The NASL and the periodic restatement of facts on promotion/relegation

prorelHow did a three-part Empire of Soccer interview with NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson start an epic Twitter beatdown?

Well, it helped that in the first part, he talked about promotion/relegation, the concept that governs most soccer leagues (and other leagues) worldwide, including a lot of U.S. amateur leagues. (I still don’t know whether my indoor team was relegated last season.)

Dan Loney responded with the blog post “Not a Sane League.” That brought out the usual mix of people with an interest in promotion/relegation — some well-intended dreamers who are curious to see if it could work here, plus the people who think promotion/relegation has been kept down by an evil mix of MLS executives, journalists paid off with access or possibly money, and possibly the NSA. I don’t know — I’ve lost track.

That led to the epic Twitter match between Loney and the leader of the accusatory gang. It was mostly off-track, centering on the assertion that the U.S. soccer community has covered up a colorful history in which the old ASL was bigger than American football. Loney showed evidence to show otherwise and demanded that his combatant defend his point, which he completely failed to do.

All of this demonstrates two seemingly contradictory things:

1. There are a handful of somewhat reasonable and capitalized people who think promotion/relegation may be possible in our lifetimes.

2. The people who make the most noise about promotion/relegation online make it really difficult to have a reasonable discussion about it.

For those who are new to the discussion, welcome. Please allow me to bring you up to speed. Read this post for some prior talks, and then please consider the following:

1. Bids for Division I sanctioning were taken in 1993. I have done a fair amount of research on this period for my book and out of curiosity. I know of no effort to have promotion/relegation at that time.

I do, however, know of a bid that had multiple-point scoring like indoor soccer on steroids, and it would have limited players to specific zones and then shuffle them around between periods. This is where soccer stood in the USA in 1993.

2. MLS owners have sunk billions of dollars into this league as it stands now. Municipalities have helped MLS teams build stadiums. The team values and revenue projections that convinced them all to invest in this are predicated on the notion of being in the first division. Many of these investments have been made in the past 10 years — in 2002, the league was down to three owners and had few facilities. People tend to get angry, maybe even litigious, when you get them to pony up tons of capital and then change the rules.

So if you plan to take over USSF and force leagues to have promotion/relegation, bring the lawyers.

3. I have spoken with many team owners and officials in lower divisions. Many of them have relegated themselves. Many owners prefer to play in the fourth-tier PDL than the third-tier USL PRO or second-tier NASL. Why? It costs a whole lot less.

A couple of organizations — Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Montreal, perhaps Orlando down the road — have made the leap from lower divisions to MLS. They did so over the course of a few years. They brought in owners with deep pockets. They worked out stadium deals. They built up a front office staff. These are not things you do in three months.

4. Promotion/relegation developed in other countries when they had too many teams for one division. In England, the Football League went through its early years occasionally kicking out and adding a new team or two, but a second division wasn’t added until it merged with the Football Alliance. In England and many other countries, leagues developed after clubs had already built their names through Cup competitions.

5. Soccer history in this country has not been ignored as part of a conspiracy to … um … I don’t know exactly how this conspiracy is supposed to work. Seems to have something to do with trying to make people think nothing existed before MLS. Strange argument to make when a bunch of MLS teams are named after their NASL predecessors, or when U.S. Soccer is devoting a lot of resources toward celebrating its centennial this year. (Bill Clinton wrote the preface to the book, so if you like broadening your conspiracy theories, you can now include Whitewater.) Personally, the only reason I don’t often wear my Fall River Marksmen shirt (from Bumpy Pitch) more often is that I’m fat and I don’t fit into it that well.

Several people have made extraordinary efforts to keep U.S. soccer history alive through many dark decades. It’s not as if the NASL of the 70s paid tribute to the ASL of the 20s and 30s. We needed the efforts of Colin Jose, Roger Allaway, Sam Foulds, Jack Huckel, David Litterer and David Wangerin to bring it all to life, even as the National Soccer Hall of Fame ran out of money. (This was all summed up in a terrific story this week.)

The main lesson that can be drawn from those histories: Soccer has had a couple of opportunities to gain a firm foothold in the USA, and it fell apart through in-fighting over petty crap. Kind of like we could end up doing now if we try to upend 20 years of progress in pro soccer.

6. This might be the most important point: There is no evidence whatsoever that a lack of promotion/relegation is what’s holding back pro soccer in the United States.

The point gets muddied here because promotion/relegation is sometimes considered part of an “open system” in which clubs are free to spend what they want. That’s what we see in Europe, though “Financial Fair Play” rules may introduce some limits, and Germany’s Bundesliga is having tremendous success while refusing to break the bank.

But most soccer owners in the USA in recent years have set out to minimize risk. The NWSL, USL, NPSL, WPSL and APS are designed to keep costs down, and they’re not running the risk of losing revenue by being kicked down the pyramid against their will. That’s why MLS had such rigid cost-containment rules for its first decade and change. Only now, in the post-Beckham era, is that starting to change.

If you’re looking for the NASL to change all that, you may be disappointed. For all the bluster of the New York Cosmos and the lack of an official salary cap at the moment, they aren’t spending crazy money. I’ve been told by an insider (anonymous source alert, though maybe he’ll step forward) that the NASL is operating with “less risk, lower operating costs.”

Meanwhile, MLS is spending with confidence — on stadiums, on youth academies, on players like Clint Dempsey. And the league has managed to do so even as the explosion of cable and new media has made it possible for U.S. fans to see every English/Welsh Premier League game (I plan to make “Ew-pull” stick) and every trick Lionel Messi has at his feet.

Would an “open system” help U.S. (and Canadian) teams develop into superclubs that can hold their own with the Man Uniteds and the Barcelonas of the world? Maybe when MLS and NASL owners have seen enough returns on their investments that they’re willing to risk spending more and seeing their teams relegated. The best-case scenario for the NASL, which is probably not the most probable scenario, is that the league thrives to the point at which it, too, meets the criteria for a Division 1 league. And then — maybe — we could talk about merging MLS and the NASL as the Football League and Football Alliance did in England.

Is that likely? Probably not.

But it’s more likely than creating a thriving U.S. league system by taking over U.S. Soccer and starting an “open system” from scratch or trying to force existing leagues to abide by drastically different rules.

And by pointing this out, I’m part of the conspiracy. And I’ll surely attract obnoxious comments. I’d encourage people to ignore those comments and relish the fact that, this weekend, you can see European games on several networks and then check out your local MLS, NWSL, NASL or USL team. If you’re over age 25, you remember when soccer was something that barely existed above the college level, and you have to marvel at the progress.

Simply put: There’s never been a better time to be a soccer fan in North America. And it’s all been done without telling people who step up to risk their money that they need to take risks that are even less likely to pay off than the ones they’re already taking.

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38 Responses to The NASL and the periodic restatement of facts on promotion/relegation

  1. Jim says:

    Wow this is really good. Too bad the hardcore “pro/rel needs to happen now” geeks wil just overlook it for their own reasons but they are truly a small part of the US soccer landscape.

  2. Sean Spence says:

    Excellent piece.

    I would mention that Dan stepped on his own junk a bit when he insinuated that the people barracking him on Twitter were Westerfeld’s ‘sock puppets.’ I know getting a lot of crazy feedback can be tough, but that was blood-in-the-water stuff.

  3. D (@DarCam7) says:

    Ditto. Pro/rel is just a symptom of a league without a proper playoff system. The way most (top) European leagues work is through a top heavy environment where the usual suspects always land in UCL spots and then the rest are left scrambling for Europa League scraps. Promotion/Relegation works in their favor to add the only drama that can be inconclusive for the unknown teams that could get dropped down.

