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Report commissioned by NASL owner lays out potential positives, obstacles to promotion/relegation

Photo by Andy Marlin/USA TODAY Sports.

Photo by Andy Marlin/USA TODAY Sports.

A recently completed report by business advisory firm Deloitte lays out an argument in favor of implementing promotion and relegation in American soccer’s professional league structure.

Commissioned by Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva, the report was commissioned in an effort to assess the feasibility of introducing pro/rel in the United States. The report, which was created using public information and a poll of over 1,000 American soccer fans, found that introducing promotion and relegation would have a range of long-term benefits on the sport in the U.S. However, the report also states that the U.S. is not currently ready for such a drastic change.

“U.S. soccer has a major opportunity to capitalize on the nation’s growing interest in soccer,” said Deloitte Head of the Sport Business Group, Dan Jones. “We believe the introduction of promotion and relegation into the existing league system could have numerous long term benefits, including increased attendances, increased broadcast audiences, improved commercial revenue and a positive impact on both elite players and grassroots participants.

“Though the U.S. soccer league system may not be ready for such a move immediately and its implementation may not appear urgent, the topic is worthy of greater exploration and debate,” he added. “U.S. Soccer should properly consider the merits of introduction of promotion and relegation and a transition plan for its successful introduction in order to drive U.S. soccer forward.”

The report went on the highlight the entertainment value provided by a pro/rel race, citing the English Championship Playoff Final’s 216 percent spike in television viewership over normal league games. According to the report, 50 percent of fans said they’d would more likely to watch games on TV if pro/rel was introduced, while 46 percent said they would be more likely to attend matches.

In total, the report found that 51 percent of fans are in favor of the promotion and relegation in American soccer.

The report goes on to state that, due to the historic instability of the American soccer system,  there would need to be a plan in place to help stabilize a potential change. The report referenced the English Football Conference and Korea’s K League as models on how pro/rel should be introduced.

However, the are a number of concerns. Stadium infrastructure and actual organizational quality are not up to the standards needed for an open system, while MLS’ long-term investors remain unlikely to want to risk the pitfalls that come with adding relegation to the mix.

As it stands, the report states that  the U.S. is “is not immediately ready for promotion and relegation”, but should being assessing a long-term plan to move towards the system.

“Of course, financial security is of paramount importance to club owners and investors,” Jones said. “New regulations and minimum league standards would likely be required to promote financial stability and good governance. For example, the financial risks for a top division side suddenly relegated necessitate precautionary measures.

“We would recommend parachute payments be considered, as are already in place in other leagues to help clubs manage the financial loss associated with relegation and also to give confidence to newly promoted clubs to invest.”

18 comments
  • The Imperative Voice

    Potential lame duck team in potential lame duck league watching the other two work together to make it irrelevant. I am sure they want some sort of escape hatch but I can’t imagine MLS allows teams into its first division or perhaps eventual pyramid without MLS itself being the kingmaker.

    Like

  • Jack

    Pro/Rel will happen at some point but I doubt NASL will ever be apart of it. MLS is simply going to keep expanding to the point they start a MLS 2. Then they can collect and expansion fee, and decide the teams/ ownership. It’ll probably be just 1 up 1 down for awhile.

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    • Quit Whining About Soccer in the US

      Why would MLS do that?

      They have a viable franchise and instead of having them in Division 1, where they would make tons of money……..they say no, your franchise is not allowed in Div 1 , you are in Div 2. Now go draw less fans and make less money, if you win enough, we will have another team draw less fans and make less money in your place.

      Why? They wouldn’t. I will never happen. EVER.

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      • A.S.

        I think that it will be considered because, at some point, they are going to be up against the practical limit as to the number of teams that can exist in one MLS division. Elsewhere in the world, soccer leagues have a practical limit of 24 or so. Perhaps MLS could get up to the 32 teams that the NFL has expanded to. But how many more teams than that could practically exist in one division? Will you have 40 teams, with each playing each other once? I’d think that once you hit 32 teams or so, it would be much more practical to split into two divisions with pro/rel between them somehow.

        Perhaps, given the playoffs to determine the champion here(which don’t exist in other countries), you could tweak the format to still let all the MLS teams have a theoretical chance at a championship each season. For example, the playoffs consist of 9 teams from MLS-1 and the champion of MLS-2.

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      • Jack

        The league and owners also love those expansion fees coming in. At some point that’s going to stop. I can’t see them going past 30 teams. A second division could open the door to continue getting those fees.

