Because I wrote a book about Major League Soccer that sold at least 10 copies and long held a position in which USA TODAY tolerated a small amount of soccer writing, I’m something of a lightning rod for what we might call “promotion/relegation zealotry.”
The funny thing is that these folks don’t say, “Hey, you’ve done a lot of painstaking and not particularly profitable research on the business of American soccer — let’s talk about what would need to happen to make a traditional league system work in this country.” These folks insist on yelling at me and ignoring what I have to say in response, as if I’m completely ignorant of the issues but would have the power to push their cause forward if I’d only adopt their slogans. People don’t do this in MMA — I’ve never had people yell at me to say, “Admit it — you’re part of the coverup to keep the UFC from adopting a tournament format!” In soccer, I’m not alone in this — every once in a while on Twitter, you see another soccer journalist say, “Enough. I’ve tried to be reasonable, and now I’m blocking you.”
Every once in a while (and it happened in the past week), someone’s reasonable about it. But more typically, I draw people who think (A) promotion/relegation should happen now or (B) there is an active conspiracy to prevent promotion/relegation from happening.
The simple fact is this — to my knowledge and to the knowledge of other journalists and soccer scholars, no one has ever put forward a plan to put capital behind a promotion/relegation system. You can’t vote “yay” or “nay” on something that doesn’t exist.
Soccer leagues of the past certainly weren’t lining up to mimic the English way. David Wangerin’s must-read Soccer in a Football World tells us about owners of 1920s and 1930s who came from other sports and sometimes resisted putting their “major league” clubs in the same Cup competitions. The NASL pretty much didn’t even bother with the Open Cup, and it had quite a few gimmicky rules. And yet its “closed system” and Americanized game didn’t prevent a flood of investors, including quite a few English and European folks, from jumping in with both feet.
The reality is that promotion/relegation has simply never been on the table. If you don’t have 20 or more teams lined up and ready to go, there’s not much point. And when we’re still facing the reality of a successful MLS team (D.C. United) unable to make a deal with any of the quirky municipalities in its metro area to get a stadium built, we can’t say we have the facilities in place, either.
But remember, we’re dealing with conspiracy theorists here. So when you raise these arguments, you’re just part of the conspiracy. And you get asked questions like “I don’t understand why non-MLS shareholders work so hard to defend model which blocks more investment in the American game.” (Well, MLS teams now have a few Designated Players spots to use, teams can develop Home-Grown Players through youth academies, Toronto is spending $20 million on a youth facility, and Kansas City’s ownership has revitalized a moribund MLS market with great marketing, a good team and a beautiful stadium, so … what investment is being blocked?)
That usually leads to every criticism of MLS, just or unjust, being laid at your doorstep as if it’s your fault. Or that all of these problems would be magically fixed by waves of moneyed investors if U.S. Soccer would simply force a promotion/relegation scheme into existence even though no one has made a proposal for such a league (and certainly didn’t back in 1993, when MLS was the winner among the three bids to bring Division I soccer back from the dead in the United States).
And it doesn’t matter if you believe on a personal level that it’d be really cool if the USA had a promotion/relegation system, in part because it would mean that a lot of logistical hurdles and cultural antipathy had been overcome. I wouldn’t stop following MLS if it suddenly went pro/rel, and I think most fans would stick around. (At the league level, at least — demoted teams tend to lose a little bit at the gate.)
Anyway, the point isn’t to rehash what I’ve said before or what keeps going around BigSoccer (coincidentally, a great summary was posted on Tuesday). It’s tempting to do a thorough list of promotion/relegation myths akin to anti-creationism sites like TalkOrigins.
Here’s the point: Promotion/relegation fanatics have a golden opportunity to step forward. In women’s soccer.
As of today, WPS is awaiting word on Division I sanctioning for 2012. Regardless of whether that goes through, 2013 might be wide open. WPS likely will need some expansion to maintain sanctioning for 2013.
If someone wants to present an alternate plan for a soccer league based on promotion/relegation, now is the time.
So there you have it. Want promotion/relegation? Convinced investors would be more likely to go for that than the U.S. model? Great! Let’s see it.