Lionel Messi heads to Hollywood, ticket prices soar for Inter Miami vs LAFC Sunday

Lionel Messi heads to the west coast for the first time in an Inter Miami uniform for Sunday’s high-profile match against defending MLS champion Los Angeles FC; and it is the hottest ticket of his summer road tour thus far.

The cheapest tickets were listed at $585 on the secondary market as of Friday afternoon, lower-level midfield seats were in the $2,000 to $4,000 range and suite seats were on sale for $7,000 to $8,000. Seats in the “1800 Tequila Field Suite 10” at BMO stadium are as coveted as courtside seats for L.A. Lakers playoff games.

The list of celebrities who have shown up for LAFC games includes Justin Bieber, Owen Wilson, Snoop Dogg, Jaime Camil, Colin Hanks, Dr. Dre, Danny Trejo, team co-owners Magic Johnson and Will Farrell, and “Ted Lasso” stars Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt.

Tickets have been at a premium for all the Messi games on the road, but Sunday’s game (10 p.m., Apple TV) is in even more demand because upwards of 85 percent of the 22,500 seats at BMO Stadium are reserved for season-ticket holders, so there is not as much inventory for the secondary market as there is at other MLS venues.

According to the Los Angeles Times, LAFC added hundreds of standing-room tickets for this game for more than $300 apiece and those tickets sold out in minutes.

Since Messi’s announcement in June that he was joining Inter Miami, the average ticket price for a Miami away ticket is $400, about 59 percent more than the average NFL game, reported the Wall Street Journal.

“As we’ve seen with other superstar athletes, Messi’s addition to Inter Miami is driving incredible demand and sales not just for the team at home but when they’re on the road,” StubHub spokesperson Adam Budelli said in a statement. “L.A. fans have seen their share of sports stars, but Messi is one-of-a-kind.”

Last Saturday in Harrison, N.J., a large segment of the Red Bull Arena crowd was rooting for Messi and erupted when he scored in the final minutes of Inter Miami’s 2-0 victory over the Red Bulls. There was a significant number of pink Messi jerseys and Argentina No. 10 jerseys in the stands.

Hoping to avoid that type of scene, the LAFC supporter groups have instructed fans not to wear pink or other opposing player shirts to Sunday’s game.

Messi will be extra motivated to score on Sunday after Inter Miami settled for a 0-0 tie against Nashville SC at home on Wednesday, ending a nine-game win streak since the Argentine’s arrival. It was the first time Messi failed to score or provide an assist in his 10 games with the club. Messi has scored 11 goals since his arrival in early July.

He will not be available for the Sept. 9 home game against Kansas City, as he is leaving for Argentina national team duty on Monday. Argentina has World Cup qualifying matches against Ecuador Sept. 7 and Bolivia Sept. 12.

Messi is one of nine Inter Miami players who were called up to national teams and will miss the Kansas City game. The others are Drake Callender (USA), Benjamin Cremaschi (USA), Sergiy Kryvtsov (Ukraine), Robert Taylor (Finland), Josef Martinez (Venezuela), David Ruiz (Honduras), Diego Gomez (Paraguay), and Edison Azcona (Dominican Republic).

Miami, which is desperate to claw up from 14th place to the ninth-place playoff line, was frustrated all night Saturday against defensive-minded Nashville, which hung back with eight and nine defenders at times. Although future opponents might be tempted to use that as a blueprint of how to stop Miami, L.A. is known as an attacking team and is unlikely to stack the back.

“Things could turn around going to LA, one of the best teams in the league,” said Miami defender Kamal Miller. “It’s probably going to be a much more open game that suits our style, so we’re looking forward to that matchup.”

LAFC is in second place in the Western Conference with 11 wins, seven losses, seven ties and 40 points. Miami is second-from the bottom in the East with six wins, 14 losses, four ties and 22 points. Messi and his teammates must win nearly all their remaining 10 games to earn a playoff berth.

One of the defenders who will try to contain Messi is Giorgio Chiellini, the Italian former Juventus star who faced Messi many times in Europe.

“If you think that Messi is a normal player, it’s a huge mistake. It means you haven’t seen him for the last fifteen years,” Chiellini said. “If Sergio (Busquets) has the ball and you don’t mark Messi...maybe you don’t have a TV at home.”

The last time Chiellini and Messi faced each other was in the 2022 Finalissima, a matchup of 2021 Copa América winners Argentina against Italy, which won Euro 2020. Argentina won 3-0 at Wembley in London in front of 87,000 fans.

It was a particularly sad day for Chiellini, who was playing his final international match before retirement. He and Messi were captains of their respective teams.

Although Messi did not score a goal that day, he was named Man of the Match.

Chiellini is not the only LAFC player who has experience against Messi. French-born forward Denis Bouanga, who plays internationally for Gabon, faced Messi in the French league last season and scored in both of Saint-Etienne’s matches against Messi and Paris Saint-Germain, although PSG won both games 3-1.

“Of course, it’s always a pleasure to play against the best in the world,” Bouanga told MLS.com. “Especially for me, I’m very happy. I’m really hoping we’re going to beat them with LAFC because when I played in France with Saint-Etienne against PSG it was really hard.”

A third L.A. player who has faced Messi is Mexican star Carlos Vela, who played against Messi in La Liga when he played for Real Sociedad and Messi was at FC Barcelona.

Vela returned from injury recently and scored in a match last week against Colorado. Vela started last Saturday in a 2-1 loss to Charlotte and came off in the second half.