    I say that’s the only thing that keeps the EPL and La Liga interesting, if only for a spitting second.

    With MLS and its vice grip on its salary cap, the ebbs and flows of teams moving up and down the dual table (let’s not start on that single table crap either) on year-by-year basis means every season is a bundle of surprises.

    Case in point, this year both DC and San Jose have been amiss in the standings after being World beaters and Supporter Shield winners in 2012. One year and completely different results which the same can be said of Colorado, Seattle, LA, and Montreal.

    One year and parity does all the promotion and relegation needed in a pyramid with no base.

    Amen to that.

  4. Pingback: Some Obnoxious Comments | Nodine Hill

  5. Beau says:

    Responding to the pingback above:

    1. I understand why some people are mad at Loney for beating down Ted on Twitter. At the same time, it’s hard to describe how frustrating it has been for so many of us who have attempted to have reasonable conversations with Ted, only to see ourselves labeled as stooges of the status quo who are afraid of change. (Yes, I AM afraid of change — in the sense that I’m afraid of U.S. Soccer repeating “the Soccer Wars” that killed the ASL, leaving us without a pro league of any sort once again.)

    2. What does it mean to “want pro/rel no matter what”? Even if it means local politicians aren’t as willing to make stadium deals? Even if it means prospective owners aren’t willing to invest? Even if it means MLS collapses in a miasma of legal and financial chaos?

    3. I discuss the MLS bid in my book. This link might work — if not, the short of it is that as messy as the process might have been, there were people who had nothing to gain from voting for MLS who did so anyway.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=z3VfWOB30jkC&pg=PT132&lpg=PT132&dq=desmond+armstrong+rothenberg+mls+vote&source=bl&ots=YOkrA6g9rz&sig=gvPxgrpBdBFzFOkhI2H1yowwDVw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=t90PUrfyK-mz2QW1koDIDg&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=desmond%20armstrong%20rothenberg%20mls%20vote&f=false

    4. On “incentive to improve” — if a team outgrows a lower division, there’s little to stop it from moving up. Too good for NPSL? OK, try something else. (Though you’re probably using a lot of college players and will be bound by rules of amateurism and the schedules, etc., etc. — that’s a major reason you don’t see a lot of pro/rel talk in the fourth tier.) But NASL and USL teams have made the leap. Some teams try PDL or NPSL as a test to see if they want to move up.

    5. MLS has come a long way in 17 years. That’s not propaganda — it’s quite objectively true. Of course the league didn’t invent soccer in the USA. Rescue? In terms of stable top-flight soccer? It did.

    6. I love the Open Cup, and I remember when it was much more widely televised. I wrote about it quite a bit at USA TODAY. Fans weren’t interested. That might be different these days. But in any case — the idea of trying to bulk up the Open Cup isn’t quite the same thing as remembering history.

    7. I’m not from Fall River, either. It’s a classic team with a cool logo.

    8. How did Fraser vs. MLS turn out? Refresh my memory.

    9. You don’t like the Bundesliga? What offends you about it — the wildly successful clubs? The great attendance at affordable prices? The relative parity compared with predictable leagues elsewhere?

    10. Where are all these risk-taking owners who have been disincentivized by MLS? They’re welcome to join the NASL, and they aren’t. The NASL, as you mention later, is keeping down costs. Even the Cosmos, for all their marketing bluster, are buying players who have basically washed out of MLS, like every other NASL team.

    (Bear in mind — I’m not denigrating the NASL or USL. When I lived elsewhere, I loved my local second-division team. More cities should have pro soccer teams. I just think it’s silly to call it something it’s not.)

    11. “Would he rather own a top-flight soccer team outright?” I think you’ve overestimated single-entity here. Chivas USA ran afoul of U.S. law before it ran afoul of MLS rules.

    And how will this person be better placed to get a stadium? Or are high school stadiums with 5K seats and cruddy turf OK?

    12. Re: “taking over U.S. Soccer” — some in the pro/rel community have suggested that they can simply get the right people elected to the board and the presidency, then change all the league requirements. Maybe they’ve since backed off from it.

    13. Ah yes — the free-spending Cosmos and the rapid expansion from that. Again, how’d that turn out?

    14. Finally, the “limiting investment” discussion. It’s a good segue from the 70s NASL discussion because MLS is doing so many things the NASL (the old one) did not. It’s building academies. It’s putting together stadiums that are better-suited to the game than an NFL/MLB stadium. These are investments designed to put down roots.

    I think that’s better than having a few stars playing on the concrete of Giants Stadium for a couple of years.

    If it eventually leads to so many soccer clubs in solid shape so that we can have a traditional pyramid, great. If that’s the future, I’m certainly not scared of it.

  6. Don’t forget about “Pro/Rel’s” cousins:

    Single Table
    No playoffs
    Traditional calendar season

  7. Beau says:

    I actually understand those complaints. Well, not so much any calendar that requires teams to play in February in Toronto and Denver.

  8. True, that. Those “cousins” are essentially cosmetic changes and competitive issues, while Pro/Rel has enormous implications for the business side.

  9. soccerreform says:

    Let me in on this number game!

    1. Stooge is a strong word. I teased Dure about being one to try and drag him into a conversation that is clearly a dangerous one for anyone looking for a paycheck reporting on US Soccer. Obviously MLS owners don’t want open and rational conversation pro/rel. It risks the entitlements on which some of their investments are based.

    Dure’s fears of another soccer war are well founded – if we stick to the current system. League power is required to go to war, and that power is limited in leagues that cannot choose their members – leagues in promotion and relegation systems. The war for pro/rel is one to end all wars. Never again will imperial US leagues battle, ignore, or simply subvert federations.

    Loney didn’t beat me down. Loney beat American soccer history down. And he went way out of his way to do it.

    2. What does it mean to “want pro/rel no matter what”? It means that we deserve clubs with the same opportunities as any in the world – not limited soccer outlets. It means that with those kinds of clubs, we can draw more interest to our top divisions, more investment to our lower divisions, and create a second division that might be just as popular as MLS is today. It means we’re tired of a D1 that concedes US market share to foreign leagues at the drop of a hat. It means that new MLS investors like Sheikh
    Mansour didn’t buy in because of closed league protections, he bought a D1 soccer club in NYC for a song.

    3. The MLS “bid” was based on cold hard cash. US Soccer wanted huge pocketbooks behind it, and sold the farm to get them. They gave league owners more entitlements than virtually any in the world, in a sport founded on equal opportunity for all clubs. Worst of all, the fed didn’t put any time limit on those entitlements.

    4. NPSL is talking about promotion and relegation. NASL is talking about promotion and relegation. Club owners are talking about promotion and relegation. US soccer reporters, concerned about being blacklisted by MLS, aren’t talking about promotion and relegation.

    Let’s get real: There is little financial incentive to move between lower castes. Unless its open to the top, it’s window dressing.

    5. MLS didn’t save top-flight soccer in the US. It bought it. It achieved stability via total control, concession of market share to foreign leagues – from which MLS owners in the shape of SUM can and do profit. Worst of all, like the pyramid schemes that dot it’s kits – like Herbalife, Xango, and AdvaMed, it cannot survive without franchise buy ins. It seeks to profit by limiting every US club: Caps and micromanagement on it’s own outlets and locking lower divisions in a caste system.

