The seats at DRV PNK Stadium filled up fast with fans eager to catch a glimpse of Inter Miami's newest superstar.
Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player of all time, was standing on a walkway in the middle of the pitch looking at his new home.
"I want to thank all the people of Miami for the welcome they have given me since I came here," Messi told the crowd.
The next chapter in the 36-year-old's storied career will begin here. Not in the Camp Nou, in Barcelona or in the Parque de los Príncipes, in Paris. It will be at Inter Miami's DRV PNK Stadium, a cozy venue in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, decked out in the team's pink and black colors.
Messi will make his Inter debut this Friday, against Mexico's Cruz Azul in the League's Cup. Argentine coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino told ESPN on Wednesday that it has not been decided if Messi and fellow newcomer Sergio Busquets will be starters or how long they will play.
In June, when the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner announced to the world that he was joining Miami, the team, now in its fourth season, had to rush its idea to renovate the stadium, to accommodate the increased attention it generates. the arrival of the star
For now, Inter Miami holds its home games in an 18,000-seat stadium that's 40 minutes north of the Miami site where the team has since built a permanent complex. DRV PNK Stadium was built on the site of a previously named Lockhart Stadium, which was originally designed for high school sports.
It is across from the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, where Messi and his family arrived last week.
Also the week before, silver bleachers were added at the northeast and southeast corners, increasing capacity by nearly 3,000 seats. That still falls short of the nearly 100,000 seats at the Camp Nou, where Messi rose to international stardom.
“You'll probably never be able to add enough seats to accommodate all the interest that the team is experiencing,” said Stephanie Toothaker, Inter Miami's outside counsel. "I think we've done everything we could in a very short time."
David Beckham, co-owner of Inter, can understand the adjustment required when coming from abroad to play in MLS. In 2007, Beckham joined the Los Angeles Galaxy after spending his career playing at Old Trafford for Manchester United and then at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium for Real Madrid.
The league was very different when Beckham undertook that move.
“I think there were 15 teams in the league at the time,” Beckham recalled. “Not many teams had specific stadiums for soccer. Now, there are 30 teams in the league and most have their own stadiums.
The average attendance this season in MLS is slightly below 23,000 spectators, Inter Miami averages 16,482. In June, Messi played Argentina in a friendly match against Australia in Beijing, in front of more than 50,000 people.
In the weeks after Messi's announcement, some speculated the team might move its home games to the 65,000-capacity Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, home of the NFL's Dolphins and one of the World Cup venues. from 2026. Several MLS teams apply similar solutions.
Atlanta United and Charlotte share their stadiums with the NFL's Panthers and Falcons. The Mercedes-Benz in Atlanta can receive about 70,000 people for American football matches and 45,000 for MLS.
Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte has 74,000 seats. Charlotte's first ever home game last year set an MLS attendance record with 74,479 fans.
That could be the number of people who turn up to see Messi play for his new team in the league.
Inter co-owner Jorge Mas said on Tuesday that the plan is to play the remaining regular season home games at DRV PNK. However, there is the possibility of playing certain matches at Hard Rock Stadium.