 10-year deal with Major League Soccer to show games on its platform. One of its most popular TV series, Ted Lasso, follows a fictional Premier League team headed by an American who had never coached soccer before.

In a way, it mirrors how Mas became a soccer tycoon by chance. Mas is the son of a Cuban immigrant, Jorge Mas Canosa, who became a leader in a movement to overthrow Fidel Castro. The family’s fortune comes from MasTec Inc., a $9.1 billion company that builds pipelines, fibre-optic networks and wind-farms across the US. Mas is the chairman and his brother the chief executive officer.

After a failed attempt to purchase the Miami Marlins several years ago, Mas bought out Beckham’s partners at Inter Miami, where his family now owns 80% of the team. Mas sees Messi changing the team’s fortunes, estimating its value could reach $1.5 billion within a year, compared to an estimate from Sportico of $585 million last year.

Mas plans to bring in a new investment partner and jersey sponsor, and has hired former Barcelona and Argentina coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino and midfielder Sergio Busquets. Inter Miami’s strategy is to mix late-career stars with young upstarts, he said.

Construction will soon begin on Inter Miami’s new Freedom Park stadium, which will seat as many as 25,000 fans. The privately-funded project has seen costs increase almost 40% from its original $1 billion, Mas said. It is slated to be completed in 2025, the last year of Messi’s contract, which has Mas holding out hope his star player will hang around for longer.

On Monday morning, Mas saw Messi doing a light practice for the first time, at Inter Miami’s current DRV PNK Stadium (pronounced “Drive Pink”) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “It was unbelievable,” he said.

For now, Messi will be living in the suburb, as he wanted to be “no further than 10 minutes away from the training centre,” Mas said. Messi fans have already began chasing him around Miami, even shadowing his supermarket strolls.

Mas said his biggest worry is that Messi wouldn’t be able to find schools for his three kids. After the pandemic made Miami a magnet for wealthy newcomers, securing a spot in one of the most prestigious private schools became next to impossible. Luckily, the Mas family had a long history of favours to call in and ended up finding them a spot.

“I wanted to make sure his landing here was as smooth, seamless as possible,” Mas said. “And I think so far, so good.”


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Messi’s famous Barcelona napkin auction opens in London



Lionel Mess

The auction for the napkin which famously launched Lionel Messi’s Barcelona career as a 13-year-old opened this week with a guide price of £300,000-£500,000 ($374,700-$624,500).

Bidding for the item stands at £220,000 and will be open with the British auction house Bonhams until May 17.

The sale was originally slated for for March but was postponed due to a dispute over the ownership of the napkin, which has been in the hands of Horacio Gaggioli, an Argentine agent, for the last two decades.

Josep Minguella, another advisor involved in the deal to bring Messi over from Argentina, claimed possession of the napkin following the news it would be auctioned earlier this year.

Gaggioli disputed this, while Bonhams told ESPN there were “no problems” regarding the sale of the napkin, which is listed on their website as “property of Horacio Gaggioli.”

The auction for the napkin has opened after a dispute over it original ownership. Bonhams
Minguella has not replied to ESPN’s request for comment. With Messi’s father, Jorge, beginning to doubt Barça’s commitment to his son in 2000, the club’s director of football at the time, Carles Rexach, hastily scrambled together an agreement on a napkin.

It was signed by Rexach, Minguella, who had helped bring Messi over from South America, and Gaggioli, who helped broker the deal, serving as a promise for a first contract.

Since then, it has remained under the ownership of Gaggioli in a secure vault in Andorra, the Principality to the north of Barcelona sandwiched between Spain and France.

Negotiations for it to be incorporated into Barça’s museum at the club’s Spotify Camp Nou stadium broke down in the past.

The napkin was originally signed on Dec. 14, 2000 at a tennis club in Barcelona after Rexach had received a frantic call from Jorge Messi threatening to take his son back to Argentina.

“That was when, thinking on my feet, I decided everything,” Rexach told ESPN in 2020 to mark the 20th anniversary of the signing.

“Why a napkin? Because it was the only thing I had available to hand. I saw the only way to relax Jorge was signing something, giving him some proof, so I asked for a napkin from the waiter.

“I wrote: ‘In Barcelona, on 14 December 2000 and in the presence of Messrs Minguella and Horacio, Carles Rexach, FC Barcelona’s sporting director, hereby agrees, under his responsibility and regardless of any dissenting opinions, to sign the player Lionel Messi, provided that we keep to the amounts agreed upon.’

“I told Jorge that my signature was there and that there were witnesses, that with my name I would take direct responsibility, there was nothing else to talk about and to be patient for a few days because Leo could already consider himself a Barca player.”

Messi, who now plays for MLS side Inter Miami, went on to become Barça’s greatest ever player, making more appearances (778) and scoring more goals (672) than anyone else who has played for the club.

During over 20 years in Barcelona, he won 10 LaLiga titles, seven Copas del Rey and four Champions League trophies while playing for the club before joining Paris Saint-Germain and later Inter Miami.

Individually, he has won the Ballon d’Or a record eight times and has also been named The Best FIFA Men’s Player on three occasions.