    Is MLS improving? Using #CCL as a measuring stick, no. With a salary cap at roughly 1/40th average EPL payroll, probly not. We’re pushing 20 years in. I guess you could say MLS is no worse than in 1996, which gives them a good chance of “improving”. If there’s an objective measure – please share. Let’s quantify.

    6. Some have given up on the US Open Cup. Yet, the competition continues grow on the backs of everyday fans – a couple of honorable MLS owners, and social media – despite epic neglect from the federation and – according to Adrian Hanauer – some in MLS who want to kill it. It is American soccer history. Ignoring it is a slap in the face to thousands of players and hundreds of US clubs that struggled in the same system that still holds the game back today. Worse still, ignoring it is a huge waste of a marketing opportunity. That legacy could be used to bolster the US game, instead of pooh poohing it for MLS purposes.

    7. If you don’t own a Pothunting shirt, you own one with a made up logo for the Fall River Marksmen.

    8. No salary cap on MLS attorneys or PR guys. They won a court case. They’re losing the battle for US soccer supporters.

    9. Bundesliga offers clubs the same opportunities as any in the world. MLS – via US Soccer – denies them to every single US club.

    10. Even risk takers aren’t stupid. Corrupt systems featuring an entitled upper class and limited opportunities for vast majority tend not to draw investment. Without a level playing field, it’s tough to draw investment, whether we’re talking the Congo or American club soccer. Great to see Orlando, Pittsburgh and the Cosmos try to fight those odds. Imagine how many more we’d get by leveling the pitch.

    11. Removing poor performing US clubs from top flight has always been a messy problem. Chivas no different. Of all the problems MLS has handled internally over the years, it’s interesting that this one suddenly burst into the public sphere.

    12. Freeing US Soccer from undue MLS influence is the only way we get to a system that grants every US club the same opportunities as any in the world. Growing public outcry for pro/rel will take us there – with or without MLS.

    13. The Cosmos died the same disease as every unlimited top-flight US club: Closed League Systemic Failure. You cannot offer US clubs the same opportunities as any in the world without pro/rel. Closed top-flight leagues of unlimited clubs have a 100% failure rate. Spending didn’t kill the Cosmos. Adherence to a local domestic closed pro-sports league model did.

    Soccer exists in an open global market of virtually unlimited clubs. Our closed market system simply cannot accommodate them.

    14. Vague references to the unlimited soccer pyramid of the future are nice. Neither Beau or MLS owners have outlined that path. Some, like Hunt, have recently said pro/rel isn’t going to happen. Maybe in Candyland MLS is on the path to pro/rel. In the real world, there’s lots of evidence they’re moving the other way – which is why we have to be prepared to move on without them.

    We’re certainly not going to get there by playing by MLS’s rules.

  10. Beau says:

    Thank you, Ted, for allowing me this opportunity to demonstrate to your followers why you are a false Messiah in this movement.

    I’ll go from most trivial to most substantial.

    – On “beating down history.” Dan Loney isn’t beating down soccer history. He’s proud to share the BigSoccer blog space with Roger Allaway, the most prolific soccer historian of our day. Dan just doesn’t care for people distorting that history and making ridiculous claims about it, then claiming that they’re the only ones who care about it.

    Gee, I’m sorry the Bumpy Pitch Fall River Marksmen shirt doesn’t have the proper logo. The company run by Brian Dunseth, who still sits comfortably in MLS circles while celebrating its history, couldn’t find a logo but still wanted to celebrate the club. And they got their shirt on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

    And they were straight-up about it: http://theoriginalwinger.com/2009-09-22-fall-river-marksmen

    See? You can celebrate U.S. soccer history and still be honest about it.

    – The NPSL is talking about it? Great. But they’re an amateur league. Even if they start a pro division, they’re not D1 … and you concede that pro/rel in lower divisions means much less, anyway. (It’s also MUCH easier!)

    – The NASL is talking about it? Well, yes and no. They have a commissioner or two who have talked about it as a distant possibility down the road. Kind of like … I don’t know .. **I** do.

    And they’re attracting people like Peter Wilt, who says the following: “Probably never due to economic realities of the level of investment MLS owners have made relative to the drop in value to a 2nd Division League.”

    http://www.reddit.com/r/MLS/comments/19z9lj/im_peter_wilt_indy_pro_soccer_presidentgm/

    That’s why I say I’m probably more optimistic about it than most team owners. But I have to defer to them because I’m not risking my money.

    – “US soccer reporters, concerned about being blacklisted by MLS, aren’t talking about promotion and relegation.”

    I can tell you from first-hand experience that there’s no fear of blacklisting. I wrote a book about MLS, and I went into the MLS office and asked Ivan Gazidis to his face about promotion/relegation. He said he didn’t see it happening while MLS is in its “growth stage” BUT said “it’s possible someday.”

    I printed his answer. Read for yourself:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=z3VfWOB30jkC&pg=PT282&lpg=PT282&dq=gazidis+promotion/relegation+dure&source=bl&ots=YOkrB2f8xG&sig=dLj2CQHLzGB85mMtzo4m_h_Sy3A&hl=en&sa=X&ei=D8QQUp7HF-6E2gWPg4GABQ&ved=0CFYQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=gazidis%20promotion%2Frelegation%20dure&f=false

    Guess what? I was still credentialed for MLS games. MLS press people still take my calls even though I haven’t written anything substantive about the league in ages.

    Some MLS PLAYERS have talked about promotion/relegation:

    http://www.goal.com/en/news/1884/north-america/2010/05/28/1946430/goalcommentary-will-relegation-ever-work-in-mls

    Kasey Keller even says it would be better for the national team if players had to go through it. (Then he explains why it’s not feasible right now.)

    Grant Wahl, one of your favorite punching bags and someone who doesn’t take too kindly to be being told he’s a cowardly reporter afraid of being blacklisted, has written about “the beauty of promotion and relegation.”

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1191166/index.htm

    ** CAN YOU UNDERSTAND WHY PEOPLE TAKE YOU LESS SERIOUSLY AND WANT TO AVOID ENGAGING WITH YOU WHEN YOU MAKE MALICIOUS ACCUSATIONS THAT ARE CLEARLY NOT TRUE? **

    – Let’s talk “limiting opportunities” for a minute. From 1985 to 1993, every U.S. club had all the opportunities in the world. Nothing was holding them back. There was no big bad MLS to hold them down. Where were all these investors?

    So here’s what happened instead. MLS enticed a bunch of investors with a business model that limited risk. They paid a considerable amount of money to jump-start the process — something that would take a long, long time to happen if clubs were just left to their own devices. Three of them doubled down when the economy tanked after 9/11.

    Now that league has 20 ownership groups. They’ve built 11 stadiums — San Jose will make 12, D.C. would make 13, and I’m not counting the makeover the Timbers gave Jeld-Wen Field. They’ve built training facilities and youth academies.

    And you want to tell them — “OK, stop right there. We think it’d be cool to change the format, so we’re going to make it riskier for you to invest all that money.”

    You don’t think that would limit clubs? It would.

    It would even limit lower-division clubs who aren’t the least bit ready to get promoted. I’ve talked with people in these clubs. They don’t want to be thrust into MLS. They can’t afford to operate at that level. The ones that have made the leap have done so with considerable prep time.

    That’s not unique to the USA, of course. You recall that when promotion/relegation was brought to Korea 6-7 years ago, lower-division teams declined promotion. (I know they tried it again; maybe they were ready for it the next time.)

