Steve Davis is right. MLS will almost certainly never have promotion and relegation. American owners would simply balk at the idea of their prize investments getting sent down to the minors. Owners like to avoid risk, and relegation is a big risk. However, there are two somewhat feasible ways to imagine promotion/relegation coming about in North America – but in both scenarios it would require massive growth in the game’s popularity and would likely take at least a generation or two. So how could it come about?
1. Massive expansion. This would take many decades, but if the sport continued to grow in popularity and the league continued to put franchises in more and more cities – growing past 30 teams, or essentially was to double in size – creating a second MLS division and instituting promotion and relegation could be a logical response to the need to both create a manageable league and to expand soccer into more markets. A 35 or 36 team league could essentially split in two, creating two eighteen team leagues with the bottom three or four dropping. The US Open cup would then take on a new level of importance and would allow second division MLS teams the chance to prove themselves.
While a 36 team league sounds enormous, lets remember that Canada is also a huge and growing part of the league. One could easily see teams in more Canadian cities: Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg. Additionally, with the current 18 MLS teams we still don’t have any teams in the south and southwest. Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Charlotte, San Juan Puerto Rico, New Orleans, San Antonio, Austin, Phoenix, San Diego, Las Vegas, San Francisco/Oakland, St. Louis, Detroit, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New York (Brooklyn/Queens), and Baltimore – each of these 19 cities are all legitimate candidates for future expansion. In other words, there are plenty of places for soccer to go and grow in the US and Canada.
Of course the obvious problem is that half the league would essentially have to agree to be relegated in the first year. I guess going into the year before relegation you could announce the bottom teams will make up the second division, making that particular year particularly intense. Presuming you had about 32 or 33 teams, the bottom 14 or 15 would be dropped. You would also probably do it before you planned to expand the league, as the new expansion teams would start off in the second division. Another possibility is that, if the league when it had around 25 teams decided that creating a second division and promotion/relegation was something it was interested in doing in the future, it could force any new franchise to consent to the possibility of the creation of a second division.
2. MLS and USL merger, due to USL’s success. Lets say USL teams (or whatever the second tier of American soccer is called) begin to do well financially and attract greater support and national attention. MLS owners, seeing the need to expand the league into into USL cities like Minneapolis, as well as confident that relegation wouldn’t spell the financial doom they once feared due to the USL’s success, could see a merger as something that would lift all boats. Assuming MLS had around 25 teams, the first year could be a year with just relegation and no promotion. This scenario could perhaps be done a faster timeline than option 1, but again the USL would have to be deemed very financially successful to convince league owners that there isn’t much risk and that would likely take decades.
In both scenarios, TV revenues – which would likely be considerable due to the size of the league – would probably be evenly split, giving each team no matter which division they are in the same league financial share. This would reduce the financial risks of relegation and stay in line with the socialist approach to league revenues of both MLS and the NFL (It would also make promotion a bit less lucrative than it is in England and other European countries). There would also probably be a single college draft and perhaps even a game between the winners of both divisions (ie an abridged version of the Carling Cup). All of these things would serve to mitigate the costs of relegation and emphasize that despite two divisions, this is one cohesive league that is tightly tied together financially.
Nevertheless, such a system would still require almost all of the owners to be enlightened and far-sighted, and we know how unlikely that is.
Filed under: MLS |