Feb 22, 2024

Messi, Inc.

Being the GOAT has more upside than ever. Lionel Messi’s upcoming $200MM fund and incubation studio lays the groundwork for a modern approach to capitalizing on singular talent.

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You can listen to an audio version of The Generalist on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

If you only have a few minutes to spare, here’s what investors, operators, and founders should know about Messi, the businessman.

  • It’s good to be the GOAT. Being among the greatest of all time in a given sport can be lucrative. Michael Jordan leads the way in monetizing athletic excellence, with an estimated worth of $3 billion. Remarkably, MJ accumulated approximately 97% of his wealth after he hung up his high-tops.
  • A new game. The world has changed since Jordan dominated the NBA. In the forty years since his seminal partnership with Nike, social media has risen to the fore, fundamentally changing how athletes interact with their audience and leverage them financially. Additionally, the rise of the tech sector has created a high-leverage wealth-building opportunity, attracting greats like Serena Williams, Shaquille O’Neal, and many others to venture capital.
  • Messi’s money. Though Messi lags behind the Chicago Bulls legend in the financial rankings, he nevertheless monetizes like a thriving enterprise. Over his career, he’s pulled in over $1 billion in earnings, enough for a net worth pegged around $500 million. The Argentine has made his money via his sporting salary and sponsorships. He’s also undertaken several business ventures, though it’s unclear if they’ve paid off financially yet.
  • Welcome to America. In 2022, Messi traded the Champs-Élysées for South Beach, signing for Inter Miami. Though that deal made him the MLS’s highest-paid player, Messi’s additional compensation is what’s most interesting. Apple, Adidas, and Inter Miami provided special inducements to tempt the Argentine to the United States. Messi’s arrival also allows him to grow his commercial presence in the world’s most lucrative market.
  • State of play. If Messi’s wealth outstrips Michael Jordan’s in the coming years, it will be because of Play Time. Less than two years ago, Messi launched the holding company with serial entrepreneur Razmig Hovaghimian. Although they are still keeping a low profile, the $200 million vehicle has begun incubating companies and making investments.

Toward the end of the movie Air, Nike marketer Sonny Vaccaro (played by Matt Damon) turns to an off-screen Michael Jordan and asks: “Who are you, Michael?”

It is the crescendo in the film’s plot and Vaccaro’s rousing pitch, a segue between the ad-man’s narration of Jordan’s future and the commercial matters at hand. “I think you already know the answer, and that’s why we’re all here,” Vaccaro continues. “A shoe is just a shoe until somebody steps into it. Then it has meaning.”

That a film about a brand partnership was made at all is another illustration of Hollywood’s addiction to established IP, from shoes to dolls. It is also a testament to the fundamental truth in Air’s script. If we cannot be great ourselves, we aspire to be as close to it as possible, to ally ourselves with it, to adopt its trappings. In even manufactured proximity, meaning emerges.

To Nike’s credit, its executives recognized the strength of this desire and its commercial potential. In the 40 years since MJ lent his leaping likeness to the Almighty Swoosh, “Jordan Brand” has grown into a global franchise, with Nike’s 2023 annual report attributing $6.6 billion in gross revenue to the sub-division.

In many respects, it is a brand that has eclipsed its inspiration, extending beyond basketball into other sports and the broader public consciousness. Around the world, millions rep the latest high-tops or hoodies but may only have a passing familiarity with the athlete that galvanized their creation. “Jumpman,” the brand’s iconic logo, will outlive Jordan.

In addition to securing Michael Jordan’s legacy, the apparel brand has made him a very wealthy man. Estimates suggest Air Jordan directly added $1.5 billion to Jordan’s coffers thanks to his 5% share of royalties. That figure doesn’t include the ancillary opportunities a broad, persistent brand presence affords. According to Forbes, it has helped Jordan become one of America’s 400 wealthiest people and the richest athlete on the planet, with a net worth of $3 billion. Jordan’s sale of his majority stake in the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets has been another key driver. The franchise was valued at $3 billion in its 2023 transaction, which saw GameStop short-seller Gabe Plotkin among the buyers.