    ** THESE ARE FACTS. YOU COUNTER WITH … ***

    – The assumption that an “open system” will magically bring forth a ton of investors willing to risk their investments.

    – The assumption that an “open system” will magically create U.S. teams that will quickly catch up with European powerhouses.

    – The assumption that the facilities needed to have 40 or so clubs capable of competing at the first-division level will magically spring into existence.

    – The assumption that anyone involved in U.S. Soccer or who will be involved in U.S. Soccer when they finally replace Gulati (who ran unopposed last time) will think it’s a good idea to impose a league structure that will devalue the investments of countless team owners and sponsors. (You may call it bullying on the part of those with money. I call it avoiding fraud. If you sell me an ice cream cone and then change it to a piece of kale, telling me it’s better for me, I’m still going to be pissed off.)

    – The assumption that MLS owners, having spent a couple billion dollars to create first-division soccer that didn’t exist in the early 90s, will either go along with your scheme or quietly go away.

    – The accusation that MLS owners are conspiring to silence anyone who talks about a business model that would make their teams better and more valuable.

    – The accusation that anyone who brings up facts contrary to your model is doing so not out of honesty but out of fear for their soccer paychecks.

    Personally, I’m an optimist. I think we could see pro/rel in our lifetimes. Maybe we’re even closer than I think, and tons of people are lining up to buy MLS teams and NASL teams to make this all happen by 2020.

    Here’s the bottom line: It’ll happen when it’s economically feasible.

    And no amount of whining over Loney’s name-calling or my fact-dropping will change that.

  11. soccerreform says:

    Really – it’s great to see Beau Dure suddenly engage in the pro/rel discussion again. It’s a testament to all of us who fight to give US clubs the same opportunities as any in the world. Sure he accuses me of a messianic complex, insists to himself and the echo chamber he preaches to that I’m somehow standing in the way of pro/rel. Still, I take this as a “thank you” for getting him to return to this conversation at all.

    It’s telling that he resorts to truly baseless smears to counter my rational characterizations of a phenomenon common to American journalism – moderating editorial in an attempt to protect access.

    It’s most telling that he doesn’t touch the core questions of US clubs being denied opportunities that the best in the world enjoys and the US closed league system being completely incapable of accommodating real unlimited soccer clubs. Honestly, I didn’t think I was that tough of a nut to crack.

    Let’s highlight the juiciest pieces of his “final refutation”: Most are just old rehashes.

    – MLS struggles had something to do with 9/11

    This is actually a new one. I got nothing.

    – “Magic” surrounding pro/rel, investment and soccer and stadium building

    It’s not magic. It works all over the world. Sir Alex Ferguson said end of pro/rel would be suicide for lower division UK clubs. I’m no Alex Ferguson, but I say beginning of pro/rel will invigorate ours.

    – Manufactured fear of lower division clubs and owners being thrust into MLS via promotion before they’re ready

    If you’re scared of being promoted, I don’t think you have much to worry about. That attitude will keep you right where you are. Our market is a whole lot bigger than South Korea’s. I think it’ll correct for clubs that don’t spend enough to be promoted.

    – Accusation that anyone who brings up facts contrary to my model is doing so not out of honesty but out of fear for their soccer paychecks.

    Dan Loney brings up some good facts in an effort to diminish me and American soccer history. He made a good one about NFL adopting radio before professional US soccer (in 1934) leading to pro-football market dominance. With all his swearing, I have no doubt he’s not getting an MLS paycheck.

    – Insistence that plenty do write about pro/rel

    (all examples carefully edited to make MLS the final arbiter)

    – Assertion that from 1985 to 1993, every U.S. club had all the opportunities in the world (Nothing was holding them back)

    Today – as in 1985 – US Soccer still hasn’t sanctioned an open pyramid for clubs to climb. Then as now it holds clubs back. In 1985, that lack of sanction had just set the table for another top-flight US closed league to collapse – keeping the record of failure for top-flight US closed leagues of unlimited clubs perfect. Today, that lack of sanction leads to MLS limiting every club in the US pyramid in order to avoid another closed league collapse. Then, as now, it holds us back.

    – Bumpy Pitch honesty

    I like Bumpy Pitch’s whimsical shirts.

    – MLS investment in stadiums and training facilities

    Average income of Chester PA is roughly that of Barbados. 25% of their average income was spent by the city in their tax dollars to build a stadium for the Philly Union. I think they’re risking more than Phil or Bob or Rob or Don.

    Again. I welcome Dure back to the pro/rel conversation. He’s just a little rusty, a little pedantic, and a lot over indignant.

  12. Beau Dure says:

    I think I gave Ted enough rope. No response needed.

    I’m done! Yay! I’m done!

  13. sdisesa says:

    It is important to have a discussion about pro/rel. It’s not possible yet, but could be in the near future if things go well. If you’re interested in another perspective, check out my thoughts on how it could work: http://www.vavel.com/en-us/mls/256420-promotion-and-relegation-in-us-soccer.html

  14. rednorangekenny says:

    Out of curiosity, what is the source of the above photo accompanying this post?

  15. soccerreform says:

    He’s waiting for a moneyed entity to grant equal opportunity when it makes sense financially. Judging by American history, that’s not a smart waiting game.

    How much does the average lower division US club rise in value with pro/rel? 500%? 1000%?

    Sounds like it makes financial sense for everybody but MLS right now.

    Don’t depend on their characterizations. Judge all of this for yourself.

  16. Beau Dure says:

    Kenny – I did it in Pixlr Photo Editor. Fun!

    Or do you mean the background image? That’s the Olimpiastadium in Berlin at the 2011 Women’s World Cup opener.

  17. Dan Loney says:

    I’m actually in the promotion and relegation minority, in that I think it’s bad for fans. Everywhere. Including Britain. Especially Britain. A regionalized Greater British Football League with conferences from Scotland to Cornwall, with the winners of those conferences meeting in an American-style playoff for the British Championship, would be a godsend for dozens of struggling clubs while providing huge paydays and steady rivalry games for the bigger clubs. But that’s not the topic.

    It is indeed difficult, if not impossible, to have a reasonable conversation with promotion and relegation advocates, so I have taken it upon myself to have unreasonable conversations. If I use profane personal attacks, well, in the words of D.H. Lawrence, it’s because they are incapable of understanding anything more subtle. Also, Zenger defense.

  18. charliej11 says:

    It is funny that the guys who claims to have interest in the growth of US soccer want to limit the number of teams in the top division to 20.

    Artificially demoting all the rest of the teams.

    Anyone that can make it work financially should be in first division, not second-third-fourth division with some prayer of joining the first division if you draw enough fans in fourth division.

  19. So can somebody explain to me how their is no benefit to pro/rel?

    In a capped league like MLS it is a benefit, you have players playing to the last minute to try and save their club from going down, no body can tell me that wooden spoon games have the same intensity as relegation games.

    Overall the intensity of games makes for better drama and fight til the end.

  20. Beau Dure says:

    There’s an immense difference between “having a benefit” and “being financially viable.”

    Read the post above. It explains all the risks that investors have so far been unwilling to take. And it leaves open the possibility that *maybe* they’d be willing to take them in the future.

    *Forcing* those risks upon them is illegal, unethical and immoral.

    In the meantime, MLS does what it can to produce drama throughout the final weeks by taking many teams into the playoffs. In the EPL, you might have two teams playing for the title, four or five playing for European places, one or two who are already relegated, and three or four playing to avoid relegation. That leaves places 7-14 playing for nothing. (That’s one reason why 24-team lower divisions in England went to promotion playoffs a decade and change ago — more teams still playing for something near the end.) In MLS, the top 12-14 teams are all playing for playoff berths and seeding.

