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Miami FC, Kingston Stockade file claim to take pro/rel issue to CAS

The fight to institute promotion/relegation in the United States is being taken to the Court of Arbitration for Sport

NASL side Miami FC and NPSL club Kingston Stockade FC filed a claim on Thursday with CAS to require the U.S. Soccer Federation to adopt promotion and relegation across all levels of U.S. Soccer.

“When it comes to soccer success, America lags behind the rest of the world. One reason is because our system is not an open system and is actually blocked from becoming an open system,” Kingston Stockade FC owner Dennis Crowley said. “By embracing pro/rel and using this tried-and-true system, we would have a greater ability to unlock additional soccer markets, reward investment in those markets, and create new talent pools within the United States.”

“The closed system for soccer used here in the United Sates is in violation of FIFA rules,” Miami FC CEO Sean Flynn said. “By adopting the rules followed by virtually every other soccer playing nation around the globe, soccer in America will be open, resulting in better teams through all divisions, compelling story lines to increase fan excitement and greater financial success for everyone involved in this beautiful game.”

The FIFA statute the lower league clubs are referring to is Article 9 that states:  “A club’s entitlement to take part in a domestic league championship shall depend principally on sporting merit. A Club shall qualify for domestic league championship by remaining in a certain division or by being promoted or relegated to another at the end of a season.”

This is the latest in a series of events in the push for pro/rel led by Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva, who published a study through Deloitte last fall on the benefits of pro/rel. Silva also presented a $4 billion television rights deal contingent on the establishment of pro/rel that was rejected by Major League Soccer executives in July.

The claim names FIFA, the USSF and CONCACAF as defendants in the case.

“We’re taking this action,” Flynn added, “because we believe that the benefits of soccer should be shared by the many, not the few, and that soccer’s top division should include the best teams, not the teams that pay certain sums of money.”


  1. There is no good argument against pro/rel. None. Even the “MLS owners paid franchise fees to join MLS”. So? If you don’t want to be a part of an open pyramid then sell your MLS team. You will make enough profit to get three times your franchise fee back.

    • And if MLS owners could triple their profits by selling to buyers willing to risk relegation, they would. The lack of such buyers is telling. If you want pro/rel in MLS, find rich people who want to impose pro/rel in MLS and get them to buy MLS teams. Or find rich people to set up an alternative to MLS and do pro/rel there. If they offer the same or better quality facilities and play the crowds can decide which scheme they prefer with their own dollars.

    • I think you can make a pretty good argument that pro/rel, if implemented now, would weaken and destabilize MLS, and effectively roll back the gains that MLS has made over the past 15 years.

      Just imagine Miami FC getting promoted to MLS, and then folding midseason because the owners’ pockets aren’t big enough to sustain the losses that they will incur. This is not too far fetched; the Cosmos would have gotten promoted after the 2016 season, but a month or so after the season it looked like they would fold. And then the were saved by a guy who admitted that he never watched either the NASL or MLS because it wasn’t good enough for him.

      Right now, MLS is perceived as a growing league that’s becoming more successful, expanding not contracting, drawing more sponsors and generally looking very stable. Bring a couple of minor league teams, with minor league stadiums, minor league fan bases and minor league finances, into MLS and the perception of the league will change for the worse.

      Sure, pro/rel is great fun and, from a purely competitive point of view, is the way to go, but until the 2nd division is more established and stable, it’s not going to happen here.

      Has any NASL owner reached into his or her pocket for a few hundred million to build a real soccer stadium for the team? Either they simply don’t have the money to truly be “major league” or they do have the money but lack the belief or the commitment to risk it. Until the minor league owners start to demonstrate their commitment to the sport with their wallets, I won’t believe that we’re ready for pro/rel.

      Being labeled 2nd division doesn’t limit a team’s ambition. Any NASL team is free to build it’s own stadium and sign a roster of players that would put any MLS team to shame. In fact, NASL teams have a big advantage in this regard, in that they do not have the salary cap or maximum salary rules that limit what an MLS team can do. But even with these advantages, the NASL teams are clearly a level below MLS. And that’s because the NASL owners aren’t rich enough to compete with MLS (or, if they are rich enough, they’re not willing to spend like MLS owners).

