Why I don’t engage in most promotion/relegation discussions

Suppose someone told you Beethoven wrote Born to Run. 

“No,” you’d say. “All available evidence says Bruce Springsteen wrote Born to Run. It was recorded nearly 150 years after Beethoven died.”

You’d think that would be the end of the argument. But suppose the original person kept pressing you on the topic. No, no — it was Beethoven.

And as you continued to point to the evidence supporting your “position” that Springsteen wrote Born to Run a review, a Slate story showing how The Boss obsessed over the song in an effort to save his career, a story about the house in which he wrote the song — the pro-Beethoven crowd grew more belligerent. You don’t really believe Springsteen wrote Born to Run, your accusers would say. You’re just afraid of losing your credentials to Springsteen concerts. Or worse, you’re actually taking money from Springsteen to denounce people who think Beethoven wrote Born to Run.

That’s how I feel about a couple of people who put forth the following proposition: Promotion/relegation is economically feasible in U.S. soccer, the lack of it is strangling investment in the sport, it will happen if we just get enough people to yell about it on Twitter, and everything from the fourth division to the U.S. national team would be infinitely better if we would just get all those people to yell about it and make it happen.

I have explained multiple times why this proposition isn’t true. The most popular of my posts on the topic is “The NASL and periodic restatement of facts on promotion/relegation.” You may also enjoy “The semiannual restatement of facts on promotion/relegation,” which will take you back to previous posts on the topic.

But every once in a while, people repeat a couple of mindless mantras about pro/rel and then insist I (or possibly someone else in the field) should “debate” the people involved, like Bill Nye taking the stage to debate a creationist over a topic on which the scientific community is in complete agreement.

I’ve debated Ted. On Twitter. On BigSoccer. Through a lengthy private message exchange on BigSoccer in which he came close to conceding that my position was not the result of clandestine payments from MLS or a need to protect my lucrative writing career. (For the record: The fantasy columns I wrote for MLSNet were ages ago, USA TODAY rarely cared if I did any MLS coverage while I was employed there, and I’ve written very little on the league in the last two years.) I even agreed to participate in a story in which the writer was also chatting with him.

Since then, nothing has changed. Everything I’ve written is still true. Teams in the third and fourth divisions (and, frankly, most of the teams in the NASL) are content to stay there. There’s no indication whatsoever that people who have the means to make a pro/rel league happen are doing so. (No, I’m not counting an occasional “Hey, pro/rel would be cool!” comment from an NASL official as actual progress on getting it done, nor am I counting the countless amateur leagues — including mine — that use pro/rel because there’s nothing else at stake besides giving teams reasonable competition. My team was promoted against its will this season. It stinks.)

At one time, there was some sort of movement to make change happen within U.S. Soccer, thinking that if the federation simply put in rules for pro/rel, the investors would magically appear, like the profit in the South Park Underpants Gnomes episode. I’ll guess by Sunil Gulati’s recent unanimous re-election that such a movement did not come to pass.

And nothing has come to pass. People have yelled, harangued, browbeat and screamed. And the pro/rel movement in this country is still a few people on Twitter who have lined up no sponsors, no owners, no nothing. (Ted used to raise money through his site, and I’m sometimes tempted to ask what happened to the dough.)

Here’s the funny part. Ready?

Personally, I would love to see pro/rel happen in the USA.

Perhaps a modified form that minimizes risk. Maybe something in which we have some interdivisional play so second-division teams will still have a chance to see Thierry Henry or Landon Donovan once every two years.

I wish Don Garber hadn’t shut the door so conclusively when he was asked about it before the season. But I have no doubt that he’s reflecting the sentiment of the people who have sunk tens of millions of dollars into rescuing U.S. soccer from where it stood in 1993, with a bit of semipro ball and nothing else. Garber isn’t going to force them to accept more risk, and I’m in no position to say otherwise, any more than I’m in a position to say I think it’s stupid for European national teams to ditch friendlies for this new “league.” (Yes, I’m bitter about that.)

And I would love to see the lower divisions toss aside their differences and form regional leagues with pro/rel. MLS is stable. The other leagues, not as much.

So what, exactly, should I “debate” with anyone on this topic? Whether or not pro/rel would be cool? No disagreement there. Whether or not it’s feasible? Not a debate.