    I don’t think the playoff system is perfect. But it does indeed create some drama down the stretch. And playoff games are usually more interesting than a final-week West Ham-Reading match.

  21. The teams in mid-table lower-table EPL were playing for safety, which means not getting relegated.

    What does TFC,DCU, and Chivas play for now?

  22. rednorangekenny says:

    I meant the photo that had positives from mls sides (Columbus stadium boom, Toronto academy). I was curious if that was part of a bigger image or list for mls. I ask because I didn’t know TFC out 20mil into their academy. Just wondering if any other news like that I missed out on.

  23. Beau Dure says:

    kenny – I made that list. All true, of course. You can find plenty of info about TFC’s academy investment. One article of many:

    http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/thegoalkeeper/Toronto-FCs-Thomas-Rongen-tries-to-mix-new-and-old-in-youth-soccer-player-development.html

    Erick – In the EPL, several clubs know by March that they’re not going to Europe and they’re not likely to be relegated. The midtable teams are playing to be ninth or 14th. (In the Championship, they’re playing for ninth through, say, 18th.) MLS just shifts the meaningless games from midtable to end-table.

    Again, not saying it’s perfect. Just saying it’s a fallacy to pretend MLS has meaningless games and the EPL doesn’t.

    I actually have a plan to have several tiers of European competition so everyone in the elite leagues has something to play for down the stretch. It involves less capital expenditure or forcible risk than any U.S. pro/rel plan. But I’m not going to do what Ted does and harass any journalist who points out reasons why it won’t happen.

  24. Beau Dure says:

    Responding to multiple tweets by DcnJosephSuaiden and this blog post:

    http://americansoccerfuture.com/forum/#/20130820/duresport-via-dnjosephsuaiden-here-is-the-pro-3038651/

    First off — there’s something you have to realize. I’m not a power broker in soccer. I guess I should find it flattering that people gravitate toward me to convince me of the merits of their pro/rel plan, but frankly, it’s kind of a waste of effort. I like pro/rel. I report, based on years in the business and conversations with people at all levels of soccer, that it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

    You could convince me that pro/rel ought to happen by 2015, and that won’t improve the chances of getting pro/rel by 2025 in the slightest.

    Next topic: Ted’s accusations that MLS and a compliant media actively stifle talk of pro/rel. I’m not sure what you’re getting at by saying “MLS uses its own promotion to build its media,” but I’m also not sure how many ways I can tell people it’s not true. I addressed it above — Grant Wahl wrote about “the beauty of promotion and relegation,” and I think they’ll let him in the pressbox.

    Ted will never admit he’s wrong. I occasionally restate this discussion to explain why I don’t usually engage with Ted any more.

    And that pretty much answers a related tweet: “If you don’t care, why would you block him and talk behind his back?” It’s mostly because well-intentioned people like you occasionally step forward and ask why we don’t pay attention to Ted. And so I explain.

    In fact, that sums up my contributions to pro/rel discussion as a whole. Believe me — it is not a hot topic in U.S. Soccer or within any serious ownership groups. The fact that the NASL commissioner hopes it happens at some indeterminate point in the future doesn’t change that fact. Every once in a while (particularly when the NASL commissioner at the time says something like that), I feel compelled to point out why moving to pro/rel is so difficult. Then I move on.

    Next topic: What evidence do you have that the first division is now “unstable” because of the Chivas USA fiasco?

    Next topic: The “billions” argument in the blog post. The investment isn’t measured by the team’s current value. It’s the money spent on players, stadiums, marketing, MLS WORKS, reserve teams, youth academies, other facilities. MLS admitted in court in 2000 that it had LOST $250 million to that point. (And before you say an open system would have solved this — there were only a few people in the USA at that point interested in investing in first-division soccer of any kind. Want two divisions with five teams each?)

    So the final question here: What does U.S. Soccer owe the people who invested all this money? Well, at the very least, those people have the right not to be defrauded. They were willing to spend all this money for the right to play first-division soccer. That’s what they paid for. You can’t sell 20 Ferraris and then tell them that they’ll have to hand them back in and drive Studebakers.

    You could find all 20 MLS ownership groups to be reprehensible people, and you still have to face the reality that you simply can’t take what they’ve paid for and change it against their will. You cannot do it.

    And you, Ted and the other handful of people who keep this issue alive can keep tweeting at me, commenting on my blog, and (in Ted’s case) saying I’m some sort of MLS stooge who’s afraid of pro/rel. I could finally break down and say, “ALLELUIA! I SEE THE LIGHT! PROMOTE THE RAILHAWKS NOW!”

    And it wouldn’t change a dadgum thing.

    You want pro/rel sometime in your lifetime? Cool. I’d be interested in it, too, as long as it’s a sound, sustainable plan. So what I’d suggest is that you try to demonstrate to the powers that be that the fanbase would really, really like to see it. Quit accusing everyone of conspiring to keep down an idea when all of the historical evidence suggests we simply haven’t reached the point at which it’s feasible.

    You will never, ever make it happen by arguing against basic reality, and you will never, ever make it happen by coercion.

    In the meantime — enjoy! You can follow the EPL and several other major leagues through various networks and the Internet, and when you want the unmatched experience of a live soccer game with a lively crowd, you can check out MLS. Or the NASL. Or the NWSL. Or USL. Or even your local college.

    I said it above — it’s a great time to be a soccer fan in the USA. Don’t let it pass you by.

  25. Beau Dure says:

    In response to http://americansoccerfuture.com/forum/#/20130821/responding-to-duresport-again-via-dnjosephsua-3039627/

    My apologies — I tried to register, but after confirming my registration, it wouldn’t take my password. Nor would it take an existing WordPress account.

    So …

    1. “Pro/rel has ‘made it’ in American soccer discussion.” It was actually much bigger and more reasonable in the late 90s. Then people started to realize they had to work with what was feasible at the time.

    2. “The fact that (MLS) could put the kibosh on pro/rel questions …” But they shouldn’t, and they know that, so they don’t. Garber gets asked about it from time to time. He doesn’t ban anyone for asking. Look, I’ve covered an organization (UFC) that bans people for asking questions they don’t like. MLS ain’t UFC.

    3. It’s not even so much that Ted is an object of derision. He’s the equivalent of someone who insists the earth is flat and insists on talking about it with you. After a while, you just don’t want to deal with it, and you don’t care to attract his attention.

    4. I can assure you MLS can survive the Chivas lawsuits, with far greater ease than the SPL survived Rangers’ implosion.

    5. I’m not talking about investments bleeding cash. They’ve actually earned back some money AND CONTINUED TO INVEST. If they hadn’t started reserve teams, youth academies and the designated player rule, they’d be sitting pretty right now. But they continue to invest. And they have the right — legally, morally, ethically — to see those investments through without someone drastically changing what they’re worth through totally artificial means.

    The next paragraph is senseless. They’re entitled to Division I soccer because they launched (or, in some cases, bought) soccer teams with the understanding that they would be Division I. It’s like saying I’m “entitled” to my house. Not really. I just paid a lot of money up front and continue to pay a little each month. Might even hire a crew to fix up the yard.

    6. If I still lived in the Triangle area, you bet I’d be a Railhawks fan. But as a matter of principle against big bad MLS? Why? The NASL is the same as MLS — a closed league, just with smaller budgets. If they grow into something that’s D1-caliber or has pro/rel, great. But I’ve talked with a couple of NASL people, and they don’t see that happening in the next few years.