  2. Silva didn’t publish a study through Deloitte. MP and Silva hired Deloitte to do market research to determine the viability of pro/rel.

  3. Start by doing well in the Open Cup to prove NASL has the “sporting merit” needed for Div 1.

    The NASL record against anyone in the Open Cup, let alone MLS, is pretty bad.

      • Pretty dumb answer. Actually, you didn’t answer Beto’s question.

        There’s nothing to stop the NASL, NPSL and NAIA owners from instituting pro/rel among their leagues. My guess is that the NASL owners are absolutely opposed to pro/rel when the only direction their teams can go is down.

      • Bob, I’m missing something. Can you please let me know where you’ve seen confirmation that there can only be one league given first division status under by he federation?

        It’s been my understanding over more than a decade that technically, it isn’t so.

        Thanks in advance for the help.


    1. A club’s entitlement to take part in a domestic league championship shall
    depend principally on sporting merit. A club shall qualify for a domestic league
    championship by remaining in a certain division or by being promoted or
    relegated to another at the end of a season.
    2. In addition to qualification on sporting merit, a club’s participation in a
    domestic league championship may be subject to other criteria within the
    scope of the licensing procedure, whereby the emphasis is on sporting,
    infrastructural, administrative, legal and financial considerations. Licensing
    decisions must be able to be examined by the member association’s body of

    Miami FC just lost in USOC to FC Cincy. That doesn’t scream “sporting merit” being thwarted.

    The rules also allow for other criteria, which I think basically kills the lawsuit.

    This is probably the downside of the decisions to (a) bring MLS under FIFA as a first division and (b) the ongoing lower division politics and their having been recognized as explicit second and third divisions. Last thing US soccer needs is a financial open season with pro/rel.

    • I also think by “championship” they mean first division. As such I think teams in the third division and NPSL have no real basis to challenge that they should be in the first division MLS.

      “Qualify” is also complicated since at some point MLS “qualified” every team that came in. They weren’t picked because the ruler of Zamumba wants Royal Zamumba FC in the first division, which is what I think the rule is really concerned with. MLS picked teams for a variety of intellectually justifiable reasons, and they would basically be the best 20 or so teams in the countries in the league. That if they were in the league they might be able to afford to pay a team to compete is not the same thing as the PR Islanders or Montreal actually beating MLS. Begs the question.

      Last, the Beckham trump card. We plan on including a Miami team as soon as they get a stadium done. We are not against Miami (in theory, in reality they don’t support soccer).

    • I think MLS is probably safe, based on the #2 “other criteria” rule. Also very interesting that it’s being reported that NASL owners weren’t informed about this prior to the press release. Seems like this is another PR, Pro-Rel awareness stunt from Silva and nothing more.

      It was fun learning about the CAS. Never heard of that before. It’s a “Quasi-judicial body”, so the CAS is “seemingly; apparently but not really” a judicial body. Even if the CAS were to rule in favor of Silva and Miami FC, would FIFA enforce the decision given they already allow MLS to operate in its current form under the #2 “other criteria” rule?

      If they somehow changed their minds and enforced a ruling by CAS to implement Pro/Rel, they’d probably have no choice but to also force Australia’s A-League and India’s Super League to allow Pro/Rel (and any other FIFA sanctioned leagues that are currently closed which I don’t know about). I’m not sure FIFA would want to effectively force promotion and relegation on the entire world.

      • Australia has pro/rel in most of the lower leagues and there are lots of proposals to incorporate the A-league but similar to MLS the top league is resisting.

      • Beto: do you know your Aussie soccer history? How the NSL crashed and burned? How A-League popped up in its place but has had 3 teams fold already? The A-League has an even more strict set of roster and salary rules than here, and is just trying to stay going, like MLS.

        Also worth considering that when we hear pro-rel here from league insiders it’s usually from some minor league owner who didn’t get MLS expansion, eg, Miami, Cosmos.

    • The FIFA rules are not a clear as pro/rel advocates claim. “Sporting merit” is not defined, and all MLS teams qualify for the domestic championship because they “remain in a certain division.” The FIFA rules do not expressly require that teams be promoted or relegated from that division. If that were so, the rule would add something like “A competition for domestic championship must include relegation of no less than 15% of clubs contesting that championship to the next lower tier and promotion of an equal number of clubs from the next lowest tier.”


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