China Building Theme Park Dedicated to Soccer Star Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

The Messi Experience Park in Nanjing is expected to open in 2019.

Cristiano Ronaldo might have that weird statue, but Lionel Messi is getting his own theme park.

The Argentine soccer superstar, whom many consider the game's greatest player ever, on Thursday announced a deal with Spanish and Chinese partners to create a theme park in Nanjing, China dedicated to his own likeness and achievements on the field. 

When finished — plans are for a 2019 unveiling — the Messi Experience Park will offer, according to its backers: “the most cutting-edge technology, enabling visitors to immerse themselves in all things Messi by combining the latest-generation attractions with the very best advances in content and multimedia attractions.” Some 20 attractions are planned for the park, which will be built across 500,000 square feet of indoor space and a further 130,000 square feet of outdoor playing area.

Messi's Leo Messi Management, the group that manages the rights to his image, will develop the park together with Chinese broadcaster Phoenix Group and Spanish media giant Group Mediapro. Mediapro operates several sports-related exhibition spaces and theme parks, including the Futbol Club Barcelona Museum for Messi's home club, FC Barcelona.

The Messi Experience Park is only the latest addition to a theme park boom in China, as international media companies look to tap into the exploding market for on-site entertainment in the region. According to World Travel Market and Euromonitor, theme park revenue in China will reach $12 billion by 2020, overtaking both the U.S. and Japan, the world's two largest markets today. 

The House of Mouse was the first major U.S. brand to plant its flag in the Middle Kingdom, unveiling its flagship Shanghai Disneyland Resort there last year. Rival Comcast, meanwhile, is set to open its own Universal Beijing in 2020. And Six Flags Entertainment is at work on four amusement parks in China, while the U.K.'s Merlin Entertainment has deal with China Media Capital to develop several parks in the country.

The overseas operators will have to contend with local competition from Beijing-based real estate conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, which has pledged tens of billions to building a network of 15 Chinese theme parks and vowed to dominate the sector over the next decade. 

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