Period.

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  1. I also love the drama that Pro/Rel offers for the other end of the table. Looking at European leaves, there are plenty of examples where the last month+ of the season is still very relevant for al but maybe 3-4 of 20 sides.

    That said, as you point out, it ain’t happening

    As long as you have owners popping $50 million to play MLS, there’s no way anyone already in that clubhouse will agree to drop a league and play road games in Rochester or Dayton or Richmond. No way.

    Not sure why the argument needs to go beyond that financial reality.

  2. “Feasible” would actually be a legit debate, ‘feasible’ in the sense of whether one could set up a system that could actually sustain itself economically. It seems like it probably could, or there’s no strong reason to believe that it couldn’t. To cross post, if you could actually self-implement promotion and relegation in professional soccer with some shred of foresight and risk management, you’d have to guess the fallout from that would less than the impact on college athletics if a court ordered that student athletes should be paid. (The argument that owners would vote against it being a political argument, not an economic one.) If you managed it, it seems clear that promotion and relegation has entertainment value in an entertainment-oriented business.

    The majority who have commented on it seem to believe that promotion and relegation would bankrupt soccer in the US. I think that (probable) majority is probably wrong. That’s a very different subject from whether we’re ever likely to find out.

    On that second subject, it is probably a long way off before the question can even be asked. The imagination could conceive of a time when MLS has the number of teams it wants to have, and that having any greater number probably poses more logistical problems (and shares the TV contract more ways) than it’s worth. At that time, the expansion fee question may reverse a bit, to where adding a second, lower tier becomes a way of collecting expansion fees without expanding your league size.

  3. Let’s clear this up: I used to tease Beau about his stance against pro/rel. I think I teased him about being on the MLS payroll once, and alluding to that teasing one other time.

    And oh yes, he argued against pro/rel. What do you think we were arguing about? Wheat cultivation? Volkswagen Engine repair?

    And… I still have all those conversations. Not sure why I did at the time… but now I’m glad I have them. I especially like the part where Beau admits that US Soccer could have sanctioned pro/rel in the late 1920s to resolve core issues surrounding the great soccer war.

    Since the late aughts when I last teased him about being on the MLS payola, I’ve contradicted myself and him a dozen times. I’ll do it again now: He’s not on the MLS payroll.

    Why can’t he have a straightforward debate on pro/rel? Who knows. Perhaps it contradicts his writings. Perhaps he doesn’t like me. Perhaps his VW is in the shop.

    Since his last post on pro/rel – which I congratulated him on despite the fact that it degenerated into another long series of smears on me – I’ve barely mentioned the man in my fight for pro/rel.

    Until today, when he found it necessary to call me out – yet again.

    On that “twitter” fight for pro/rel. I like twitter. I think it’s a fantastic tool to spread the word to millions on any given issue. Don’t let Beau or anyone else convince you that that is the only place this discussion is occuring. it’s happening all over the world – and all over the internet. it’s even happening on some podcasts. People are fighting for it in lots of different venues.

    All that being said. It’s great to hear Beau “likes” pro/rel. I’d only add that sitting back and saying you like it – just in case the wind blows that way – doesn’t mean you support it.

    And for crying out loud, if you don’t want to discuss pro/rel, stop writing posts on it.

  4. Ah, classic Ted. “Oh, I only teased you about being on the MLS payroll that one time.” “Maybe your VW is in the shop.” Thank you for demonstrating the point.

    (I did think about getting a VW the last time I was in the market for a car, but I opted for something else. D.C. United did not offer to pay for it.)

    And, of course, I’m not the only one who has dealt with accusations of being co-opted. Grant Wahl. Brian Straus. Any blogger, regardless of reach.

    But now that talk of pro/rel has escaped all the way from Ted’s site to … podcasts? Oh, that’s unstoppable.

    I still hold out hope that it’ll happen some day. I am, as ever, just the messenger when it comes to the economic realities.

    If the NASL gets around to it one day, great. But they have bigger issues at the moment. Or would pro/rel magically erase the opposition to the stadium in Virginia?

    I don’t write these posts for Ted, just as I wouldn’t expect to write something about Ukraine and convince Putin. I write for the newbies who pop up every now and then and believe Ted’s rhetoric. I hope, with each one of these semiannual posts, that I can get closer to just putting in a link and saying, “There — this is why there’s no pro/rel revolution at the moment, and if there were, Ted wouldn’t be leading it.”