    So I hope all of this helps you understand why the majority of people who have been in the online soccer world for a while aren’t interested in talking about it with any regularity right now. I don’t mind going through the facts every now and then for the benefit of people who are new to the discussion. But at some point, I’d rather watch the soccer we have than sketch out far-fetched plans for how it could be and find scapegoats for the fact that those far-fetched plans aren’t reality.

  26. soccerreform says:

    Nobody is forcing MLS into pro/rel. MLS can do whatever they please, but they can’t dictate policy to US Soccer.

    Let’s clear up the final misunderstanding that underpins your logic. Here’s an abbreviated version of my pro/rel transition plan:

    US Soccer sanctions an open pyramid. MLS – like every club and league – decides whether or not to participate.

    Shoot, I’d carve out a special non-league sanction for Don and his guys. Maybe Americans like soccer their way. Let’s fix it so all they lose is Champions League slots. I’d even let them continue to play in US Open Cup – but I suspect they’d decline the offer.

    Let’s let MLS continue on as NFL Jr. – a closed league of limited outlets – next to a real open American soccer pyramid. Nobody’s forcing anyone to do anything. No need for billionaire crocodile tears.

    Let’s also create a real open pyramid that offers US clubs the same opportunities as any in the world.

    Look, Americans have already spoken. Never has the gulf in interest between MLS and open soccer leagues been wider. It’s so big, NBC is cashing in on it. I know that MLS exists in it’s own bubble, and doesn’t need to respond to market forces that would crush a league of real clubs. Perhaps no domestic league in the world save China bleeds more supporters to foreign leagues but ours.

    One more thing: Stop yammering about US lower divisions having to catch up with MLS before pro/rel can even be considered. You’re demanding that a lower caste catch up with a higher caste to be admitted, when the caste system keeps them down, Slumdog.

    I can’t think of anything that raises lower division equity more decisively than promotion and relegation. It’ll be no wonder that interest and investment rises with it. Asking lower divisions to catch up with MLS in a system stacked in MLS’s favor is simply absurd.

    If you’re confused about the economic impact of pro/rel on lower division clubs, ask Alex Ferguson – who said closing of English leagues would be suicide for lower division English clubs.

    I think you should paint Sir Alex a conspiracy theorist, unable to accept the reality that no pro/rel is better for the top division owners when the music stops. Tell him that he better accept that his world is over, and Euro MLS is simply happening because owners want it.

    It’s not that I don’t appreciate your nice attempts to talk to me about pro/rel. It’s how you reacted when you couldn’t talk me out of it that continues to amaze.

    I understand your thesis on MLS doesn’t accommodate pro/rel. It cedes all power to one league.

    Don’t blame my abrasiveness for your attempts to shoot me down. You cannot tolerate that I humbly disagree.

  27. Beau Dure says:

    Whether you include MLS or not, your plan presupposes that plenty of people are lining up to invest in clubs with a shot to move up and down the ladder. You’ve never come up with evidence to support that — only unsubstantiated statements that “clubs will increase in value” — and every bit of history suggests that there aren’t.

    Case in point: The USL flirted with pro/rel about 12-15 years ago. Then most of their clubs decided they didn’t want to do this thing called “paying the players,” and they moved down to the PDL level.

    England is a different story. They have a 100-year headstart. Sir Alex wasn’t talking about the Carolina Dynamo.

    You know I’ve talked to people at all levels of soccer. And you know I’ve attempted to discuss it with you (remember our exchange of 20-30 long messages on BigSoccer?), only to see you ignore basic facts and accuse me, repeatedly, of trying to beat down pro/rel to keep my MLS-related paycheck.

    (I made roughly $175 from MLS-related projects last year. I think we can pay the mortgage without that.)

    So I’ll make a deal with you to satisfy the good deacon’s request for “civility.” I won’t talk about you “behind your back” on Twitter if you quit accusing me, Grant, BigSoccer and others of conspiring to beat down pro/rel. (There’s a pro/rel discussion on BigSoccer right now. It’s not the topic that’s banned. It’s you.)

    I will still reserve the right to point people with questions (or unsupported statements) about pro/rel to this blog post and others so that they may see facts and analysis based on years of reporting in the field.

    Deal?

  28. Ted reminds me of the people who think the Twin Towers & WTC 7 were brought down by controlled demolition.

  29. Beau Dure says:

    The ones that bug me are the ones who think no plane hit the Pentagon. That plane flew right over a busy commuter road that had at least three of my co-workers, one of whom said he could’ve stood on his car and touched the underside of the plane. Scooby-Doo has more plausible theories.

  30. Clearly Beau, they are government plants. Everyone knows that Al-Qaeda used a stolen Russian sub to launch a cruise missile at the Pentagon. It has taken GI Joe and COBRA coming together to fight this menace. This was all foretold in Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country.

  31. soccerreform says:

    I guess that makes me Scooby Doo.

    I never said the MLS gravy train was rich. As I’ve said before, that was always part of my point. I can’t think of anyone who is making a mint carrying MLS’s water. It gives trickle down economics itself a bad name. Looks to me like reporting on the US game is far from a lucrative career for anyone right now.

    Obviously that’ll change if I get my way. Compelling stories all around in a pro/rel transition.

    Here’s the thing on your tightening criticisms. They are getting more pointed. You’re actually having the conversation, which is all I’ve ever asked for. Still, you consistently ignore the boost in lower division equity that comes with pro/rel policy from US Soccer. It’s a game changer.

    Take Clent Alexander of the San Diego Flash. He’s widely acknowledged to be a savvy businessperson. He’s no foreigner to high finance. The guy is trying everything in the book short of, and including, bake sales to raise capital for a team a stones throw from Tijuana.

    Clent has roped in managerial talent, pedigreed guys like Warren Barton and Eric Wynalda. He has innovated on innovation itself. His business model has only one flaw that I can see: The deck is stacked against him. His team sits in a caste system in which MLS is the top and pretty much everyone else is the bottom.

    When I say i want US clubs to have the same opportunities as any in the world – it’s not simply a rights issue. Guys like Clent are poised to pull millions of dollars into the US game – given the same level playing field as lower division owners enjoy around the world.

    Of course the instant argument is that Spain or England isn’t a level playing field. Stratification has taken hold. The same teams win all the time.

    In Spain, that might be true. Both she and England are relatively small markets. In Scotland it’s perhaps more pronounced. As Zach Slaton pointed out in my recent ‘cast with him, England remains somewhat more fluid – making a case that open systems don’t always stilt in the favor of privileged few for long period.

    In any case, the US market is vast in comparison. We’ve been paying more for World Cup broadcast rights – and buying more tickets to the tournament – for a while now. We haven’t touched the potential of Miami, NYC or Boston – traditional American soccer hotspots back to the 1920s. Yes I include Miami because on top of mass immigration from soccer nations, it has a combination NY/Boston accent.

    I can’t think of a nation that leads us in club soccer failure rate. The common thread running through our myriad collapses is closed league.

    If Markovitz is right, this is because American culture was somehow prejudiced against soccer – despite the fact that most of us are either immigrants from soccer nations or direct descendents thereof.

    If I’m right, there’s a systemic component to the perpetual failures – failures that include MLS. You cant throw a global sport your league doesn’t dominate into the US system. In order to avoid the collapses that plague our system vis a vis soccer, MLS has had to limit quality, opportunity, and interest and yes – even investment in players. That’s what a salary cap is.

