Great time for promotion/relegation fans to step up

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.

Published by

Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

17 thoughts on “Great time for promotion/relegation fans to step up”

  1. oh. wow. I just looked through a certain twitter feed that all pro/rel all the time. insanity Dure, I’d say you’ve got a stalker–watch your back. hahaha.

    My favorite atm is the failed to “acknowledge that majority of pro teams in the US are not in MLS” post — did that really need to be said? lmfao

  2. He’s referring to me. I’ve never said pro/rel could be implemented tomorrow. It Japan 6 years to do it, and we’re richer with more fans willing to support teams. So 2017 could be a target date. And yes there is a conspiricay. Alan Rothburg created MLS. MLS was chosen over 2 competing D1 bids. At the time the USSF chose MLS Alan Rothburg was the USSF President. Hmmm. Also, Sunil Gulati is a Kraft Sports employee. Is Kraft Sports involved with MLS? I can’t recall…

  3. BTW what do you think of Eric Wynalda? Have you read his TL since Sunday? See what he wrote about MLS SUM FMF relationship? Exec Summary: if SUM can’t re-new FMF deal MLS might collapse. What a business model!

  4. “But remember, we’re dealing with conspiracy theorists here. So when you raise these arguments, you’re just part of the conspiracy.”

    Every single “barrier” to adopting the Euro-Model I’ve addressed with multiple links backing my POV.

    STADIUMS? America has plenty of stadiums in scores of markets with open dates;

    TRAVEL? “The [dispersed geography and] travel costs are a red herring. Air travel costs in America are more about the route than the length of the route. The difference in travel costs between Edmonton or Atlanta is not even five percent. We would never do a geographic alignment and become a bus league.”

    TEAMS? mls + nasl + usl = 38
    csl has 12 more with additional 6 in PR D1 and 17 in PR D2
    That’s 56 teams in MLS/NASL/USL/CSL/PRD1. 20 D1 (which MLS wants to go to) with 18 in 2 regional D2’s.Plenty of 1+M people markets.

  5. No, I was pretty much referring to Ted, who takes harassment to fantastic heights.

    If you’d read my book (or David’s), you’ll read about Rothenburg and sanctioning. It was controversial, absolutely. But if you read this story about the controversy, you’ll see a telling quote from Desmond Armstrong.

    And the other bids weren’t open systems. One was barely even soccer.

    Sunil’s role also has been controversial. He’s out at Kraft now. But do you see the difference between having flaws in MLS and assuming that we could magically conjure a thriving pro/rel system from nothing?

    On Eric — I like the guy. I’ve had great conversations with him. What he’s saying about MLS and SUM is outdated at best.

    Stadiums — the whole point is to avoid paying rent. Control scheduling, control the revenue streams. That’s why Houston is moving out into its own digs. College stadiums aren’t good for anything but a temporary home.

    Travel — I think you’re taking Downs a little out of context. A charter bus is cheaper than 20 plane flights and 10 hotel rooms.

    Teams — I’ve talked with some of these folks in lower divisions, and they would not be able to play at a D1 level. It’s not their goal, short-term or long-term.

    You and Ted insist that people would invest if the USA had an open system with pro/rel. Read the histories. No one has ever attempted to do so. It’s not because U.S. Soccer doesn’t want it to happen. It’s because soccer has always been a dicey proposition in the USA, even in the 1920s/30s Golden Age, and we’ve never had enough a league raise enough capital to even consider multiple divisions. (At least, not with a D1 level at the peak — plenty of amateur and semipro leagues, where the difference in financial commitment between the top tier and second tier isn’t so substantial.)

    So that’s why I’m saying now — a rare opportunity exists in women’s soccer. Get investors together and make a pitch to U.S. Soccer. Speak now or … well, don’t hold your peace forever, but for now.

  6. “You are either for me or you are against me.”

    I can unequivocally say I’m against you. As are all right thinking humans.

    Not because the idea of promotion and relegation is crazy. But because YOU’RE crazy. Because you refuse to face reality. You put your hands over your ears and say “la la la la la la la la la I am not listening to you” whenever anyone tries to speak rationally to you about why this country won’t have promotion and relegation anytime soon, if ever.

    YOU say investors will come out of the woodwork if only promotion and relegation were instituted. This is complete and utter bollocks.

    YOU say there’s a conspiracy. There isn’t.

    YOU say those of us who tell you you’re nuts have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. We don’t.

    YOU are a nutjob. And now, thanks to this post, we know of yet another one. So there’s you, Dennis Justice and this theakinet person, none of whom has any desire to think rationally.

    Your attitude basically comes down to this: The NSC Minnesota Stars, who draw 1600 people a game and have no actual owner and play in a substandard stadium in the sticks, should be in MLS in 2012 and the Vancouver Whitecaps should not.

    This shows a complete lack of understanding of the realities of the situation, and proves that your sole purpose is to have an MLS that LOOKS exactly like England, whether it can function that way or not. Because all you care about is appearances.

