How the USA can do promotion and relegation better than England

BEAU: Riccardo Silva offered MLS $4 billion for media rights if it would institute promotion/relegation? And people like Jeff Carlisle have already done the heavy lifting in reporting what did and didn’t happen? Great! Time to do a quick opinion piece.

BEAU’S CONSCIENCE: What are we, all clickbait now? You know that offer was just a PR stunt. MLS can’t negotiate its media rights for several years, by which both Silva’s team and David Beckham’s proposed team may literally be underwater thanks to climate change and everyone may be watching sports on AmazonTube. 

BEAU: Well aren’t WE Debbie Downer this morning! Come on — we’ve been saying for years that pro/rel talk is just an academic argument until people put their money where their mouths are. Now they are! It’s not just Silva — Peter Wilt is planning a Division 3 league that would evolve into the cornerstone of a pro/rel pyramid. The reasonable voices are winning.

BEAU’S CONSCIENCE: We’ve tried to be reasonable for years. We all know the drill: 

  1. Something “new” happens in the world of pro/rel.
  2. You write a blog post dissecting the nonsense arguments — MLS is conspiring to keep soccer smaller than the NFL, a lack of pro/rel is the only thing keeping the USA from dominating world soccer, etc. — and STILL suggest a way to ease into a pro/rel pyramid.
  3. No one pays attention except Twitter trolls whose lives are so pathetic that they try to goad you into pro/rel arguments months after the fact. And then newbies pop up lecturing you about “Economics 101,” as if you haven’t been following sports business since before these dudes were born.

You’re just trying to stir something up so people will notice your new podcast, you sellout. 

BEAU: You mean Ranting Soccer Dad? It just so happens we’ve booked a guest on promotion/relegation for Aug. 10. 

BEAU’S CONSCIENCE: Is it someone reasonable, at least?

BEAU: It’s a Twitter troll who keeps accusing me of being on the MLS payroll to keep down pro/rel even though it’s been about 15 years since I wrote the MLSNet fantasy column and I keep coming up with plans FOR pro/rel.


BEAU: No, I’m kidding. Geez, lighten up! It’ll be a rare chance to have a *substantive discussion* with someone who is actually doing something to make pro/rel a reality.

BEAU’S CONSCIENCE: Fine. Whatever. And I suppose today you’re going to suggest a modification to your latest pro/rel plan that no one will discuss?

BEAU: Glad you asked! Here goes …

I still like my last plan, especially given the number of viable MLS expansion candidates at the moment. The executive summary:

  • Division 1: 16 teams, single table, no playoffs (see separate Cup competition), bottom three clubs relegated.
  • Division 2: Initially 14-16 teams in one table but eventually splitting into regions with minimal playoffs. Promotion to D1 but no forced relegation to D3, at least not based on a single season’s results. Clubs can always self-relegate if they can’t compete at D2 — this is an alternative to folding.
  • Division 3: The top tier of regional pyramids. D3 clubs must meet professional standards. D1/D2 reserve teams are eligible to play (as in Europe, you pseudo-purist know-nothings). No automatic promotion to D2, but clubs can apply to move up based on performance on and off the field.
  • Division 4: The highest a club can climb while still remaining amateur (which many clubs will opt to do). Some pro (or semi-pro) clubs as well.
  • Then each league can go lower as it sees fit, just as current amateur leagues have multiple tiers.

I believe I mentioned a Cup competition to replace MLS Cup. This will have 12 teams — eight from Division 1, three from Division 2, and the team from Division 3 that progressed the farthest in the Open Cup.

So why does the clickbait headline say we can do pro/rel better than England? Here’s why:

Until recently, England kept a strict barrier between “League” and “Non-League.” The Non-League clubs could apply to replace the last-place League club (92nd on the four-division English ladder), but they rarely were admitted. Now they’re a bit more fluid, with a fifth tier (formerly called the Conference, now called the National League just to confuse everyone) that’s professional-ish.

We can do it better by being more flexible in Division 3 (and to an extent in Division 2). As more clubs are able to move from amateur to professional, we can add more D3 regional leagues.

For decades, professional soccer in England was a zero-sum game. Add one club, and you had to subtract another.

Leaving Division 3 open-ended gives every club a chance to move into the professional ranks when they demonstrate that they’re ready to do so.

And THAT will help youth soccer, too. More professional clubs. More academies.

So we’ll talk about it in more detail on the Ranting Soccer Dad podcast, assuming my conscience doesn’t take revenge somehow for grabbing the third rail of U.S. soccer once again.

Also: I’m doing a survey. If you are a coach or general manager of a USL, NASL, NPSL, PDL, WPSL, UWS, UPSL or high-level USASA team and have not received a survey by the end of the day, please check with your communications manager (to whom I’m emailing the surveys). If that person didn’t receive one, let me know.

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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.

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