    EPL is further ahead of MLS in the American consciousness than ever before It’s not even close. As recently as the turn of the century, one could argue that MLS was slightly ahead.

    Here’s where some will scream conspiracy theory – but what if MLS figured a way to profit from this scenario? We’ve both gotten earfuls about the saturated US pro-sports market. We both know SUM – which is MLS owners under another name – profits from interest in European and Mexican football.

    I don’t think you have an argument that MLS wouldn’t seek that revenue stream – especially if they were worried that the only way to grow MLS was to take supporters from more profitable enterprises. That’s what saturated market means.

    We can argue whether MLS is actively doing these things or not. It’s impossible to argue that their sundry protections granted by US Soccer don’t allow them to conduct these kind of maneuvers.

    Look – even staunch MLS defenders acknowledge that MLS – like all top US sports leagues – employs artificial scarcity. They use to dry up competition. They try to use it to hold cities hostage on stadium deals. Prior to the US soccer pyramid – as recently as 70s and 80s, you could maybe argue that this would still be a relatively free market.

    Today it’s different. US Soccer sanctions MLS as D1. No longer is the caste system unquantified. A governmental body is lending them status. No doubt in my mind FIFA insisted we build a pyramid in part so that pressure would build around this issue.

    I’m watching it happen.

    Neither you nor Grant could tamp down this conversation anymore. It’s bigger than all of us. That’s why this is such a great time to re-engage in it.

    Oh – I was in DC on 9/11. I’m no loose change guy. There’s no active plot by MLS owners to kill soccer. They’re just watching out for their money. In the current system, they can do so by controlling lower divisions and conceding vast US market share to Europe in Mexico. It’s no unquantifiable conspiracy with sketchy data. It’s happening before our eyes.

    http://www.google.com/trends/explore?q=major+league+soccer%2C+premier+league%2C+la+liga%2C+bundesliga%2C+liga+mx#q=major%20league%20soccer%2C%20premier%20league%2C%20la%20liga%2C%20bundesliga%2C%20liga%20mx&geo=US&cmpt=q

    Thanks for throwing me a bone, Shaggy.

  32. Beau Dure says:

    That would be the same Clent Alexander who said he doesn’t want to join the NASL right now because of the $2m fee and the necessity of air travel:

    https://twitter.com/FlashSoccerCEO/status/368818345304264705

    I think what he’s doing is really cool. And if it builds into something big, maybe he can move up. Just like Seattle, Portland, Vancouver …

    But me and Grant are the ones “tamping down” the conversation, even though you’ve seen how ridiculous it is to “carry MLS’s water.” And even though Grant recently wrote about the “beauty of promotion and relegation.”

    I’m sure you’ll retort with unrelated comments about how the EPL is bigger than MLS, and no other factor explains it besides their open system. Not the fact that the media landscape is now global, and people can watch just about anything thanks to cable and the Internet. I guess Scotland and Ireland’s leagues suffer because they’re closed … oh, wait.

    Enjoy your Scooby Snacks. I’m ready to go back to writing about people who actually do something in soccer. (Specifically, the Washington Spirit.)

  33. Beau Dure says:

    Just checked out Day 37 of the Loney-Ted Twitter conversation and noticed the suggestion that NASL could eventually be D1 while MLS goes “non-league.”

    Let’s skip the bits about how big a step backwards this would be and how many NASL people would agree with that sentiment. And we’ll skip the bits about pushing aside all the facilities and brand-building that have been developed in the past 20 years.

    Let’s just remember what a major battle would take place if this would ever be suggested by people in real life. I seriously doubt they’d avoid court.

    And then let’s remember how well the Soccer Wars have worked out in the past. ASL vs. everyone. NASL vs. indoor. Etc.

    Just saying this for the record, in case anyone comes back to this post at some point and says, “Hey! Here’s an idea!”

  34. mighty says:

    want to say I enjoyed reading this… but I really can’t

  35. soccerreform says:

    Let’s try to set this broken record straight again. My argument for promotion and relegation is soccer specific. It’s based on the fact that – unlike our other big leagues – soccer exists in an open global market of independent clubs with a well established structure for international competition.

    Grant Wahl made a fluffy drive by on how great promotion would be great for every sport in the US. No argument from me on that. It would be a lot of fun for supporters – but it’s not really necessary for our dominant domestic leagues the way it is for soccer – yet.

    NFL is the only pro US football league in the world. NHL, NBA and MLB are widely recognized to contain the best teams in the world – for now. There is no international play in NFL. NBA and NHL play around with pre-season international friendlies. MLB (the loosest one of the big 4 in terms of caps, coincidentally) is experimenting with consequential international play. Give them credit for that – especially since they still call the US championship the “World Series”.

    Of course soccer is completely different. It exists within a well established system of international play. Unlike isolated and dominant US sports, limiting quality of teams for parity (and owner profit) has real consequences the second those teams compete outside of the league.

    This might seem like a preface to removing the salary caps and other micromanagement unique to MLS in order that we can participate fully in in a world of top-flight clubs limited only by the amount of support they receive.

    It’s not.

    It’s actually the preface to promotion and relegation itself. Every single closed top-flight soccer league of unlimited clubs has collapsed. A good half dozen here in the US since the 1920s. More around the world – especially in Canada and Australia. Closed leagues simply do not accommodate the unlimited clubs that make international competition compelling.

    Instead ditching a system that cannot accommodate free clubs, MLS – with institutional approval from US Soccer – formed a single entity that limited and controlled every MLS outlet. We got the worst of both worlds: Top flight clubs that couldn’t compete on a level playing field outside of the league, and clubs trapped in lower divisions – many older than their MLS cousins – struggling for interest, investment and mere survival.

    For a while I supported it.

    We had top-flight soccer in the US! It was great!

    Flash forward to 20 years after the 1994 World Cup. MLS interest has plummeted in the US vis a vis foreign leagues:

    http://www.google.com/trends/explore?q=major+league+soccer%2C+premier+league%2C+la+liga%2C+bundesliga%2C+liga+mx#q=major%20league%20soccer%2C%20premier%20league%2C%20la%20liga%2C%20bundesliga%2C%20liga%20mx&geo=US&cmpt=q

    It’s a unique phenomenon. Japan hasn’t seen anything like this falloff in interest for their top flight. Neither has Australia.

    Simply put, MLS has conceded the bulk of the US market to them. Tragedy for MLS? Hardly. Lucky for them MLS owners formed Soccer United Marketing (SUM) that has the marketing rights to the bulk of international competitions held on US soil. They profit from this concession.

    While it’s true that MLS average attendance has finally pushed past records set in 1996, it’s a Pyrrhic victory. TV ratings are as flat as web search.

    The US market has spoken: We love the same unlimited clubs the rest of the world does.

    History has spoken: We can’t have them without promotion and relegation.

    Beau Dure has spoken: MLS is still the way to go.

    Nevermind web interest is plummeting. Nevermind TV ratings are flat. Nevermind US style closed leagues can’t accommodate great clubs. Nevermind that US soccer policy is slanted towards MLS, and discrimination of US lower divisions is written into US Soccer policy with the closed leagues they sanction. Nevermind that leagues don’t bid on promotion and relegation, federations sanction it. Nevermind that closed soccer leagues are inherently unstable and prone to collapse without strictly limiting their own teams. Nevermind that US Soccer doesn’t even pay their President – but an MLS/NFL owner does.

    Nevermind a closed league structure that persistently rejects soccer. MLS is the best we can do.

