Promotion-relegation systems have long been a bugaboo in American professional soccer.
This practice has been the norm in Europe for over a century, allowing a certain fluidity within a given country’s football hierarchy; it’s a holdover from the days of amateur sports in the mid-1800s, when meritocracy took precedence over any concerns about financial fairness.
But like most North American sports leagues, the nation’s Major League Soccer was founded on professionalism – which creates expectations for stakeholders – and has not been able to consider the preferred practice of soccer while it continues to grow.
“Promotion-relegation rewards teams and owners based on their performance and not necessarily by building stadiums or building a league,” Dan Courtemanche, MLS executive vice president of communications, told Front Office Sports. “And because we are a young league, we had to build teams on the field, we had to build stadiums, we had to build facilities, we had to build infrastructure.”
But now America’s debate over promotion and relegation returns, as the United Soccer League prepares to discuss the issue at its mid-year meetings this week in Colorado Springs; owners will not vote on whether to continue the project – as before reported – but it will be a key topic on the agenda, a league source confirmed to FOS.
The USL first broached the subject during its biannual meetings two years a few months ago and began seriously thinking about the idea of implementing promotions and relegations over the past 18 months. A source with knowledge of the meetings told FOS that the league had hired external consultants to explore the logistics of promotion-relegation and brief team owners.
The source adds that this week’s meetings will be focused on consolidating the activity behind the concept, addressing topics such as partnership opportunities and media rights.
One of the main goals of the USL, in potentially implementing promotion and relegation for its two top leagues – the USL Championship and USL League One, second and third respectively in the American soccer hierarchy – would be to differentiate from the league at the top of the standings. American Football Pyramid, MLS.
But in the long run, promotion and relegation could attract talent to North America, regardless of which league they end up in.
“It’s been the third rail conversation for decades, and it’s not a panacea…but it’s the one thing that MLS has avoided that I think could really move things to the level superior,” said CBS Sports analyst and former MLS player Kyle Martino. “It’s the biggest sports meritocracy on the planet and the American sports market has this weird thing where it rewards the worst teams by giving them the best players the following season.”
“The money is crazy now,” USMNT and Fulham defender Tim Ream recently said on Front Office Sports Today. podcast. “If this is implemented… it could end up where media and television rights start to increase… There are still a lot of guys who would go play in MLS and in the United States, if this kind of situation were to arise.
“I’m all for promotion and relegation.”
Of course, the system would not be without its difficulties. Since European countries are generally much smaller than the United States (and Canada, for that matter), traveling between each of the clubs when entering a new league is less complicated financially and logistically than it might seem. would be in North America.
And, as mentioned, promotion-relegation would be a tough sell to new clubs as MLS continues to expand under its current model.
“If you’re John Ingram and Nashville SC, and you just built a 30,000-seat private stadium in Nashville,” Courtemanche explains, “then all of a sudden you join this league, and three years later, you might get relegated after you’ve just made an investment in all of this.
Still, the league has come a long way in its thinking on the subject. Courtemanche says that ten years ago, MLS would never have considered this possibility. Today, that means no plans – but also never say never.