International success with Argentina had eluded him until recently, but he finally won the Copa América in 2021 and the World Cup in 2022 to go with the Olympic Gold Medal he won in 2008.



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F1 signs multi-year extension to ‘US$40m-a-year’ DHL deal



Formula One has agreed a multi-year expansion of its global partnership with logistics company DHL.


  • DHL will continue as the series’ global logistics partner
  • The extension is described as a ‘longer-term commitment’, suggesting a longer contract than the four-year extension signed in 2021.


This latest extension builds on a 20-year relationship between Formula One and DHL, with the most recent deal worth around US$40 million per season, according to sponsorship analytics platform Luscid.

Recently, DHL has worked with Formula One on reducing emissions produced by logistics, with a biofuel trial during the European leg of last season resulting in an 83 per cent reduction.


“As our longest-standing partner, DHL has become such a crucial part of the delivery of our events, so we’re delighted to continue that successful collaboration for many more years,” said Jonny Haworth, director of commercial partnerships for Formula One.

“Our partnership has seen the sport transform and grow, and DHL have been hugely supportive in our transition to become a more sustainable sport.

“This will continue to be key as we move towards 2030 and as sustainable logistics continue to develop, I look forward to seeing the positive innovations that come next.”

Coming next:

The 2024 Formula One season gets underway this week with the Bahrain Grand Prix from 29th February to 2nd March.


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CAF to make about $75m in estimated revenue for AFCON 2023



At the Stade Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Abidjan last Sunday, mixed emotions filled the air. Heartbreak for the Super Eagles of Nigeria and joy for the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire, who clinched the AFCON 2023 trophy with a 2-1 victory over Nigeria.

Ivory Coast’s remarkable journey to lifting the trophy concluded a thrilling AFCON, making it the best experience so far.


During the Africa Cup of Nations opening ceremony on January 13th, CAF President Patrice Motsepe expressed optimism that AFCON 2023 would be the best so far. The events and drama that unfolded in Abidjan undoubtedly support this claim.


Before the final of the competition, Dr Patrice Motsepe mentioned in a press conference that nearly 2 billion people had tuned in to watch AFCON 2023.


The notable rise in viewership was linked to broader broadcast rights, media coverage, commercial partnerships, and the influence of social media.

CAF had 17 commercial partners for the tournament, which included TotalEnergies as the title sponsor, official sponsors such as 1xBet, Visa, and Orange, along with regional sponsors like Ecobank, Unilever, and MTN.


Matches were shown in about 180 countries through deals with partner broadcasters like Sky, Canal+, beIN Sport, BBC, and MultiChoice, as well as 45 Free To Air broadcasters.


Media accreditation saw 6,000 journalists apply, which is double the number from the last AFCON in Cameroon in 2022.

How Many People Viewed AFCON 2021 and how it compares to AFCON 2023? 

The CAF activity report for 2021-2022 indicates that around 500 million viewers from 160 nations tuned in to watch AFCON 2021 in Cameroon, marking an increase of 40 nations compared to AFCON 2019 in Egypt.


Additionally, CAF recorded 1.4 billion streaming impressions on its digital platforms, and there were 351.4 million online video views associated with AFCON Cameroon 2021.


By sticking to the earlier estimate of 2 billion people before the final, it suggests that AFCON viewership saw an increase of over 300%, and this could be more when the official report from CAF is released.

Estimated Sponsorship Revenue for AFCON 2023 

According to GlobalData, a London-based market research firm, it is projected that CAF will generate approximately $75 million in sponsorship revenue from the current AFCON.


The tournament featured 17 commercial partners, including TotalEnergies as the title sponsor, along with 1xBet, Orange, and Unilever.


In the fiscal year 2021-2022, CAF’s overall revenue reached $103.6 million. The sponsorship funds derived from Competitions contributed significantly to this total, generating an impressive cumulative revenue of $79.8 million.


This marked a notable increase of $3.6 million compared to the previous year’s sponsorship funds.


The projected sponsorship revenue for the AFCON 2023 alone is estimated to be $75 million, underscoring the substantial and commendable contribution of CAF to this achievement.


In January, prior to the commencement of AFCON 2023, CAF disclosed a 40% increase in the prize money.


The champions, Ivory Coast, are set to receive USD 7,000,000. The Super Eagles of Nigeria will be awarded USD 4,000,000, while South Africa and DR Congo will each receive USD 2,500,000.


The other four quarter-finalists, Mali, Angola, Guinea, and Cape Verde, will individually get USD 1,300,000.


AFCON made a big impact on social media, from lively fan chats to live updates. But it wasn’t just for fun; some people also made money from it.


Last year, Twitter started an initiative where users could earn a share of the ad revenue from sponsored posts under their tweets.


Some folks partnered with brands, joined subscription programs, or got tips from their followers.


For example, a video of the final moments of the Côte d’Ivoire vs. Nigeria match, posted on the official CAF account, got over 15 million views, 1.5 million likes, and 300,000 retweets.


According to Statista, the average cost per thousand impressions for social media ads globally was $4.33 in the second quarter of 2023, making the estimated ad revenue around $65,000.


The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations was undoubtedly a success both on and off the field. The Confederation of African Football, CAF can take pride in organizing a splendid tournament.


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