In a decade or two, we may look back on Jordan’s current wealth as a rounding error compared to modern athletes’ affluence. The rise of social media and software allows players to monetize directly, cut out intermediaries, and build extraordinary wealth. Rather than relying on executives like Sonny Vaccaro and Nike founder Phil Knight, today’s Air Jordan would run on Shopify, collect payments through Stripe, and advertise over Instagram and TikTok. Its titular star wouldn’t have just 5% royalties but 100% ownership.

More than any other athlete, Lionel Messi is best placed to capitalize on these changing dynamics. The greatest footballer of all time is a singular talent entering his second act in the richest country in the world. While Messi’s move to America’s Major League Soccer has attracted more attention, his holding company “Play Time” – which SEC filings suggest is raising $200 million in capital – may illustrate the true scale of his commercial aspirations. Through public statements and conversations between The Generalist and Play Time’s co-founder Razmig Hovaghimian, a clearer image emerges: Messi doesn’t want to simply sell sneakers – he wants to build and invest in the great software and media companies of the next generation. It’s an ambitious plan that, if successful, offers much higher upside. The business of being the GOAT looks more lucrative than ever before.


The best place to begin is by tweaking Vaccaro’s question to ask: “Who are you, Lionel?”

Even if you have the most severe sporting allergies, you will know the name Lionel Messi, but you may not appreciate his influence. In simple terms, Lionel Messi is the greatest player of the world’s most popular sport. He is the most singularly gifted footballer to grace a game loved by billions of fans across every continent and country. That he is the third-most-popular account on Instagram with approximately 500 million followers, behind rival Cristiano Ronaldo and Instagram’s own handle, indicates his celebrity.

One of the frustrating aspects of debating whether an athlete is the “greatest of all time” (GOAT) in their respective discipline is the inherent haziness of the rubric. At this very moment, people are engaged in one of these frazzling contests. In a pub or bar, on a long road trip, or in heavy traffic, someone is saying, “OK, but greatest, how exactly? Are we comparing peaks or averages? How important is longevity? Are we basing this on the numbers, or do aesthetics matter?”

This debate makes sense for many sports: Tennis has its “Big Three,” basketball has Jordan and LeBron, and boxing imagines matchups between Ali and Tyson.

Football’s GOAT is beyond debate. Though that statement sounds like a provocation to fans of Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, and both Ronaldos, it shouldn’t be. The remarkable aspect of Messi’s career is that he is the greatest to play the game by any meaningful measure. He has won everything individually and as part of a team, recorded goals and assists at a ludicrous rate, maintained exceptional standards for twenty years, and produced hundreds of moments of jaw-dropping genius. If you are a stats wonk, his quantitative output will astonish. If you’re an aesthete, simply watch him glide over tackles, caress a pass through the eye of a needle, or loft a chip just beyond a keeper’s reach. Rather than asking whether Messi is the greatest footballer of all time, the better question may be whether he is the greatest male athlete of all time, as suggested by ESPN’s Ryan O’Hanlon.

Illustration by Ibrahim Rayintakath

Far from being parochial score-settling, the question of Messi’s greatness matters when considering his commercial ceiling. Football’s history is full of many great players, a few legends, and precisely one GOAT. Holding an unparalleled position in the sporting landscape gives Messi leverage that even other absurdly talented athletes may be unable to match.

Messi’s move to Inter Miami is a manifestation of what such influence looks like in practice. In the summer of 2022, Apple paid $2.5 billion for the ten-year rights to broadcast the MLS and the associated Leagues Cup. While you can still catch games on terrestrial networks like ESPN and Univision, Apple is now the definitive destination for the domestic league.