    Have I done it this time? Hope so.

  5. For all intents and purposes, ANY discussion of soccer prior to MLS (I’ll say 1990 to be fair) is beyond pointless. There is history, players and teams to remember, but it is wholly irrelevant to today’s game. There is simply no connection. Post-NASL (really an attraction league above all else) and Pre-MLS we lost an entire generation of people from professional soccer, only just now is that starting to be rehabilitiated.

    Ted knows, and Beau’s MLS book has great insight on this fact: there was no other option but MLS. There was real fear that a div 1 league would bankrupt itself…again, so certain measures, right or wrong, were put in place. These measures have effectively stopped the organic progression which resulted in pro/rel systems in Japan, Korea, and Austrialia–all MLS contemporaries. Had it not been for the mandated Division 1 development (a condition of the 94 World Cup) we would have eventually got there too but it also could’ve taken another 25 years to be where we are today in terms of investment, professionalism and player development. Given the sports makeup of the US (for which some still believe soccer is major player–it’s not, really) there is a real chance it could’ve stayed a children’s game/semi-pro forever.

    Ted, there are so few people on the MLS payroll, that your SOP on Twitter really amounts to nothing more than borderline slanderous, laughably naive, horseshit. The straight forward debate you crave is someone standing up and trying to counter superflous points of “everyone deserves a chance” and “but, the American way: captialism and competition”. The news flash I don’t think you got: deserving something does not equal the ability to have something.

    Continue your quest, but until another 15-30 teams OUTSIDE of MLS start demonstarting an American first division standard (as we know it today) this system will not, and should not exist. We are still in the stages of building up the game as NASL folding effectviely razed the earth for professional soccer in the USA. MLS is training wheels and they are not ready to come off until ownership groups from all around decide that the games is worth their time and investment… even without pro/rel.

  6. Dan Loney did a wonderful job of summing up a truly insane conversation with Ted:

    https://storify.com/DanLoney36/ted-westervelt-boy-detective

    I block Ted on Twitter, so I didn’t see this tweet: “For the record, my smearmonger – I didn’t accept any contributions five years ago. Find a new white whale.”

    Soccerreform.us is hidden from the Internet Archive, which is a pity — I vaguely recall he had some cool music on the site at one point. But it also means we can’t go back and verify that he was indeed asking for contributions at one point.

    But Dan found an old BigSoccer conversation in which someone kept asking where the money went. And Ted cheerfully asked how much that person plans to contribute:

    http://www.bigsoccer.com/community/threads/promotion-and-relegation.3237/page-12#post-19779954

    Here’s the thing: I don’t care if Ted asked for donations for his cause. Caveat emptor and all that. I vaguely wonder where the money went, but in the world of political shenanigans, this is small potatoes.

    But why deny that he took such donations? Or did he actually decline them — or not receive any?

    I’m perfectly open with the effect MLS has had on my finances. About 10 years ago, MLSNet, which was quasi-independent at the time, paid me to write a few fantasy soccer columns for them. I stopped doing that at USA TODAY’s request when I started writing more soccer content (which, by the way, included all divisions — I once covered a PDL-USASA game in the Open Cup) as part of my job. Still, soccer writing always had the minority share of my time at USA TODAY, where I did a whole lot of online editing. By the time I left in 2010, I was finally doing more writing than web editing, but I was doing much, much more UFC than MLS. Then I published a book on MLS in 2010. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a couple hundred in royalties from that book this year.

    What effect would have on me professionally if promotion/relegation suddenly snapped into existence in this country? None. Zero. Nada.

    Even if I were to get back into men’s soccer writing, which I’ve pretty much stopped doing for a variety of reasons over the last couple of years, would I be affected if pro/rel suddenly existed? Would Peter Wilt, Michael Hitchcock and Eric Wynalda all ban me from the pressbox because I was the big meanie who pointed out the flaws in Ted’s logic? I’ll take my chances.

    The bottom line is this:

    1. Ted can’t support his argument that pro/rel is feasible in the near future. Nor can he support the argument that the lack of pro/rel is the main thing preventing the USA from being a soccer power. Just read the BigSoccer thread — there’s no need for me to regurgitate it all here, though I’m sure Ted will ask.

