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SBI Question of the Day: Would you prefer MLS adopt promotion-relegation?

Red Bulls Cosmos (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Photo by Andy Martin/USA TODAY Sports Images



It is a topic consistently pushed by a vocal minority, but perhaps one that more and more American soccer fans are interested in discussing. Promotion and relegation is a fixture of club soccer around the world, but is not something practiced by Major League Soccer, which isn’t going to change any time soon.

So why even discuss it? Pretty simply to get a sense of just how many SBI readers would actually prefer to have MLS operate in a pro-rel model.

The argument for promotion-relegation has its merits. The threat of relegation is strong enough to push teams to excel and can rid a league of under-performing clubs, while also creating plenty of drama as teams push for the title and to avoid being relegated. The model works very well around the world.

The arguments against it range from the obvious questions about the threat it would pose to clubs’ financial futures given the current state of American lower divisions, to the inherent preference among American sports fans for a playoff format over a pro-rel format. MLS president Mark Abbott has already gone on record saying pro-rel will never happen in MLS, something echoed by commissioner Don Garber and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati.

Now it is your turn to let us know what you think. Would you prefer MLS be run with promotion/relegation, or are you happy with the league the way it is?

Cast your vote after the jump:

  • Definitely. MLS should adopt it as soon as possible.
  • Probably. I wouldn’t mind seeing pro-rel in MLS, but don’t think it is a must.
  • I would be happy with either format, whether pro-rel or the current one.
  • Not really. I’m not sold on pro-rel being an improvement over the current system.
  • Definitely not. A terrible idea that MLS should never consider.

What did you vote for? Think the idea of promotion/relegation is worth discussing, or feel it is a waste of time? Ever see it being adopted by MLS?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. So no one mentioned the snippet in the article that USSF President Gulati echoed that there will never be pro/rel, now I get why Garber and Abbott would say that; it’s in their own interests, but the USSF President shouldn’t have an official opinion on the subject, he should simple want what’s best for (growing) soccer in the country. If that’s pro/rel then so be it.

    also I’m 3 days late to the chatter

  2. where is the option for “sure I think it would be great, but I dont believe the US is ready for it nor will it be in my lifetime”

  3. Why assume that a team is completely devalued by being relegated? Perhaps there is a way they would not be. Some revenue sharing across both tiers? I’m not sure how they would handle stadium sizing issues, but I know it could be figured out. I think it would be a thrill. Additional league drama might = more league fans. Some of those $100m investors might agree. And do EPL teams lose fans when they are relegated?

    • A lot of teams do lose fans when relegated. The team usually drops ticket prices, loses a number of their top players. Big balloon payments in the EPL help, but that’s a league that is awash in money.

  4. I think I’ve brought this up before, but I just can’t see MLS adopting pro/rel–too much money at stake, and when you’re spending $100 million for a franchise you won’t want to see that investment lose its value. I do think a ‘promotion-only’ solution is the best possible way around this:
    -Preserves investment by people in MLS
    -Gives other franchises a chance to make MLS
    -MLS makes more money by creating more supply of franchises

    Depending on the final size of MLS (28, with 2 conferences of 14, 2 games in conference, 1 out of conference, 40 total) or 32 (4 8-team divisions, 2 games in division, 1 for the rest, 38 games), you could easily just create a MLS-2 to meet the demand of franchises and cities wishing to move up. Perhaps you lower the value of entry into MLS-2. After that, however structured MLS-2 ends up, you allow the top 4 finishers (w/ playoffs to move up to MLS-1; they play the season in MLS-1 and then at the end of the season drop the two lowest MLS-2 performers back down and the top 2 finishers in MLS get promoted.

    Here’s a possible look at how that might break down:

    Division 1

    Seattle Sounders FC
    Portland Timbers FC
    Vancouver Whitecaps FC
    LA Galaxy
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Real Salt Lake
    Colorado Rapids
    Dallas FC
    Houston Dynamo
    Sporting Kansas City
    Team 24 (West Coast)
    New Los Angeles Team

    Columbus Crew
    Chicago Fire
    DC United
    New England Revolution
    Philadelphia Union
    Toronto FC
    Montreal Impact
    New York Red Bulls
    New York City FC
    Orlando City SC
    Atlanta FC
    Miami Club

    MLS-2 Franchises:

    Minnesota United
    San Antonio Scorpions
    Oklahoma City Team
    Arizona United SC
    Sacramento Republic FC
    Austin Aztex
    Colorado Springs Switchbacks
    Tulsa Roughnecks
    St. Louis FC
    San Diego Team
    Las Vegas Team

    Carolina Railhawks/Charlotte Eagles
    Indy Eleven
    New York Cosmos
    Ottawa Fury
    Tampa Bay Rowdies
    Jacksonville Armada
    Virginia Cavalry
    Pittsburgh Riverhounds
    Louisville City FC
    Richmond Kickers
    Rochester Rhinos

  5. Tomorrow’s “SBI Question of the Day”: Did yesterday’s discussion of promotion/relegation do anything at all to change your opinion of promotion/relegation?