That deal put Tim Cook’s company in an intriguing position when Messi’s Inter Miami deal was being negotiated. Knowing that Messi’s presence in the MLS would immediately increase viewership – and potentially help it grow its smartphone share in Latin America, a geography in which it lags players like Samsung, Motorola, and Xiaomi – Apple offered an inducement. Messi receives a cut for every new MLS Season Pass purchased via Apple TV. Though the exact terms have not been disclosed, the fact that the world’s largest company (depending on the day) ceded to an individual athlete indicates Messi’s power. There’s a reason an industry expert referred to the partnership as “unprecedented.” Messi reportedly struck a similar revenue-sharing agreement with Adidas and was granted partial equity rights to Inter Miami.

Athletes and wealth

Before focusing on Messi’s particular opportunity, let’s examine how other athletes have accumulated multi-generational wealth.

Across his 15 seasons as an NBA player, Michael Jordan’s salary totaled $94 million. Given he is worth $3 billion today, he accumulated roughly 97% of his net worth after he left the basketball court. While many athletes struggle to make their salaries last into retirement, outliers like Jordan have succeeded in growing their earnings by leveraging their fame to strike partnerships and make lucrative investments. Often, the investments these athletes make are ones in which their star power can deliver outsized impact, lending credibility and improving customer acquisition.

Beyond Jordan and Messi, five athletes are worth paying attention to. It should be said that these are not necessarily the highest-paid or richest athletes. Saudi Arabia’s entry into football, golf, and other arenas has allowed many sports people to earn astonishingly high base salaries. Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, makes $213 million per year playing for Al Nassr. Meanwhile, golfer Dustin Johnson secured $125 million for joining the Kingdom’s breakaway LIV tour.

Rather than providing a high-to-low wealth ranking, we’ve focused on athletes who have been particularly creative in building wealth beyond their playing careers.

  1. LeBron James, $1 billion. One of the challengers to Jordan’s title as the NBA’s greatest ever has reached $1 billion in net worth while still competing for championships. In addition to clipping high salaries, James has taken equity in brands like Beats by Dre and Blaze Pizza. He has also spearheaded a holding company of his own, SpringHill Entertainment. That vehicle has spawned movies, game shows, and talk shows and is about to launch a men’s grooming line called “The Shop.”
  2. Serena Williams, $290 million. The GOAT of women’s tennis is a prolific venture investor. As an angel, Williams backed Zipline, Masterclass, Daily Harvest, and many others. A dedicated $111 million fund, Serena Ventures, debuted in 2022 and has started capitalizing a slew of other startups. Alongside her venture activities, Williams has launched (and seemingly shuttered) two fashion brands and taken minority positions in the Miami Dolphins and UFC. Forbes estimated her 2023 net worth at $290 million.
  3. Shaquille O’Neal, $400 million. The man better known as “Shaq” has an impressive and extensive track record as an investor. At one point, O’Neal owned 155 Five Guy’s burger restaurants, approximately 10% of the brand’s total. He also owned 17 Auntie Annie’s pretzel stores, 40 fitness centers, 150 car washes, 9 Papa John’s, and a smattering of Krispy Kremes. In 2018, he launched his own franchise, Big Chicken. Shaq also has a string of venture hits that would make many managers jealous, bagging Google, Lyft, and Ring early in their lives. O’Neal is estimated to be worth $400 million.
  4. Maria Sharapova, $220 million. The retired tennis star has grown her confectionary brand, Sugarpova, into a viable business, earning a reported $20 million annual revenue. Sharapova capitalized the business herself and still owns 100% of it. She has also invested in, Supergoop, and MoonPay. Her net worth is pegged at $220 million.
  5. George Foreman, $300 million. Under its original name, “The Fajita Express,” the sloped indoor grill devised by a Midwestern inventor attracted little interest. Only after boxer George Foreman came aboard, supplying his name and star power, did the “George Foreman Grill” become a home cooking sensation. Foreman earned 40% of profits for his part until his partners bought out his share for $138 million, contributing to his $300 million net worth.

By investing savvily, especially in sports franchises or mass-market consumer brands, athletes can earn far more in retirement than they ever did as athletes.

A different game

Despite the transformative effect of the Nike partnership, it’s hard not to believe that Jordan was underpaid. Nike’s market cap sits at approximately 3.4x of annual revenue – applying that same multiple would value Jordan Brand at $22.4 billion. If, instead of 5% royalties, Jordan had been afforded 50% equity, his holdings would be worth $11.2 billion with room to run.