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      • Concorde

        I think you underestimate the market (and lack imagination). There are a lot of US-based soccer fans out there who don’t watch MLS. This is the league’s chance to own a niche in the american sports landscape. Which is exactly what they’ve been struggling with for over 20 years.

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  • Quit Whining About Soccer in the US

    Yeah, we will call it “unlikely” that MLS owners want to hitch their league, which is going through the roof in every way imaginable, to a league that is on the verge of collapsing or another slightly stronger league, which contains its minor league system.

    Way to go out on a limb.

    51% in favor of pro/rel you say. IF it is 51% it would be reports as 51% and if it were just below 50% it would be reported at 51%.

    It is not going to happen…ever.

    Like

    • CU24

      Funny, last time i checked, Garber said that MLS was losing $100 million annually. That’s not exactly going through the roof. Also, when your biggest source of income is franchise fees, then you might want to look at alternatives cause those are not going to be coming in forever. I don’t know if you read the summary or not, but it actually said that 8 out of 9 fans preferred p/r, not the 51% that this article cites (I have no idea where they got that figure from). It also goes on to point out how MLS’ model was correct during the beginning but that now it is hindering it’s progress, with stagnant tv ratings and relatively slow growth as compared to other european leagues. So maybe, just maybe, it’s time to pay attention to noise p/r is causing

      Like

  • johnnyrazor

    The only way it happens is if the top 12 or 15 teams decide to form their own US Premier League. If in say 20 years when MLS has 30-35 clubs, and you would have Galaxy, Red Bulls, Seattle, Orlando, NYCFC, LAFC, Toronto, Montreal, and a few others that want to spend much more than the others and would create a higher division.

    Like

  • Concorde

    ahh, polls. thanks for polls. 51 percent means… we will never know.

    From my point of view, I am only interested in watching MLS during the playoffs. That’s like a couple matches a year, and if I miss any of those for some reason it’s a very small disappointment.. And I am a very zealous soccer fan, who’s supported MLS since (before) the beginning. But the rest of the year, that is, for non-playoff games or offseason, the league can’t compete with European or South American leagues for quality, atmosphere, intensity, intrigue, and most importantly, consequence. I used to have more time to follow my dear inferior league, but honestly their emphasis on marketing, or heavy-handed cheapness, continues to (not fool me) drive me away.. Above any other possible improvement, including more exciting young players, P/R would probably bring me back. It would prove to me they respect and believe in legitimate fans who follow their clubs in hoards even in lower divisions, which is where a “soccer nation” is actually born.

    Like

    • Old School

      Hit the nail on the head.

      MLS is too obsessed with re-inventing the wheel or being NFL-lite, but has failed to tap into a huge market of soccer fans in it’s very region because it’s completely plastic and lacking any consequence, as you’ve accurately said.

      Acknowledging the revamping of “SuperLiga”, we have a circus man in charge instead of a soccer man. MLS won’t fold with him in place, but if you’re satisfied with mediocrity Garber is definitely your guy. We absolutely need more imagination to take a notable step forward or we’ll continue to be a 5th-rate division with nonsensical bells and whistles distraction the incredibly poor, overall, quality of the product.

      Like

      • quozzel

        Just asking, man…but where’s this $30 billion pool of investment we’d need to turn MLS into a “first rate” league overnight? Because when you consider academies, staffs, rosters, infrastructures, stadia, all that…$30 billion is about what you’d need.

        MLS ain’t got $30 billion right now. In fact I very much doubt that if you added up the combined total value of all the MLS franchises put together right now that it would exceed $2-$3 billion, and that’s being generous. Chivas USA – which was in the lucrative LA market – sold for just $100 million in 2014. Granted, they had next to no assets in terms of player contracts and no stadium, but even the average MLS squad has a value of just $140 million per Statistica.

        We criticize what we got because we’re ‘Merricans and we deserve to be #1 at everything…but man, stuff doesn’t come out of a vacuum, and while Garber sometimes does make my eyes glaze, he’s been careful and systematic and building the pyramid the right way, and he’s been more interested in steady increments than big bangs.

        I’ve been impressed with what MLS has pulled off. Not too long ago MLS was maybe 10 teams with names like “Tampa Bay Mutiny” playing in front of 3K on a football field where you could still see the gridiron lines. Nowadays I’m watch Seattle play in front of their 50K or Sporting KC play in their shiny new showpiece stadium and guys like Robbie Keane and Stephen Gerrard are retiring from LA Galaxy…and I kinda think while MLS has a ways to go, it’s also progressing awfully durn well.

