The U.S. leg of the Messi and Friends Tour got off to about as bad a start as it possibly could with the cancelation of Lionel Messi's charity match in Los Angeles on a day's notice and accusations of a "blatant attempt to defraud American citizens" from one of the game's sponsors. Though the final match of the tour in Chicago was played as scheduled on July 6, it was wrought with egregious problems that left its highest paying attendees feeling scammed.
While Messi sat poolside in Las Vegas at a party thrown by (retired) Ronaldo the day before the Chicago match, fear of another cancelation and news that the squads would be rounded out with former players from Northwestern University limited ticket sales to less than half of Soldier Field's 60,000 capacity. Still, the match's promotors, Numero 5 (different from the LA organizer), were able to sell about 80 "VIP" packages that promised to include "tickets with unprecedented field access following a meet and greet with the players, as well as a jersey and ball autographed by Messi" for a whopping $2,500 a piece.
But the fans from all over the country who purchased those VIP packages thinking they would get the rare chance to meet Lionel Messi in person ended up feeling they were the victims of a "classic bait and switch." The autographed ball and jersey turned out to be "a cheap plastic ball" and a "T-shirt" with the Messi autographs either stamped on or smudged and the pre-match meet and greet consisted of only a few of the professional footballers in a hot, windowless room. Lionel Messi — who was substituted in the 68th minute of the match and left the stadium before the final whistle so he could relax in Ibiza with friends and family — was not one of them.
Here's one account of what happened submitted to DT from a Chicagoan who paid a total of $5,000 to give his young son the chance to meet his now former hero.
COMPLETE AND TOTAL DISAPPOINTMENT!! Since February, when I was fortunate enough to secure 2 VIP Tickets for Hudson and I to meet Lionel Messi and sit on the field for the game, I was pumped. I was excited for Hudson and I was excited for myself. Hudson had written a paper "If there was anyone in the world he could meet" who would be? His paper was on Lionel Messi. Hudson and I are both huge soccer fans, both visited Barcelona, went to the FCB Stadium and were just giddy about the chance to meet the World's Greatest Soccer player.
Hudson and I waited for 2 hours in a private room under Soldier Field with 75 other "lucky" fans....But waited and waited we did.... and at 5 minutes to 6:00 p.m. we were told he is not coming. They told us they would try to do it at halftime or at the end of game....but those both came and went... Messi left the field in the 68' minute and left the stadium.
I looked to Hudson, put my arm around him and said I was very sorry. Hudson welled up and started to cry. He was devastated and I was devastated for him. No words could fix what he was feeling and what I was feeling for him.
When we got to the car and started driving away he began to weep some more. All I could tell him is that sometimes are heros let us down, that they are just regular people and whether they are great actors, singers, athletes -- they are just people. Some are good people and some are bad.
This was for Hudson 9th Birthday he wasn’t having a party this was supposed to be this once in a lifetime event, that a father and son get to have and remember for the rest of our lives. All for naught.
I will end with this from Hudson: "Dad, next jersey I get, it wont be Messi. He is not a hero."
The cost of this experience was $2,500 per ticket.
Another man who bought the package recognized some of the ex-Northwestern players he ended up paying thousands to see from his coed Sunday league.
"I don't have anything to do with the local promoters," Crain's Chicago Business quotes Messi as telling reporters at press conference the day before the match through an interpreter and over the telephone. "At the end of the day I'm here to benefit the (Messi) Foundation and benefit Unicef."
Crain's also said that the Numero 5 representative "did not know how much money would be donated to Unicef and the Lionel Messi Foundation." But she did claim that it was costing Numero 5 $500,000 to fly in and lodge the likes of Julio Cesar, Thierry Henry, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Mascherano and others to play, which they all did for free.
It's clear that the majority of the blame for this mess falls on the match organizers rather than Messi himself. But it is his name that's printed on the tickets. He obviously needs to be more careful when choosing who he allows to represent him and his foundation to better avoid an association with making kids cry and bilking adults out of their time and money.