Although Michael Jordan may not have spent late nights grinding at Nike HQ, it seems clear he delivered much more than the 5% in value he has been able to capture. Jordan Brand could not exist without him and would never have reached its current scale without his on-court brilliance and cultural cache. Though its success undoubtedly rested on the work of Nike’s employees, the one irreplaceable ingredient is the man whose name is printed on the leather.

If Jordan created the brand today, he could drive a much harder bargain. Over the last forty years, the sports, media, and technology industries have all radically changed. The result is that more power than ever rests in the hands of superstar athletes. Three shifts are particularly profound:

  1. Social media has eaten traditional media. Historically, athletes had no way to communicate with their fans directly, at scale. Social media changed the equation, allowing talent to talk to an audience intimately, repeatedly, and on a global scale. If you want to sell a face cream or a pair of sneakers, you don’t need to buy a slot on NBC or take out a page in USA Today. You can simply post a picture and reach hundreds of millions of feeds. Traditional gatekeepers no longer have the same leverage – athletes have greater control than ever over their story and its distribution.
  2. Superstar athletes are paid more than ever. In 1995, Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to a record-setting 72-10 season. The average NBA salary stood at $2.2 million. Today, the average is $9.5 million, heavily skewed toward the league’s best players. Stars like Stephen Curry, for example, earn over $50 million per annum. Popular leagues like the NBA have found ways to grow their appeal, deepen their connection, and increase their earnings – with part of that surplus reaching the talent. The result is that athletes have more money earlier in their lives and can better invest in external business endeavors. When Maria Sharapova decided to launch her candy brand, she didn’t need to go to outside investors; she simply funded the project herself. Athlete entrepreneurs are more financially able to use their money as risk capital.
  3. Technology has reduced startup costs, abstracted complexity, and increased upside. It is cheaper than ever to start a company. It is also, at least in many respects, easier. To launch an e-commerce brand, you can use a platform like Shopify. If you want to test out a new media property, you can use tools like Anchor to launch a podcast and YouTube to distribute videos. Today’s superstars not only have the ability to leverage these products but invest in them, too. Venture investing has become increasingly mainstream, drawing interest from athletes. Though picking winning startups is difficult, celebrities have unique, differentiated advantages in building brand affinity and attracting customers. As a result, athletes can often choose from a highly competitive pool of companies, maximizing their chances of finding the next big winner.

Taken together, these shifts have made superstar athletes the owners of their particular intellectual property. Each great player like LeBron James, Serena Williams, or Lionel Messi is the author and proprietor of their story and has greater financial and technological flexibility to monetize it. As a result, it is increasingly possible for an athlete to think of surpassing $10 billion in net worth.

Messi’s money

Messi’s first salary at Barcelona paid him $130131.24 a year, enough to support the young player and his family. He has come a long way since then. Though Messi’s precise net worth is unknown, a 2022 article estimated it at $400 million. Given this predated his game-changing move to Inter Miami, it’s likely considerably higher. By 2025, Messi’s career earnings (not net worth) are projected to hit $1.6 billion, taking into account on-and-off-field revenue.

So, how has football’s GOAT earned his money? And how can he multiply it in the years to come?

Naturally, Messi’s playing salary has provided a significant source of income. At Inter Miami, he earns $20.4 million a year, making him the league’s best-paid player by over $10 million. It is, nevertheless, a decline from his $41 million PSG salary (not including a $30 million signing bonus) and an even sharper drop from his last Barcelona salary. That four-year deal had the potential to deliver €138 million per year, depending on incentives. Given Messi made his professional debut nearly 20 years ago in October 2004, it’s easy to understand how his salary has contributed to his wealth, especially given his uniquely successful playing career.