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      • Old School

        but where’s this $30 billion pool of investment we’d need to turn MLS into a “first rate” league overnight?

        Quozzel, I’m not, nor is anyone suggesting MLS will become a “first rate” league. In fact, the only person to suggest that with a straight face has been Don Garber and we can see that proclamation is going to fail miserably.

        I understand the premise of baby-steps. However, I think many are suggesting the baby-steps are going towards NFL-lite, which doesn’t really capture soccer fans in this country. The real money infusion will be through TV/Ad-revenue and MLS’s man source of revenue, at this point, is adding new franchises. MLS brass are too obsessed with re-inviting the wheel and assuming the American-public and soccer fans in the country are too dumb to understand the “complexities” of the game as it is around the world.

        The excuse of our league being immersed within a country that has many other professional leagues is an excuse when soccer is incredibly unique (and this is coming from a staunch American-football fan) and could have it’s own footprint on the sporting landscape.

        Like

      • Adam M.

        I think pro/rel is exciting and meaningful, but its also set up in countries under specific circumstances that are nearly impossible to recreate absent an already-saturated soccer market. The bottom line is that major league sports are a race for life-sustaining tv revenue, and and MLS barely registers now. Absent huge tv money to sustain quality and ensure a ROI, you need ticket sales. In England, some of the Championship teams have stadiums amongst the largest in the UK, and there are a couple dozen soccer stadiums that seat more than MLS stadiums. We are probably a few decades away from being able to sustain a viable pro/rel situation from a financial perspective. Sure it sounds nice to say some lower division teams can rise up, but playing a A division games in tiny stadiums in small markets is a recipe for financial disaster, and no MLS owner in the right mind would want to have their investment relegated out of existence.

        Like

  • Concorde

    I should add that, we can all agree to hope, a lot of US-based soccer fans may not be even be fans of soccer yet. Instead of trying to adapt the game to the American sports fan, which, sorry, will NEVER work, they should look into showing that fan what soccer has, that no other sport does.

    Like

  • stayinskool

    Seems to me that the biggest obstacle to this great leap forward is the pessimism and negativity of Americans regarding their own league. Where does that revenue come from? It comes from people getting on board and supporting the growth and development of our domestic product. But then again, I’m a Timbers fan, so it’s easy: the atmosphere at Providence Park easily rivals matches I’ve seen in Sanchez Pizjuan (Sevilla), Bernabeu (Madrid), and Rajamangala (Thai National Stadium). Just ask David Villa: ““A lot of games, a lot of the stadiums have very good atmosphere. But for me, in my opinion so far, Portland is the best atmosphere.” Or Patrick Viera: “Fantastic. This is the best atmosphere so far I have experienced. When the anthem was going, the fans were fantastic and as a player you are looking forward to playing on this kind of stage.” (http://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2016/05/16/david-villa-praises-portlands-atmosphere-best-mls)

    Is there room for improvement? Duh. Are there occasional boneheaded lapses you don’t see in the EPL? Sure. But does anyone realistically expect that we would just start out at an elite because we put our American know-how to work? These things take time. And it becomes a lot more challenging when shortsighted haters and snobs disparage their own league because of some growing pains.

    It’s like someone who won’t attend their own kid’s soccer game because the talent is less developed than their hotshot crosstown rival. Or someone who bitches about being stuck in the mud while sitting in the car that other people are trying to push. Sheesh. What do you expect?

    Like

    • Concorde

      Your conclusion is a little off I think… actually I prefer youth soccer, to MLS at the moment, as it feels much more authentic. And your last sentence just describes a total a-hole ! Many are excited about this league’s growth, but I’m less interested in growth, I just look at the soccer, which is mostly boring.. And generally bothered by marketing and conversations about revenue. If you want to call me a snob I have no problem with that, but I was a metrostars fan since the beginning, cheering them in the rain and the astroturf in front of several thousand people. I was at MLS cup 96. Nobody at MLS cup 96 should ever be called a snob ! But I spend my spare time watching other leagues that have better players.

      That said your stadium IS great, easily the best in the country.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Beto

    It’s time for NASL-NPSL to enact pro/rel. Prove to USSF the impact that it will have.. literally nothing to lose, how long will minor league soccer really exist in the closed system?

    Like

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