The organizer of Inter Miami’s game in Hong Kong where fans booed Lionel Messi for not taking part said it will issue a 50% refund to ticket holders worth $7.2 million.
Tatler Asia, which was criticized by the city’s leader for the debacle, apologized to spectators in a statement on Friday and blamed Inter Miami. Tickets cost as much as HK$4,880 ($624) for Sunday’s game, which was attended by some 38,000 people.
Pressure had been building on the organizer to offer compensation to fans angered by Messi’s no-show, especially after the Argentine World Cup winner played for half an hour in a match in Tokyo just days later. The refund comes after Tatler Asia said it would forfeit HK$16 million worth of funding from the government. The club is co-owned by David Beckham.
“We put our blood and sweat into bringing a world-class football match to Hong Kong and we were let down along with all of you,” the company said in the statement, adding that there was a “seeming lack of respect shown to the crowd” by Inter Miami.
The refund means the luxury lifestyle brand will record a loss of HK$43 million from the event, instead of a planned profit of HK$13 million, according to the statement.
Hong Kong’s government said it welcomed the refund and reiterated a request for Inter Miami to explain why Messi played in Japan so soon after sitting out the Hong Kong match due to injury.
Messi’s perceived snub has also triggered outrage in mainland China, where the Argentine football team is due to play next month. The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid, said in an editorial that Messi failed to apologize and the impact of the incident “far exceeded the realm of sports.”
Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of Global Times, said Messi’s commercial value in China will plummet as companies refrain from associating with the footballer.
“For a person whose career is coming to an end and whose morals are not very good, we should simply scold him and then ignore him,” he wrote on China’s Twitter-like Weibo on Thursday.
In a post on Weibo on Wednesday, Messi, 36, told fans he regretted being unable to play in Hong Kong due to an injury to his adductor muscles. The same day Inter Miami said it was sorry that Messi and teammate Luis Suárez couldn’t participate in the match. The team said it had waited until the last minute to rule out the players to maximize the chances of them playing, adding that injuries are part of the game.
Messi last played in mainland China in June, when he led Argentina in a friendly match against Australia in Beijing. His national team is scheduled to return to China for exhibition games against Nigeria and Ivory Coast in March, according to the Argentine football association.
Inter Miami was established in 2018, making it one of the newer teams competing in Major League Soccer in the US. It was launched with the backing of Beckham, the former Manchester United FC, Real Madrid CF and LA Galaxy star. Messi joined the club last year after leading Argentina to World Cup victory in Qatar in 2022.
Billionaire Jorge Mas, Inter Miami’s managing owner, said in a July interview that its value could reach $1.5 billion within a year.