It’s worth noting that Messi could have earned significantly more in base compensation if he had moved to Saudi Arabia rather than the United States. Over the past year, the Kingdom has been making an aggressive play to build out its football league, part of a broader sportswashing push that has impacted professional golf and Formula One. As Crown Prince Mohammed Bin-Salman frankly noted, he aims to grow Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry (and distract from its human rights record) by making it a destination for major sporting events. “If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we will continue doing sportswashing,” Bin-Salman remarked. “I don’t care. I have 1% growth in GDP from sport, and I am aiming for another 1.5%. Call it whatever you want.”

No one would have been a greater coup than Lionel Messi, which is why the Saudi franchise Al-Hilal – one of the teams backed by money from the government – offered a three-year salary worth €1.5 billion. That number would not only have essentially doubled Messi’s lifetime earnings, but it would also have made him the highest-paid athlete by some margin. In 2023, according to Forbes, Cristiano Ronaldo topped those charts, with total earnings of $136 million.

Given Messi’s previous work for the Saudi Tourism Authority, with his three-year deal delivering $25 million, it would not have been unduly surprising to see him trade Paris for Riyadh. He ultimately turned down Al-Hilal’s approach, which perhaps indicates that he and his team are playing the long game. While a spell in Saudi would have swollen Messi’s coffers in the short term, it could have curtailed his future earnings by damaging his brand. That might have limited sponsorship and investment opportunities. By emigrating to the United States, Messi chose the option with higher upside, both in terms of the incentives offered by Apple, Adidas, and Inter Miami – and by building familiarity in the world’s largest market.

Sponsorships have played a major role in Messi’s off-field earnings. He earns $25 million per year for the rest of his life, thanks to a partnership with Adidas. A deal with Socios, a supplier of fan tokens, delivers another $20 million per year. Partnerships with Gatorade, Pepsi, Hard Rock, Budweiser, and Louis Vuitton have also contributed.

Beyond advertising obligations, Messi and his team have helped launch three different businesses, though none have achieved mainstream success.

  1. The Messi Store. For every Air Jordan, dozens of apparel joint-ventures don’t amount to much. The Messi Store seems to be an example of the latter. In 2019, Messi’s team partnered with MGO Global and its Chief Brand Officer, Ginny Hilfiger, the youngest sibling of Tommy. In exchange for using Messi’s name on various themed T-shirts, jackets, and other apparel, MGO Global pays Messi royalty fees. So far, that has seemed to be a losing proposition. After Messi moved to Inter Miami – arguably the peak of “Messi Mania” – store sales jumped from below $100,000 per year to approximately $225,000 over the following three months. Meanwhile, Messi’s royalties for that period totaled over $320,000. Given the strength of Messi’s brand, these figures are almost absurd in their trivialness and suggest MGO are less than competent stewards of the asset they are paying for. The licensing deal expires in December 2024; a parting of the ways looks best for Messi and MGO.
  2. MiM Hotels. The Majestic Hotel Group partnered with Messi to launch a franchise dubbed “MiM Hotels.” It operates six properties across locations like Ibiza, Mallorca, and Andorra. It’s unclear how much Messi earns through these boutique locations, but the fact that they are operational seven years after the partnership was initially struck suggests a level of viability. Ultimately, hotels don’t seem like a particularly advantaged way to leverage the fame and appeal of the world’s greatest footballer. Apart from true superfans, even supporters of Messi are likely to select their next holiday destination based on quality, price, and personal preferences – not whether it includes a novelty “Ballon d’Or” dessert designed to mimic football’s most prestigious individual award.
  3. The Messi Experience Park. Disney has shown that amusement parks represent one of the best ways to deepen audiences’ connections with intellectual property. As alluded to, Messi is one of the great pieces of modern IP. His story, personality, and abilities all form a part of an asset inspired by the person but existing separately from it. The Messi Experience Park (MEP) recognized this, though we have yet to see how it will manifest. The pandemic delayed the opening of the park, based in Nanjing, China, and few updates have been shared since, though some rumors suggest it could officially open its doors in 2024. The MEP cost approximately $200 million to develop and is a joint venture between Mediapro, the Phoenix Group, and Leo Messi Management.