    I always hope this clears the way for real discussion on the points I’m making. I hope that Grant or Beau will say if they think our supporters deserve clubs with the same opportunities as any in the world – or not. I think they know an answer in the affirmative is a vote for pro/rel.

    Still, hand it to Dure. Even though he can’t refute any of these points – much less address them – he’s hosting an open discussion on the subject.

    More people are asking these questions every day. Perhaps that’s the key to getting them answered. When only a few people ask questions, they can all be painted as intolerant nutcases. When lots of people ask them, it’s tougher to condescend to them.

    Also, hand it to Dan Loney. He’s admitted that he doesn’t think US clubs deserve the same opportunities as any in the world.

    Of course I disagree with Dan, but despite all his sophomoric name calling and debasing, It’s sort of refreshing. That’s what the pro/rel debate is really all about.

    Hopefully we can get to some other great conundrums, like:

    MLS will never be able to accommodate great clubs in it’s current closed league format. US supporters crave great clubs.

    MLS can generate revenue while conceding most of the US market to foreign leagues. Conceding massive US interest to foreign teams weakens our game here at home.

    Finally, I’d love to get my biggest pet peeve: Lower division US owners are handicapped by a US Soccer policy that stacks the deck for MLS. It’s time to stop pointing out how weak their clubs are as a result of lack of pro/rel to make a case against pro/rel.

    Of all of the condescending arguments against it, that has to be the worst.

    Then there’s the total ignorance of the centennial of US Open Cup from all parties. The 100th Final is on Tuesday. I bet you didn’t hear that from tournament organizer US Soccer.

    Alas.

    The more people ask these questions, the less they’ll be disregarded by an imperial few.

  36. Beau Dure says:

    After I finish my Spirit book, I will have a new post that will include my own plan for promotion/relegation.

  37. Crazymike366 says:

    As soccer continues to grow there will inevitably be enough demand to outpace the limited number of teams that MLS can support. An eventual buying out and merging of competitors is the logical conclusion of a “mature” league. Basketball, gridiron, and baseball all did it. English soccer did it. Its inevitable that MLS or the NASL will buy the other out. It might not happen for 20 years…but it’ll happen.

    And the perks will be awesome. If you love the MLS playoff race and the playoffs themselves, imagine getting two additional playoff runs down the stretch on top of the one at the top – a playoff race and playoffs in MLS2, and a relegation race and play-in games for Major League spots at the bottom of MLS. Triple the playoff runs, triple the interest, and triple the excitement. Everyone wins. And because the rules would be the same between MLS and MLS2 and the revenues shared, no one loses either.

  38. OpenCupFan says:

    I know this is an oldish article and debate at this point, but I found it enlightening. Largely, I agree with Ted – his drawback here is lack of a realistic approach to MLS. As Beau states, they will not go quietly, nor should they really given the amount of their investments. But, without knowing the contractual agreements between MLS and USSF there is no reason to believe they would prevail in Court. More likely than not, USSF has the right to modify any agreements/sanctioning it has given members/leagues of the “pyramid.” Therefore, if there are lawsuits, they would probably be between MLS and its franchisees. So if it truly is better for soccer, then go to Court – your questions will be answered there. It wouldn’t take millions to get an answer in Court either.

    But short of Court, Beau is missing something by saying and quoting others as saying that pro/rel might be coming in the future. Under what circumstances would MLS give up its monopoly? I don’t see it – and no one has explained a rational scenario where this would happen. Short of some type of financial or legal pressure I don’t believe there is a precedent for them giving up their monopoly – hasn’t happened in sports or business that I am aware of and won’t happen here. To that end, unless I am missing something, Ted is right – if you want pro/rel you have to fight for it. Dead horse: there is no scenario where MLS will voluntarily give up its monopoly – nor would anyone else.

    Having said that, there is certainly no way one could say that soccer’s growth here in the last 20-25 years owes nothing to MLS and those behind it, that would be a lie – and would result in a loss of credibility to whoever expresses that view. The problem though, as Ted, I believe, alludes to, is that past success is not an indicator of future results. Yes, the single entity has been a great success – but that doesn’t mean it is the way of the future, or even today. I don’t know what it would take for MLS to welcome pro/rel, but just because it hasn’t been done so far doesn’t mean it can’t be done in the future. Almost every single person I know wants pro/rel, I would say every single person but I don’t like absolutes and there might be someone I am forgetting (and the bigsoccer Toney guy), and this idea that MLS won’t go for it or future investors won’t buy in is to me nothing but “fear mongering.” If you don’t support MLS in everything we do then the plug will be pulled on you d1 league. This is fear mongering whether espoused by MLS or a journalist or anyone else. Today’s America is not the America of 1985 (for soccer). Basically, although I love the idea, pro/rel doesn’t have to be done today, but it needs to be in the conversation and preferably in the conversation with those the made it possible today – MLS.

    Part of the issue that Ted refers to, again, I believe, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, I don’t know the guy, is that he is looking for something different with soccer than what you have with MLB, NHL, NFL, and NBA. Yeah, why not have a league where everyone that can afford a $100 million buy gets a team? Sounds great! But do you want a league with 30plus teams of crap games to watch? Some may disagree with me, but how many crap games does the NFL give us every weekend? – be honest when you answer this. NBA too. I would much rather see a smaller first division with a concentration of the best players in the country (North America) and fewer foreigners. As it is now MLS is much better than it was, but it is still not a great game to watch in comparison with the other options we have on tv. Mostly I like going to games because I enjoy the atmosphere, but very rarely watch it on tv. Point is that I do not want to see another (5th) typical American “closed” league and that is avoidable at this time, might not be later. I don’t think Ted is the only one that wants to avoid these owners like Donald Sterling sitting around and collecting tv revenue checks for decades without reinvesting in his team – he isn’t alone, that practice exists in every pro league in the US. I’m sure you can name a couple right now. Many have said that Euro clubs are financially unstable because of the way they spend, this has been true, but is there no middle ground between Portsmouth and almost 40 years of LA CLippers non competition? The Clippers are an aberration because of how long he went without trying, but there are examples in every league and this does not help the fans.

    This is getting way too long, I think the last thing I want to say is about NY. NYC specifically. What sense does it make to limit the number of teams who have access to the top league in a city like NYC? All of New England is like 1/4 of the NYC metro area, less probably. NYC should have like 20 pro teams in every sport (I am exaggerating a little bit and am also aware that infrastructure is an issue). But the exaggeration is to make a point. All over this country there are gripes about Big Market teams, Yankees especially. Or Knicks and Jets, horribly run but still some of the most valuable teams in the world, yes the world, by virtue of their location and more importantly by virtue of the monopoly given them by their respective leagues. How does this make sense to any fans? It is wasteful and counterproductive. Do youse really think that it somehow benefits bball or football or baseball, as a sport and the fans as fans, to limit the number of teams in NYC? LA? ChiTown? I don’t see it. But if I had the monopoly I wouldn’t give it up either. PSG is the only top flight team in Paris, giving it the largest fan base in Europe for any top flight team, I could be wrong so feel free to check my numbers. But PSG is there because the other teams in the city that are pro have been so mismanaged that they are in the lower leagues. I love the Jets, I do, but they should be playing somewhere like the Arena League most years.

    Nothing written by Beau or anyone against the immediate introduction of pro/rel leaves me with any confidence that it will ever by instituted by MLS voluntarily. So, as annoying as the pro/rel voice might appear to you, it will never be implented without their shouts and screams.

    Just some thoughts. Thank you for reading all of this.

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