Arguments Against Pro/Rel for MLS



There are still people that want Promotion and Relegation for Major League Soccer. They walk among us, they sit beside us at games, and they interact with us on social media. I fell victim to one of their ridiculous tweets while enjoying LAFC’s recent dominance over San Jose. This particular tweet argued that there would be more fan interest if there was Pro/Rel in MLS. I immediately flew into a rage. So much so, I’m taking it to the internet!

If you’ve followed this issue, you’re familiar with the basic arguments against Pro/Rel.

  1. Financials
  2. Media
  3. Popularity

Financials
Owners won’t invest in a team that could get relegated. Fans won’t invest in a team that gets relegated. Also with Pro/Rel, teams/franchises with more money are will stay at the top of the table. You end up with a Tampa Bay Rays situation or an EPL situation where only five or six teams have a legitimate shot at the title. That is no way to grow the sport of soccer in America.

Media
The market isn’t there to cover 60 teams, assuming three divisions of 20 teams each. Baseball is arguably the most popular sport in America, and there isn’t great coverage of Double-A ball. We could have Pro/Rel, but who would know about it? The USL currently gets minimal coverage, so good luck finding your MLS team that just got knocked down a league. Unless you like paying for extra cable packages or online subscriptions, you won’t see your team. When was the last time you watched an Indy Eleven game?

Popularity
Simply put, soccer is not popular enough to support Pro/Rel. I think that the Pro/Rel argument comes from fans of European leagues. They want a copy of those leagues in the USA, but it’s apples to oranges. In Europe, soccer is literally the only game in town. Also, those leagues have 100+ years of development, both in on-the-field talent and off-the-field marketing. You want brand loyalty, go to an English Championship or even League One supporters.

In addition to those three arguments, I’d like to put forth two more:

  1. There’s already de facto promotion
  2. Pro/Rel for MLS would scare away talent

De Facto Promotion
There is already de facto promotion in the MLS. Put another way, who are your expansion teams and what are their origins? Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Orlando, Minnesota, and Nashville are all clubs that had origins in lower divisions of American soccer, but were awarded MLS franchises. These clubs had both success in their leagues and financially sound business plans. They were essentially promoted by MLS. Many in favor of Pro/Rel argue that owners would be encouraged to spend more. The ownership of the clubs named above did and were rewarded for it.

Pro/Rel Scares Away Talent
No top level talent would sign for the MLS if they could get relegated. If they do, there will be clauses in their contracts forcing transfer or sale. That means the top talent in the league will be sold off cheaply, the teams would lose on their investment and lose on their marketability. Imagine if Colorado, DC United, Los Angeles Galaxy, Orlando City, and San Jose were relegated over the last two seasons. Assuming their DPs had some sort of relegation sale clause, we’d lose the following players from MLS: Tim Howard, Paul Arriola, Wayne Rooney, Romain Alessandrini, Gio and Jona dos Santos, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Nani, Dom Dwyer, Josue Colman, Valeri Qazaishvili, and Chris Wondolowski. And that doesn’t even contemplate players that wouldn’t sign with the MLS.

To be clear, I’m not against the idea of Pro/Rel for MLS. I’m just against it right now and for the short-to-middle term future. Give it another 20 years, where there are two viable, marketable, and competitive leagues, and I’ll reconsider. I’d rather see energy put into developing academies, soccer specific stadiums, USL affiliates, and training facilities. Pro/Rel isn’t feasible in today’s MLS or the current American sports culture, and those in favor need to understand that.

 

Thanks for reading!
-Nick


2 thoughts on “Arguments Against Pro/Rel for MLS

  1. Good arguments. I’d argue that pro/rel could actually solve many of those issues mentioned. Case in point our local team in Jacksonville was for sale, was purchased by a local RE guy who wants it mostly as ad space for his company. He really has no incentive to put together a winning team or even invest in a stadium, because it’s simply seen as cheap family entertainment. Yet if all soccer was part of one pyramid and winning meant something deeper, perhaps Jags/Fulham FC owner Shad Khan buys it and invests in a stadium on the riverfront property he just bought, perhaps he’s incentivized to invest in youth to create great players here rather than imports. I think that idea spreads all over the country, where there then is heavy investment in all levels of soccer, and oh yeah, improves the national team. Now there’s little incentive to do so, as it’s a money-losing proposition with a cap on growth.

    In sports (and business) the most important commodity is hope. Pro/rel sells hope. The “if we work hard enough, we can make it to the top” idea. I think it then creates more investment/interest/stadia in all levels, which will then create the tv revenue.

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