Highest paid MLS players: Where Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami contract ranks in 2023 season

MLS added some serious star power to the league this summer, as Argentine superstar Lionel Messi turned down offers from Barcelona and the Saudi Professional League to join Inter Miami of the U.S. domestic league.

With Messi in tow, Major League Soccer has seen significant increases in viewership and all-around interest in the league. MLS still lags in popularity behind other big football leagues around the world, as well as the “big four” leagues in the United States (NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA) but has clearly enjoyed an uptick in popularity regardless.

There’s no mistake that Messi shows up in the United States and immediately takes a seat at the A-list table along the likes of LeBron James, Patrick Mahomes, Connor McDavid and Aaron Judge.

It has come at a pretty price, however, as Messi will be compensated heavily for his services to the league on and off the field.

MORE: Lionel Messi contract & salary with Inter Miami

In the months since his initial arrival, details have emerged as to the details of his contract with Inter Miami. While a quick look at the league’s salary cap rules foreshadowed that he would see a significant decrease in base  salary than what he is used to making, Inter Miami were able to get creative to make the deal enticing enough to secure his services.

Here’s a look at the league’s highest-paid players for 2023, where Messi could rank among them, details regarding his Inter Miami contract and more:

MLS’s highest-paid players 2023

Here is a ranking of MLS’s top 10 highest-paid players for 2023, per the MLS Players Association (as of October 18, 2023).

Base salary is the player’s regular yearly payment. Guaranteed salary adds in their signing bonus, marketing bonus, and agent fees, all spread out across the length of the contract. Guaranteed salary does not take into account any player, club, or mutual options.

Players are listed in order of guaranteed salary, only including players with an MLS contract as of September 15, 2023.

Rank Player Club Base salary Guaranteed salary
1. Lionel Messi Inter Miami $12 million $20.45 million
2. Lorenzo Insigne Toronto FC $7.5 million $15.4 million
3. Xherdan Shaqiri Chicago Fire $7.35 million $8.15 million
4. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez LA Galaxy $6 million $7.44 million
4. Hector Herrera Houston Dynamo $4.75 million $5.25 million
5. Christian Benteke D.C. United $4.25 million $4.43 million
6. Josef Martinez Inter Miami $4 million $4.39 million
7. Sebastian Driussi Austin FC $3.8 million $6.02 million
8. Carles Gil New England Rev. $3.25 million $3.55 million
9. Teemu Pukki Minnesota United $3.2 million $3.55 million
10. Federico Bernardeschi Toronto FC $3.13 million $6.3 million

MORE: When will Lionel Messi play for Inter Miami?

Lionel Messi Inter Miami contract details

Messi has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract at Inter Miami, bringing him up to the end of 2025, with a reported option to extend for another 12 months.

According to the 2023 MLS salary release, Messi’s base salary is $12 million, with a total guaranteed compensation of just over $20 million. Those figures make him the highest-paid player in Major League Soccer by a massive margin.

Why did Messi choose to sign with Inter Miami at a reduced figure from his past career earnings? A report from The Athletic indicates he has other non-MLS financial incentives to join the league.

Messi will reportedly also receive an ownership stake in the club as part of his contract, with advertising and image rights talks ongoing with Apple, Adidas, and others. According to The Miami Herald back in June, when factoring in all aspects of the deal beyond just purely his salary, the deal is worth $125-$150 million (£100m-£120m) in total, broken down at around $4.1-$5m (£3.3-£4m) per month.

Salary database Capology has tabbed his salary as being worth $54 million per year in total, for a three-year total of $162 million.

MORE: Watch MLS Season Pass on Apple TV at 50% off the full-season price

According to The Athletic report, his deal includes a share of revenue generated from new subscribers to MLS Season Pass, the league’s streaming package on Apple TV+. A similar arrangement is in place with Adidas — the MLS’s official outfitter — which reportedly will give Messi a cut of any increase in profits due to his joining.

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