    2. When Ted loses the argument, he turns to conspiracy theories. I’m an “MLSbot,” along with Dan, Charles Boehm, Grant Wahl, Brian Straus, Aaron Stollar and anyone else who has ever pointed out the flaws in Ted’s arguments. And if you scan the document Dan collected, you’ll see that he somehow spins a couple of obviously sarcastic tweets into a conspiracy among a couple of “BigSoccer” people to make him look bad. (Step 1: Make a tasteless tweet that Ted will obviously retweet… um, how does the rest of this work? How did they know Ted would retweet it?)

    So here’s the deal:

    If you’re new to the whole pro/rel conversation and have any questions that I haven’t answered in my posts on the topic, feel free to ask.

    If you’ve latched onto Ted and just want to shout his discredited slogans, I’m sorry. I may or may not respond.

    I am particularly amused by JOGASC, though. Within an hour yesterday, he sent me to a Soccernomics blog post suggesting MLS was failing because it didn’t spend enough money, then said the following: “they honestly think $ is the reason for clubs to exist, that’s their first problem.”

    He also asks why his club can’t be in MLS. To which I’d suggest this — start your club in England. Then see how long it takes you to make the Premier League without a massive infusion of cash. Because it’s not about money, right? All you have to do is start your club and start winning games, and you’re in, right?

    If we’re going to have pro/rel in this country, it’s going to be led by reasonable people who have assessed the risks and benefits. People who realize it’s not a magic solution to making MLS the equal of the Premier League or the U.S. national team the equal of Brazil. (Each of those propositions boils down to youth development, where investment has ramped up considerably in the past decade. Whether we’re doing it right is another conversation entirely.)

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to celebrate my amateur indoor team’s relegation.

  7. You accuse me (and others) of being on the payroll to spread the gospel of non-promotion/relegation. That’s patently false.

    And don’t act like it’s some new revelation that I wrote fantasy columns 10 years ago. You’ve known that the whole time.

    So I dare you — share this link. Let your followers see the whole conversation. Go ahead.

  8. For the record — Ted, to his credit, linked here. And that should be all the conversation we need. Life’s too short to rehash it over and over.

  9. I’ve debated Ted about the pro/rel thing, but he can NEVER answer this question. Why would fans of MLS clubs want pro/rel?? Where is the outcry from NASL or USL fans wanting more??

    Let’s be honest ok pro/rel won’t improve the game here.It will make D2 and D3 clubs OVERSPEND bringing in foreigners to just win games. Where’s the player development? Why does NASL still have NO TV deal? Now before I here the US doesn’t give minor leagues TV deals how come they don’t have REGIONAL tv?

    Pro/rel isn’t going to make me care about a crappy team, In fact it would make me care less. Let’s say I’m a DC United fan there I get to see the Galaxy, Union, Red Bulls, Toronto FC,etc. If we get relegated to NASL how do I see my team? Oops no TV deals for NASL. How does a club sell this to season ticket holders? One year you’re playing the elite then next year you are playing a club your fans NEVER heard of.

  10. OK… so now that we’re clear of all the histrionics – Here’s a reasoned response on topic.

    People talk about the “financial realities” that make pro/rel all but impossible. They’re the same realities that the robber barons of the late 19th century claimed. The same one the people of the United States stood up and forced their government to change. If they hadn’t, there would still be only one oil company of note in the US – and one steel company of any significance.

    I know it’s popular for MLS defenders to claim the wonderful world of cartels and virtual government sponsored monopolies are a new wave of fresh wonderfulness that will soon sweep away the old world order of free-market promotion and relegation.

    Their logic goes something like this:

    What kind of idiot billionaire would risk money on a free-market system when controlled and micromanaged quasi single entity leagues like the NFL have proven so ghastly profitable?

    Yet it’s happening all over the world. US sports like cycling, ultimate frisbee and – just recently – drift car racing have adopted it here in the US! UEFA just announced that pro/rel would be part of their new NATIONS league!

    Pro/rel is dead. Long live pro/rel.