  6. No. Not in this country. No investor will sink 150 mil into a pro-level stadium if there is a risk that the next year, the team will be playing in the minor leagues. Not gonna happen. Shouldn’t happen. We don’t have to copy EVERY facet of foreign leagues to be successful.

  7. The only people who cry for pro/rel don’t know what they’re talking about. The argument has been made countless times for years. I’ve even heard Ives crush either Garret or some Q&A question over pro/rel and how pointless it is to talk about – why are you posting a poll dude? Nothing else to report on today?

  8. Ives,

    Probably should have been a two part question.

    1. Should MLS adopt a single table for the regular.season competition?
    2. If so, should the league adopt promotion/relegation?

  9. The league is set up to limit the very good clubs and help up the struggling one, so the league would need to be completely structured and governed to the point it is a different league. And if they just kept it within MLS and called one group league 1 and the other league 2, it’s just MLS choosing to cap funds from one set of clubs artificially or whats the point. At that point you might as well just break the teams up into two leagues and don’t have them play until the playoffs the way MLB used to work.

  10. I voted definitely and as soon as possible. As soon as possible doesn’t mean next year or even five years from now. I would announce that pro/rel would trigger once D2 met the following conditions: 18 teams, 3/4 of which have youth academies, 3/4 playing in SSS, and attendances averaging 8k.

    The rest of the world uses pro/rel. It’s a superior system.

  11. I don’t think pro/rel is the answer for the foreseeable future, and I don’t have a problem with that. While i don’t think it is needed, something should be done to eliminate the terrible problem of “playing out the string” that plagues the other major sports. MLS should do something to try and incentivize teams to continue playing hard until the end of the regular season. That is the genius of the European leagues. The only teams that don’t have anything to play for the last day of the season are the teams in the middle of the table. The teams at the top and the teams at the bottom are all playing for something on those final few days of the season. What do teams like San Jose and Montreal really have to look forward to this weekend except to earn another paycheck? A solution which would cause them to try harder and make the bootom of the standings intersting is much more desirable at the moment than pro/rel

    • Umm, you do realize that most teams in the Premier league are p,aying out the string as well—they just sit in the mid table instead of the bottom. Perhaps 8-10 will stiill be competing for a Europa League spot, but that has nothing to do with pro/rel does it? Our playoff system–anathema to most in England–has just as many teams p,aying for something at the end of the season as the English Premier League does…

  12. Not needed.

    Somebody needs to improve the calculating of percentages on the polls results page, though, with 4% unaccounted for…

  13. To have relegation/promotion you need somewhere to to be relegated to and promoted from.

    Advocates for it must define what their version of the Championship would look like and who the teams would be ( USL? NASL).

  14. I am for relegation/promotion. However, at this point, it would ruin certain teams financially. The whole thing hinges on how the scheme is set up. If there is a real lower division, it might work as long as the finances can be worked out. Right now the owners of the MLS teams have to pay for their stadiums. Who pays for all the new stadiums that might have to be built when new teams ascend?

  15. I voted for “never do it”. Here are my reasons:
    1. Should European football adopt our system of minor league baseball and minor league basketball (or college sports, if you prefer) because it works in the US? Of course not. We are such a different beast than these European countries, why in the world would we copy them?
    2. I think this poll should be limited to folks who have at least $50 million in their pocket to spend on a club. It’s so easy for us regular folks to embrace an idea like this, because we don’t have to invest millions of dollars only to have our team relegated into a minor league. Honestly, if pro/rel magically happened, I suspect that the league would crash within 10 years. Why? (read on)
    3. European football teams are not competing with pro and college football, pro and college basketball, baseball, and hockey. I am completely fine with some markets being better markets for one sport than the other. Let Indiana have college basketball and Alabama college football. Soccer in the US has plenty of markets for a major league, but there’s just too much competition for the top division to keep growing with a pro/rel system. Honestly, it’s nonsense.
    4. I am from a midsized American city (Fresno) that has lower division soccer. While it would be great to have MLS there, for the sake of the top division, I am fine with competing in the Open Cup as the chance to take on the big boys. I don’t need a full season against the top flight because I want the top flight to be as strong as possible.

    I much prefer the major and minor league system that baseball has–it is simply more economically viable and it works fine

  16. So many comments that favor pro/rel make the case for implementing only the promotion part. Well guess what: promotion is the easy part.

    Everybody loves promotion. “Hey honey, I got a promotion!” “Oooh, wonderful, let’s celebrate!” Yeah, well, if you got a promotion, then it might just be because some other employee got fired, leaving a vacancy for you to fill. Who celebrates that?

    Any pro/rel discussion should ignore the feel-good vibes of promotion and focus only on the hard task of convincing potentially relegated teams that it is in their best interest. But then, if it is in their best interest, then teams would try to be relegated. Uh-oh, backfire. Okay, so convince them that collectively it is better for all teams if there is pro/rel. That’s possible, but only once we reach a point where lower leagues are turning a big profit.

    And don’t pretend that we could get away with a promotion/quasi-relegation system that some commenters have suggested; i.e., no MLS1 teams ever get relegated, only MLS2/NASL teams are subject to relegation/promotion. That idea is ridiculously unsustainable because it would inevitably result in promoted clubs that performed better than MLS1 bottom-dwellers and yet still get relegated.


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