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The Night Messi Came to Town: The Record-setting Business Behind Philadelphia Union vs. Inter Miami

Last Updated: August 18, 2023
Lionel Messi led Inter Miami to a win over the Union, but the night brought stories for a lifetime for the home team. Boardroom was in the building.

At around 10 p.m. eastern time on Friday night, what the Philadelphia Union envisioned could happen when the first ever Leagues Cup bracket was unveiled became a reality.

A 2-1 stoppage time win over Liga MX club Querétaro in the quarterfinals ensured the Union would host Lionel Messi and Inter Miami in Tuesday’s semifinals after the Herons easily dispatched Charlotte FC that same night. Conversations within the club began, the Union told Boardroom following a 4-1 defeat to Miami, back in March when the competition’s schedule was released, about the prospect of hosting a match featuring the soccer GOAT even though the chances of Messi coming to Major League Soccer were only a distant whisper at the time. But when the semifinal match became official, the Union quickly sprang into action.

On Saturday, meetings with Philadelphia Union, Inter Miami, and Leagues Cup staff began for what turned out to be the largest soccer attendance in Subaru Park history. Initial walkthroughs of the stadium initiated the preparations for heightened security measures, booking and planning pregame activities and activations for both indoor and outdoor spaces, building and planning for auxiliary press spaces, increasing digital and video production and output, and providing a top notch match day experience for those in attendance and those watching from around the world.

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When tickets went on sale for the match, they sold out in eight minutes. It was the number one revenue game all time since the club began play in 2010 as well as the highest grossing concession game in Subaru Park history.

Those eight minutes, the club said, were some of the most intense it’s handled on the ticketing side with the rush to get a chance to see the Union take on Messi and company at home in Chester, PA. While understanding the magnitude of the match, the Union tried to treat it like any other match as much as possible. Though CONCACAF is the sanctioning body in charge of Leagues Cup and there were certain different rules and regulations than a normal game, the tournament was mainly overseen by MLS and Liga MX personnel, giving clubs more autonomy to run and staff games like normal.

Though the Union had to hire extra security and game day personnel for the event, they tried to accommodate their fans as much as possible. Only Sons of Ben, the club’s official supporter group, were allowed to purchase tickets in the River End supporters’ section. And the club said it kept ticket prices at standard rates for season ticket members rather than raise prices and gouge its biggest fans for this one-time spectacle.

There were certainly challenges in hosting Messi with only a four day turnaround. Security and movement logistics had to be perfectly prepared to ensure the safety of players, fans, staff, and those in and around Subaru Park. More food had to be brought in than normal to accommodate the evening. The thousands of fans who’d never been to the stadium before had to be informed of how to get tickets, access parking, and paths for ingress and egress inside and outside the venue.

When the match kicked off at about 10 minutes past 7 Tuesday night and Messi scored 20 minutes later, the sold out, record crowd in attendance and those watching at home didn’t have to think about everything that went into putting the event together on such short notice. They were just witnessing a one-of-a-kind Subaru Park spectacle that broke club attendance and revenue records in front of a global audience. While the Union didn’t advance to the Leagues Cup final, it was able to put on an event that surely won’t be forgotten.

Note: The Philadelphia Union is a part of Boardroom Sports Holdings

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About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.