    Well, that and the microwaves NBC is beaming into your head when you watch The Tonight Show.

  7. As for Beau’s general point, as it pertains to the women’s game…promotion and relegation with what, exactly? A W-League/WPSL scenario? You think the Pali Blues can afford to be in Division 1? You think people are going to pump money into D2 women’s teams on the 1/10 or 1/8 chance they’ll get to go to WPS and….what? Flounder around?


  8. I don’t know, Kenn. I’m not the one insisting that the capital and the facilities for a pro/rel system will materialize from thin air. 🙂

  9. “I don’t know, Kenn. I’m not the one insisting that the capital and the facilities for a pro/rel system will materialize from thin air. :)”

    Were the stadium links I provided not working? The stadiums already exist. And even if you own your stadium you still have expenses like security, concession staff, the event coordinator for game-days and other events. So no, duping some local governmentt to pay up front costs wouldn’t get you a free stadium.

    “Travel — I think you’re taking Downs a little out of context. A charter bus is cheaper than 20 plane flights and 10 hotel rooms.”


    “You and Ted insist that people would invest if the USA had an open system with pro/rel. Read the histories. No one has ever attempted to do so. It’s not because U.S. Soccer doesn’t want it to happen.”

    You can only have pro/rel if US Soccer mandates it. Since you’re the US Soccer historian, please tell me when the USSF mandated pro/rel throughout the pyramid?

    Here’s what I stand for so you get once and for all. It’s ok to turn down promotions. It’s ok to relegate yourself. What’s not OK is a small group taking over the USSF and dicating the terms of existance to non-MLS teams in order to prevent non-MLS approved owners from building better clubs that attract more fans (money). The #1 way to prevent that is the open-pyramid w/ pro/rel. I think it would take at least 6 years to make the transition (Ted says it would take at least a decade, not overnight, btw). Why deny people a chance to see high quality soccer in America?

    As for that link you provided it backs up my point. The A-league already had teams playing outdoor soccer in…wait for it…stadiums. So why not use the $20M-$25M as prize money for A-League teams? Or as travel subsides since you think it costs $1M to go from New York to Seattle.

    Preemptive rebuttal: Yeah, the soccer would’ve *looked* minor league, but it would’ve been cheaper than renting the Rose Bowl and Giants Stadium, which means a greater likelihood of avoiding a Fusion, Earthquakes 2.0, Mutiny situation.

  10. I don’t care about women’s soccer unless it’s the WC or Olympics. But here’s a plan. Split the country into 4 groups. Any women’s team (pro or amatuer) that wants to compete registers with USSF. Home-and-home playoffs. Final 4 in each region drawn against team from other region after Regional Finals (RF held to determine National Finals seeding…you could give a trophy):

    East 1 v Other Group 4th, East 2 v OG 3rd, etc. Mexican tie-breaking. High seed advances if draw on aggregate. BOOM!

    Eventually you could make this the basis of ranking clubs for a D1, D2, D3 etc. on a regional or national basis (I’d go regional). You could go with playoffs only, or leagues as appropriate.

    What’s the next issue?

  11. Everything seems incredibly simple to fanboys who’ve never ever ever worked in a league or with a team. No, soccer in this country is not as simple as BOOM. Never has been. Likely never will be. But you and the tinfoil hat brigade think this is a frigging APBA league that you can set up on a computer.

    I’ll say this about Ted and Dennis…at least they put their frigging names to their tinfoil-hat rantings.

  12. the obstacle to pro/rel is the franchise system. Owners ponied up $$ to be in a league where they will never see their teams value decreased because of relegation. So the argument that pro/rel won’t happen any time soon is pretty strong because of this reality. I’d love to see us get rid of the franchise model for soccer but I don’t have the faintest idea how.

    Then there is the argument that pro/rel wouldn’t work because Americans wouldn’t accept it. Or that it wouldn’t work because there is not the demand for more divisions. Or that it wouldn’t work because lower division clubs couldn’t get investment to build stadiums etc. There is a long list of it wouldn’t work because of X.

    There’s a simple argument to counter all these “it wouldn’t work because” arguments. It’s the economic trigger argument. It goes like this:

    D1 signs pro/rel agreement with D2. D2 signs pro/rel agreement with D3 etc. These agreements have benchmarks each league must meet in order for pro/rel between them to be automatically triggered. For example in order for the pro/rel agreement between D1 and D2 to be triggered D2 would have to have 3/4 of its clubs playing in Soccer Specific Stadiums and every club with a youth academy. Any promoted club must also meet D1 standards as far as stadium. The D2 and D3 trigger could be the youth academies.

    I don’t see how the “it wouldn’t work because” arguments stand up to this. Because if as they say it doesn’t work then you just don’t have the trigger go into affect. The worst case scenario is you have the American soccer landscape always striving to make it there.

    Its my opinion that it would take D2 about 10 years to trigger pro/rel

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