Despite these three initiatives’ limitations and difficulties, there’s good reason to believe Messi may achieve true entrepreneurial success. Holding company Play Time looks particularly promising.

Play Time

Razmig Hovaghimian fell in love with football from an early age. Though Hovaghimian is Armenian, he grew up in Cairo and spent his childhood playing football with a bundle of rolled-up socks bound with old string. Despite living more than 11,000 kilometers from Buenos Aires, he developed an affinity for Argentina’s national team – in part because of his father’s love for La Albiceleste’s legendary player Maradona, in part because he had cousins living in the country that he would write letters to.

An undergraduate degree at Berkeley and an MBA at Stanford introduced Hovaghimian to the world of startups. In 2008, after finishing his degree in Palo Alto, he founded his first business, Viki. Viki, a video streaming platform, leveraged volunteers to translate its shows into a long list of different languages. If it added an American show to its platform, for example, within a matter of days its community translated it into French, Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Tamil, Urdu, and dozens of other tongues. Given the nascency of the streaming industry at the time – Netflix only made its push into the space beginning in 2007 – that provided real differentiation and attracted nearly $25 million in venture funding from Reid Hoffman’s Greylock, a16z, CRV, and the BBC.

In 2013, Japanese conglomerate Rakuten acquired Viki for $200 million, delivering Hovaghimian his first exit. He would stay at his startup’s purchaser for a further five years, a period that brought him into the orbit of FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi. In 2017, Rakuten struck an annual €55 million front-of-shirt sponsorship deal with the Spanish club. That partnership allowed Hovaghimian to build a relationship with members of Barcelona’s board and eventually football’s GOAT.

“The early discussions with Messi were simply to talk about technology, innovation, how other GOATs like Michael Jordan invest,” Hovaghimian recalled. The Viki founder brokered introductions to interesting entrepreneurs and companies and helped set several technology partnerships in motion. “As a fan of Leo’s and his humility, I just wanted to be helpful and help him build a bridge with the technology world.”

The relationship grew, and within a few years, the pair decided to team up to launch a holding company. As Hovaghimian remembered it, the critical conversation took place in a city that would become a major part of Messi’s story. “Miami as a city was a pivotal and happy place for us,” he said. “It was there when we decided to launch the holding company.”

In October 2022, less than a month before the start of the World Cup that Argentina went on to win, Messi and Hovaghimian announced the birth of Play Time, “a holding company to invest in sports, media and technology globally,” as Bloomberg described it. In the sixteen months since, Play Time has kept a low profile. While the firm isn’t quite ready for prime-time, Hovaghimian shared more about its funding, operations, and strategy.

SEC filings suggest Play Time is seeking $200 million in capital. As one might expect, Messi himself is supplying much of this funding. “Leo is the anchor partner for the whole thing,” Hovaghimian said. “So this is Leo as an entrepreneur and businessman, and it coincides perfectly with his move to the US. He’s focused on football, of course, but we’re planting the seeds.” It wouldn’t be a surprise to see some of Silicon Valley’s historic firms number among Play Time’s LPs. Messi’s pull is significant, as is Hovaghimian’s tech network. In addition to his work at Play Time, the former founder is a Partner at Graph Ventures, an early-stage firm anchored by Sequoia Capital.

Though Hovaghimian spearheads Play Time, other members of Messi’s team are also involved. Leo’s older brother Rodrigo is the CEO of Leo Messi Management, an entity described as the footballer’s “commercial business arm” by Hovaghimian. He reportedly plays a key role, as does Michael Marquez, the founder of boutique investment bank Code Advisors and Morado Ventures. That early-stage firm has backed startups like Zipline and ClassDojo. Hovaghimian described both Rodrigo Messi and Marquez as “day-to-day advisors.” Jorge Messi, Leo’s father, also plays a role in helping make “high-impact introductions for our portfolio companies,” per Hovaghimian.

