The 2023 Major League Soccer season has undoubtedly been Lionel Messi’s season.

The World Cup champion and one-time Ballon d’Or winner arrived at Inter Miami last summer and transformed the circuit. Sales of the pink No. 10 jersey exploded. Subscriptions to MLS games on Apple TV have skyrocketed and ticket prices for its games have reached all-time highs.

“I think history will remember 2023 as Messi’s, but for my part, I think it was one of the most spectacular years in the history of our league for several reasons. Lionel Messi has taken this to a level that we could hardly have imagined,” Commissioner Don Garber said during an interview on the state of MLS.

Aged 36, Messi has scored 11 goals and collected eight assists in 14 games in all competitions with Inter Miami. He helped the team win the first League Cup, against Liga MX.

Attendances were up 5% across MLS, but up 35% in Miami. The club has already sold out all its tickets for the 2024 season and rumors are sending Uruguayan Luis Suarez to join Messi in Florida.

Garber indicated other reasons for the transformation of the circuit in 2023, including the momentum generated by the holding of the World Cup last December in Qatar, the success of the expansion club of St. Louis, the rights of broadcasts with Apple TV and the playoff format.

Add to that the grand final on Saturday, between LAFC and the Columbus Crew.

“To top it all off, Messi came to Miami and performed beyond expectations, both on and off the pitch. He truly proved that MLS can be a league of choice for the best soccer players on the planet,” Garber said.

The commissioner didn’t bite into the question about Suarez, but he expressed frustration with some reports where Messi referred to MLS as a minor problem. He believes this is a translation problem.

“[Messi] understands that MLS is a different league, at a different level than La Liga. We don’t question that, Garber said. It solidifies our work that we must continue in order to be one of the best leagues in the world. »

This was the first season of Apple TV’s 10-year broadcast rights deal. Neither Appel nor MLS would give ratings, but both parties indicated they were satisfied. We have to give credit to Messi again.

Antenna, a streaming measurement firm, reported 110,075 new MLS Season Pass subscriptions during Messi’s first match with Inter Miami, an increase of 280% compared to subscriptions on the first day of the season. There were 65,000 more subscribers to his second match.

Garber said the mid-season competition between MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX will serve as a bridge to the 2026 World Cup, hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada. But it also adds more matches to an already busy schedule for players, especially those who have to play for their national team.

“We like that it’s in the middle of the season, it allows both leagues to focus on this event. This type of tournament, which several other leagues have adopted, we have been working on for several years, said Garber. We will continue to look at how to deal with congestion, which is a problem for all leagues around the world. »

The new playoff format, with a first round played in the best of five matches, was criticized, notably by LAFC star Carlos Vela.

Garber welcomes this new format and there are no plans to change it. Top-ranked teams also progressed to the next round at a greater rate than in the previous 15 years, suggesting that this format more rewards teams that have done better in season.

St. Louis City had a historic debut season, becoming the first expansion team to finish first in their conference.

The club’s 17 wins are also a record for an expansion team. The team also played its 18 games in its new stadium in downtown St. Louis to sold-out crowds.

St. Louis City has set the bar for San Diego, which will become the league’s 30th team in 2025.