    On the wonderful comments on the rising noise and fire on pro/rel achieving nothing:

    Thank you for acknowledging that pro/rel crazies have been so successful raising hell on the issue. We obviously haven’t raised enough yet. It’s growing every day, though. Usually peaks around MLS expansion announcements and Survival Saturday in BPL – so keep your eyes peeled. I’m told that Sunil Gulati himself is listening.

    I totally get the MLS business model. Expansion is key to survival. It’s very much like Herbalife’s, if you think about it. All depends on selling to investors, not consumers. It’s a scheme Charles Ponzi would love.

    Despite hints of their enormous power and the blatantly obvious point that MLS owners are far more comfortable in their cartel cocoon – If we we can break up steel and oil barons, we can break up soccer barons. We’re already on our way. No rapture awaits us when we do. No open soccer league has ever collapsed like dozens of closed leagues have over the last century.

    8 votes on the US Soccer board separate us from pro/rel. When our federation sanctions it, it will be up to MLS to decide whether to participate or not – instead of dictating no pro/rel to every club in the USA.

    On lower division US owners “comfortable where they are”, Dan Loney himself blew that theory out of the water in his own big soccer piece. I can’t bear to link to it, but it’s out there.

    I’ve spoken to even more lower division execs and owners than Dan, I suspect. They also agree.

    Not to mention that NASL and NPSL – entire US leagues – are on record supporting it.

    Beau, thanks for having the courage to admit that you’ve in fact been on the MLS payroll. I’m sure it wasn’t easy. Hopefully we can stay on topic from now on.

  11. Already addressed the “payroll” thing. Only your most delusional followers will think a few freelance fantasy columns 10 years ago are swaying my analysis of the facts.

    NPSL is mostly amateur. Tons of amateur leagues do pro/rel. (My team is getting relegated, which is frankly a bit of a relief. We’re in over our heads.)

    NASL commissioner is paying lip service to it — easy to do when you’re about 12 teams away from being able to talk about it actually happening. And I don’t know where you’re getting your “lower division execs and owners.” I’ve talked with Peter Wilt, the Richmond Kickers and many others in passing, and we’ve seen many teams “self-relegate” to cut down expenses.

    I think everything else here is a shaky historical analogy that ignores every other factor. It’s like saying, “You know who supported the Olympics? Hitler.”

    I found it curious that you retweeted someone who talked about the hostility this country had against soccer until not too long ago. You’ve usually claimed all these leagues would’ve been great if they had been “open,” and that there was nothing else limiting us. Does that mean you’re actually learning about history and not just accusing everyone else of ignoring the Open Cup (even those of us who covered it with absolutely no encouragement from an editor or other entity)?

  12. Oscar – as I just posted on twitter – The majority of reporters I speak to have taken money from MLS at one point or another. Under current conditions in the industry and dwindling subsidies for news gathering – I’ve found it to be a necessary evil for a lot of people. I think more should disclose publicly. It’s brutal out there in the reporting business.

  13. Ted, no one’s hiding anything. It’s pretty easy to see who’s writing for the MLS site. Charles Boehm does. I did it 10 years ago, and it accounted for maybe 2-3% of my personal income that year. As far as I can recall, Grant Wahl has never written for the site, nor have Steven Goff, Ives Galarcep, Jamie Trecker and many more.

    Under current management, it’s not as if Major League Soccer Soccer dotcom (to borrow Loney’s term) bans talk of pro/rel. They cover Americans in overseas leagues, where it’s a regular thing. (Sadly, several Americans in MEXICO are in a relegation battle at the moment!) And it comes up from time to time.

    The reason so many journalists don’t see pro/rel as feasible in the near future isn’t because of any financial ties, and you know it, despite all your smears to the contrary. It’s because those journalists are knowledgeable.

    Here’s the bottom line: The effect on journalists’ incomes if pro/rel started tomorrow would be nil. The effect on their incomes if pro soccer completely died in the USA? A good bit more. So if you’re looking for bias — there you go. It’s in journalists’ best interest to see soccer continue to exist, and they know MLS is the best bet as things stand now. (And yet it doesn’t mean they won’t take on MLS as needed. I’ve seen Goff and Ives openly defy MLS on media policy. They’re still credentialed.)

    Thanks, though, for your disclosure at last on your SoccerReform.us income. I’m still a little puzzled, though — did anyone TRY to donate through your site, only to have you turn them away?