From a strategic perspective, Play Time seems to be pursuing something more ambitious than a family office and more focused than a pure venture firm. “[It’s] essentially a holding company in its true sense, broadly spelling, the HoldCo will be looking at all things at the intersection of sports, media and technology,” Hovaghimian said. “The focus is on technology first. We like enabling technologies for the masses, and we definitely like all things sports, from consumed to engaged. Live events and the evolution of sports consumption are interesting. So is media, as it’s culture shaping and Leo has incredible cross-cultural reach and appeal. He speaks the language of 5B+ people, and as a person, he does so authentically. We’ll also look at areas where we can help operationally accelerate companies we work with and lean into areas where we could give founders trajectory-bending support. By default and given our backgrounds, Play Time will be truly global.”

Messi in action for Inter Miami (Shared by Razmig Hovaghimian)

So far, that’s manifested in three publicly announced projects: Matchday, Momento, and BallerTV. The latter two look like more traditional investments, with Play Time participating alongside other investors.

Matchday looks like a true incubation. Hovaghimian lists himself as a co-founder of the gaming concept alongside former scooter-sharing entrepreneur Derrick Ko. Before partnering with Hovaghimian, Ko founded Spin, a Bird rival that raised $8 million in capital. Today, it is owned by the company it once competed with. Matchday is a collectibles-driven game. Players assemble their squad by acquiring the “cards” of their favorite players, like Lionel Messi, Alexia Putellas, or Erling Haaland. They then use these squads to compete against other users. Though Matchday has yet to launch a mobile experience, it offers a similar product to Sorare, another fantasy sporting platform. The French startup has raised nearly $750 million in funding, including from some of Messi’s former teammates like Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.

Momento began as a platform to purchase football memorabilia, including pre-worn shirts and boots, partnering with Sotheby’s to sell six of Messi’s World Cup shirts for $7.8 million in December. Though Momento still seems to offer that functionality, its consumer-facing focus has shifted. Today, it appears to be a platform to collect “momentos” of the games you attend. For example, if you attended Argentina’s victory over France in Doha, Qatar, Momento supplies a nicely designed collectible, which seems to be an NFT.

BallerTV is a streaming platform for youth sports. If you want, you can sign up to watch the Aggieland Panthers, a Texan U-14 basketball team, compete against the THESA riders. Companies like Overtime have demonstrated there’s broad interest in youth athletics with a particular focus on basketball. BallerTV seems intent on testing the boundaries of demand by providing coverage of junior basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, and football.

Though these three companies are listed on Play Time’s site, they may not have been backed by its fund (perhaps receiving direct investment from Messi). Indeed, Hovaghimian shared that Play Time had made its first investment just a few days ago.

Though he was not ready to share the startup’s name, he shared a few details with The Generalist. “We made our first investment this week in a fast-growing LLM platform focused on the data layer. They help companies across verticals build and fine-tune their AI models,” Hovaghimian said. “We’ll be looking at sports data together, so imagine data from [five billion] fans off the pitch, down to millions of athletes on the pitch. Sports x AI is pretty much blue sky and a very large opportunity. We’ll let the [company] announce the investment when they’re ready, but we’re super excited to be partnering with the team.” It’s another indication of where Play Time expects to focus.

On the pitch, Lionel Messi has achieved everything. We can only hope he stays a little longer, gives the world a few more flashes of his miraculous left foot, a few more serpentine dribbles through the heart of a defense. For nearly twenty years, he has illuminated the lives of billions with a singular ability we may not see again for some time. Such skill has allowed him to build a net worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars – a fraction of the value he has created, but a remarkable sum, all the same.

Changes to media and technological landscapes allow superstars like him to build and monetize an audience at larger levels and with greater flexibility than ever before. His move to America and establishment of Play Time suggest a savvy that could position him particularly well, allowing him to address the world’s biggest market better and benefit from the high-leverage magic of software and startups. In a couple of decades, it is not inconceivable that football’s GOAT is not only among the richest athletes but the world’s wealthiest people. Though Messi the footballer’s time is dwindling, Messi the businessman is just getting started.

The Generalist’s work is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, business, investment, or tax advice. You should always do your own research and consult advisors on these subjects. Our work may feature entities in which Generalist Capital, LLC or the author has invested.