  14. Beau, If you ever want to have an “honest debate” you might want to start by not disparaging people, like Kephern (or JOGASC as you refer to him), who actually have skin in the game and have actually lived in a professional pro/rel environment. Do you honestly consider yourself more informed than former professional players and coaches, like Kephern, who have personally experienced the benefits and risks of pro-rel and think that it is necessary for American soccer to progress at this point? Do you not think there’s anything to learn from hearing about their experiences? I get that you and some of your journalist colleague’s have been around for a bit, and it was probably pretty lonely there for a while, but these days some of the vocal stakeholders in this debate are far more informed than you (or I) will be ever be. I’ve read your book and I don’t think you have any nefarious motives in this debate but it’s not 2002, the reality of U.S. Soccer expands and grows more diverse and complex every day. If you want to stay relevant in this conversation, I don’t think it will help to try and pull non-existent rank or act like this is all beneath you every time someone says something you don’t agree with.

  15. Kephern seems like a good guy, and I’m sure he could play circles around me. I’m not attacking him. I’m saying it’s an inconsistent argument to point me to a post that says “MLS needs to spend more to get better” and then tell me “soccer isn’t about money.”

    He had earlier asked why his club can’t be in MLS. Well, no matter what system we have, his team would need a whole lot of money. Teams that made rapid clubs up a pyramid (Hoffenheim comes to mind) have done so with megamillionaire backing.

    I think it’s a bit strange to assume I don’t appreciate the benefits and risks of pro-rel. I was an English soccer fan before MLS existed. I certainly know about it and appreciate it — and I certainly hope the system remains in place in England. (I’m a little worried that we may one day see a European super league or that the Premier League revenue will so dwarf that of the other divisions that teams simply won’t be able to afford to move back and forth.)

    You’re basically accusing me of making an appeal to authority — saying I’m “pulling rank.” I would counter by saying I’m simply relaying what I’ve heard in all my conversations with people in various U.S. leagues. If you’re saying Kephern is better placed to speak to pro/rel because he played in it, then I would say THAT is an appeal to authority.

    Because the bottom line is this — I’m not personally “anti-pro/rel.” I’m simply pointing out the reasons it hasn’t happened yet and isn’t likely to happen in the near future. And I actually agree that we’ve progressed and gotten a bit closer to a point at which it might be feasible. I just happen to see a lot of obstacles ahead. Mostly this: We do not have enough clubs with Division I facilities and ownership willing and able to commit to the risks involved.

    Remember — England didn’t have promotion/relegation at first. They occasionally kicked out teams and voted in new ones. It took a while to get going.

  16. Beau, your comments re Kephern are complete sophistry. You claim to be “just the messenger when it comes to economic realities” and then proceed to make up a reality that seems to suit your point of view. To whit, it sure didn’t take for you long to twist Keph’s original tweet (“they honestly think $ is the reason for clubs to exist, that’s their first problem.”) into “soccer isn’t about money.” Keph’s comment is directed towards profit motivation, not revenue generation or wage spending (the topic of the Soccernomics article). The distinction and interaction between those three factors are important in understanding the incentives and economic realities in a pro/rel system vs. MLS system. Keph’s tweet and subsequent comments speak to those complexities yet you gloss right over all of that so you can make a cheap point to try and make Keph look naive.

    So, why do I find Keph’s expertise and pro/rel argument more compelling than yours at this point? It’s not about authority, it’s about credibility and it starts with not cherry picking info or distorting reality (even little things like a tweet made by someone who disagrees with you) in order to serve a narrative.

  17. I guess I don’t see the complexities, and perhaps I’m missing the point. Is the point that clubs aren’t supposed to make money? I could see that, but …

    A. I don’t how we soccer fans can *demand* owners that lose money on the teams, nor do I think we have enough people to have fan-owned teams. (The EPL, so often held up as the paragon of “open systems,” depends on stockholders or rich people drawn by the prospect of getting richer.)

    B. MLS owners have indeed lost a ton of money just to get a league off the ground — one that didn’t have enough teams to even consider pro/rel.

    So can you tell me what I’m missing?

  18. First of all I agree with the fact that there is no point debating with people who are so die hard on one side of a topic and give no room for a proper conversation. People on the extreme side will also paid someone that is moderately on one side as an extremest.

    Here’s my two cents/rant for what it’s worth.

    I understand why they didn’t have pro/rel in the MLS because their fan base/support for the game was very weak. However as the MLS continues to mature, it should be able to handle pro/rel. Yes the rich owners would hate to see their team lost but it brings accountability so you don’t have the like’s of a TFC spending years at the bottom while charging fans similar season ticket packages similar at Man United.

    In addition to accountability, there is always hope that your small local club could one day making to the main league, heck maybe one day they will actually appear in a major play-off/ European competition. There is a sense of community connected with every club. Also the billionaire system is not the only way to run clubs, like’s of Real, Barca, Benfica, etc… are all fan run. each have had various degrees of success. Opening up the MLS to various tiers where people could start clubs at the bottom and try their luck at moving up the various divisions will breed more competition, more spending, and yes more foreign talent to fill gaps but the ability to develop/find local talent will also increase. All those items could have a very positive impact on America soccer.

    In terms of fan base/excitement, watch the bottom 4-6 clubs in any league as you approach the end of the season. All the sudden it becomes due or die and staying in the league at times almost feels like you won it. It creates a whole new dynamic for fans and excitement for others watching the game.

    My last comment is something I’ve always found odd/funny about this debate. Americans are the most capitalist society while Europeans/Latin Americans have been more socialist. Yet when it comes to sports, the roles are reversed. All the sudden Americans feel the need to protect weak teams while ignoring their failures that made them so weak. They don’t allow new ones to start because the other owners could get offended and it would hurt their unionized like seniority they’ve built in the league. I have very little sympathy for protecting wealthy sports corps. or billionaires from their toys losing money. European soccer is more like the wild west. It’s not always fair, it’s not easy, and it’s definitely not perfect but that’s part of the game and excitement behind it. I’ve always viewed Americans to like drama and excitement and I’m pretty sure it would work in the US. Too much money has been invested for all these billionaires to walk away.

  19. You raise some decent points. And honestly, if for some weird hypothetical reason the USA had reached this level of interest in soccer without a serious league for the last two decades, I would think the USA would indeed be ready for a pro/rel league. Frankly, if you could invent Star Trek teleportation to get rid of the travel, I think you could merge the USA with England, and the USA would be able to support a few solid Premier League teams, a few more in the Championship, then others in Leagues One and Two.

    So “getting it,” from a fan perspective, isn’t the issue. That’s why I scoff a bit when Deacon tells me the point is to raise “pro/rel awareness.” We’re aware. That doesn’t mean economic realities will change.

    But there are two things here:

    1. It’s funny that your example is Toronto. That club has invested a ton of money in recent years. They built a $19 million youth training facility. Then they spent nearly $100 million on Defoe and Bradley.

    So here’s a question: Would they have made those investments if they faced a real possibility of getting relegated?

    I’ve actually seen this question come up in England. Some clubs hesitate to invest because they know the Premier League money might dry up. (That’s why I think a two-tier Prem that better distributes TV money among the top two English tiers would be a good idea in the long run.)

    Which leads to …

    2. You say you don’t feel sorry for billionaires losing money. I’d counter by saying we don’t have the right to demand that they lose it. A couple of people made a nine-figure bet on Major League Soccer, and they’re just now starting to break even. (Or in some cases, they’re not, because they’re investing even more!)

    Those people all invested into the system as it stands now. An abrupt change would be illegal, unethical, immoral and everything else.

    Incremental change? I hope so. I hope the next CBA opens up free agency — it’s hypocritical to argue that a mid-tier starter can’t test the waters for a possible $200K contract while Toronto is outbidding everyone for Defoe and Bradley at 500x the cost.

    Then in an ideal world, more NASL and USL teams strengthen to the point at which they’re ready to follow Seattle, Portland, Montreal, Vancouver and Orlando up the ladder. (Incidentally, though this wasn’t one of your points — it boggles my mind when people say no one wants to invest because they can’t move up the ladder. Evidence shows that they can and they are.)

    And when THAT happens, when we reach a critical mass of clubs that can reasonably support Division I soccer, we can see if there’s a way to ease into pro/rel without asking people to gamble massive sums of money.

    Ted and company think it’ll never happen this way, so we need to be more forceful. If MLS won’t change, then USSF should encourage a separate league to form. Which would directly undermine all those billions of investments and confuse the soccer landscape, which has worked out really horribly in the USA’s past.

    They forget that pro/rel is supposed to be the means, not the end. If things work better with pro/rel, great. If they don’t — if we don’t have enough people willing to take the risk or enough assurance that a relegated club can survive — then we have to conclude that it’s better to have a “closed” league than go back to where we were in 1992.

  20. Good points.I will also agree that the owners of TFC, MLSE (not MLS), would likely never have started TFC if they had that risk of losing money and maybe that wouldn’t have been a bad thing (I’ve added a long rant on Toronto below if you have time to read).

    The Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps had an established fan base and infrastructure to support switching to the MLS, even if they did it via natural promotion from the NASL (which is basically what the MLSE did with them as you pointed out). There was no need for the MLS to make a new club out of thin air for Toronto. Let new teams join via a lower league, Toronto is a very rich city and if the potential would be there for promotion they would have seen massive capital coming in.

    As for billionaires losing money. The right ones that get into it, are in it because they love the sport, want it to grow, or look at it as a toy such as Chelsea and City’s owners. Owners that know how to run a proper club can make good money by developing talent and playing the transfer market which the MLS restricts. Throw in the MLS still being stubborn and refusing to follow FIFA’s calendar on international matches, and it just eggs on people such as myself to feel as if the MLS keeps wanting to run the league in its own little world with little interest in having it grow to become a true player in the game.

    Lastly I agree that at this stage it would be very hard for the MLS to do a 360 after they went after groups like MLSE.corp to build teams. The only way I see it happening now is over a very long period of time where after NY FC comes on board they stop adding teams. Find some way of getting USL/NASL as a second tier (no rel/pro) make a league/FA type cup to have the two division interacting and eventually start the process of having a two tier league.

    I get that people have invested money, give them a nice run of a few years to make some profits and be done with it, At some point the MLS has to stop acting as if North America is some weak market and needs big brother to protect teams. If teams fail that’s fine, in a proper system, as they get weaker they move down and will keep moving down until they get their act together or shut down. A club with the right mentality will push their way back up. I’m not saying they have to start today but hopefully by the next decade its a different story. Just keep in mind that small leagues, in tiny countries, with no money can pull of rel/pro. They are not great but it still works without the billions.

    Sadly I follow Canadian/American soccer, not because I truly enjoy it but I’m a bit different as I was born in Europe and grew up in that model. I hope it grows into something greater. At the end of day we all just want a more entertaining league to follow.

    Thanks for the chat.

    Now for a completely side topic on Toronto, I personally think the owners of TFC are the last thing soccer needed. I live in Ontario. MLSE.corp are one of the big sports machines that have the benefit of having stupidest/mindless fan base in the world of all sports. Toronto is ranked as the worst city to be a sports fan in by ESPN because purely because of MLSE. As a very multicultural city that has a massive soccer following, those guys have milked fans so badly over the years to the point where they started charging the same for season ticket games as United’s season ticket packages that also included Champions league a few years back in their prime. This for a team that has never made the play offs. Their NHL’s team is all for corp. class which makes it the worst arena to see a game and over time the same thing has been happening to TFC. It’s all about money and this is the first year they’ve made some effort.

    That being said, I have supported that stupid club with the main hope that it will help grow the game in some way and that something better will come of it.

    The only positive has been the youth facility at Downsview Park that you highlighted, However the main reason that was build was to meet their requirements to have a Canadian team join an American league. I have a very close contact at the team level for the club and the club has very little knowledge about the game, main focus is dollars first.

    I think this is finally changing with this past year resulted in the teacher’s pension plan selling off a large part of their ownership of MLSE to Rogers.corp and they hired Lewinsky to run the ship. At least he has a sports mind. However how long he’ll be there is an unknown and Rogers.corp is fully in it for the money and nothing else. Part of me strongly feels there should be passion for the game.

    Last side story is that I am a Benfica fan where the team is on a member model. There is no rich owner, just the fans that love the game and club. I wouldn’t trade that model for the world. The Yankee’s of soccer (Real) are also run that way. It’s part of what makes this game so different then normal sports. In both cases money is needed and made but only made for the sole reason of re-investing in the game not pulling into a rich owners pocket.