MLS And Promotion/Relegation - Why It’s Not Yet Time

It’s the elephant in the room. It’s the uncle that comes to every family function drunk as a skunk - the one that everyone feigns disgust about when the rest of the family is around, but secretly loves - he’s the life of the party, the source of much excitement and fun but also heartache and distress in nearly the same abundance.

Prorel 300x164 MLS And Promotion/Relegation   Why Its Not Yet TimeIt’s promotion and relegation. I did a search on “relegation” on the site, and it’s been the better part of a year since it’s been brought up. It’s a topic that’s left for dead in most conversations, something that most of us (I believe) want in American soccer one day, but we know it’s very unlikely at the moment. And truthfully, it’s tough to get this type of conversation going because it eventually leads to a donnybrook involving accusations of either Eurosnobbery or supporting corporate welfare for deadbeat owners.

With Sepp Blatter’s comments the other day, the Pandora’s Box regarding promotion/relegation was opened again slightly. No, Blatter didn’t directly bring it up. But it’s implied. If you look at popularity in American soccer television, people watch the Mexican FMF and English Premier League, not MLS. Do they watch the EPL for promotion & relegation? Not exactly, but it does become a great storyline as the season winds down.

What pro/rel brings to the table is the ability for outsiders to invest towards better teams. It could mean that a wealthy owner could look to purchase, say, the Harrisburg City Islanders. If pro/rel was introduced, Harrisburg could compete in MLS via two promotions.

The thing that kills this whole process then is the MLS salary cap. That owner could spend $30MM per year on salary at the D3 and D2 levels, possibly gaining promotion each time. But once the team reached MLS, they would have to retool to fit under the salary cap (i.e. only 3 players above $350K).

Let’s think of those ramifications as well. If you bring in 25 players on average wages of $25K per week (which makes the $30MM salary spend above), that could be a team people in Harrisburg want to see. Attendances could rise significantly. A local TV station might pick up their games because they might have a couple of big name players. They get to MLS? A lot of those players would need to be sold. You’d end up with a team that was a shell of its former self.

And so as supporters of the domestic game, we can toss around pro/rel like it’s some form of flux capacitor that turns the DeLorean into a super-powered time machine. Pro/rel cannot work in American soccer until strides are made on the financial front to improve the quality of the game on a number of levels, especially in the top rung.

We haven’t even considered the consequences of relegation. What if a team like Vancouver, Houston, or Portland were to drop to D2, and stadium building or renovation dollars go down the tube? They could come back up of course, but you’re also talking loss of revenue for at least a full season, and perhaps lawsuits and bankruptcy longer term.

The thing that is tough to fathom is the disparity between attendance and finance. You look at a team like the New York Red Bulls. They were 9th in attendance in MLS (I find it really hard to believe they averaged 18K, but let’s play along), yet they had 3 players making north of $3MM per season (Henry, Marquez, Cahill). Seattle led the league in attendance at an average of 43K per home match, and yet they do not have a single player making a 7-figure salary.

With the way that Major League Soccer masks its finances with allocation money and possibly other clandestine aspects, we don’t know why there is this disparity. We assume that Seattle’s owner doesn’t want to pay out of pocket for big players, while Red Bull isn’t worried about it. My question is why?

Nothing is as simple as the boiled down version, and leases and expansion fees might play into the reasoning why a team like the Sounders lack a big salary player. One could also argue they don’t need a marquee name to sell tickets, and so why spend the money? You’d have to ask AEG, who captured the last two MLS Cups with such star quality (maybe that’s why the Galaxy are #1 in Grant Wahl’s “Ambition Rankings” over Seattle, because it seems like Seattle doesn’t want to pony up the dough to compete).

And lo and behold, Sounders owner Joe Roth has talked the talk that fans should want to hear. ”We are absolutley (sic) committed to winning MLS Cup and if we don’t win, it’s not because we haven’t spent enough money on the players.” With Fredy Montero looking to  be on the way out of town, maybe they will splurge on a top European star. That’s assuming they are allowed to do such - lest I throw out the name Mellberg…

Sepp Blatter wants MLS to be a top league in America, in the mainstream sports conscience. I’ve been wondering the last couple of days if his comments were possibly a retort to the pundits who rattle off the “3rd Most Attended League in America” meme. While there is truth to that, not even an NHL lockout has given the major news outlets a reason to consider MLS in that “Big 4 Sport” connotation.

Getting there will be nearly impossible, in my opinion, until you see clubs control their own finances. If Seattle can draw an average of over 40K people to CenturyLink Field, they ought to be able to field the best product in the league - even better than an LA Galaxy side that averages nearly half as many fannies in the seats (23K). Maybe they can do that right now. It’s tough to tell because MLS keeps finances away from fans, away from scrutiny.

So that’s my answer on promotion and relegation. We have a larger fish to fry as a soccer nation. Until we are free of the cloaked financial model that could appear to prop up teams in preferred markets while restricting quality across the board, American fans will shun our top league and thus continue the trend of poor ratings and undervalued TV contracts. And maybe after we take care of the starving lion, we can find a way to tackle that elephant so many find intriguing.

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74 Responses to MLS And Promotion/Relegation - Why It’s Not Yet Time

  1. Alex says:

    Compliments to the chef. You written a great and interesting article .

  2. Geess says:

    The problem with the promotion/relegation issue is that everyone seems to talk about it in relation to the current D2 and D3 soccer in NASL and USLPro.

    I don’t think that’s EVER going to happen.

    I think what needs to happen is for MLS to continue to Expand, and reach a point where you can have an MLS-1 and MLS-2.

    With 24 teams, and 2 leagues of 12, the proposed Scottish Premier League reconstruction idea sounds like a great one to me.

    With a very slight adjustment….
    “It is expected MLS will opt for two divisions of 12 teams, which would split after 22 games into three leagues of eight to resolve promotion, relegation and CONCACAF Champions League qualification issues.”

  3. ThePonchat says:

    Not bad. A lot of that would be dealt with IF there were ever a chance of pro/rel.

    My thing is — why not combine the CSL (Canadian Soccer League) with the MLS, NASL, and USLPro? We already have 3 Canadian soccer teams in the MLS, there’s one in the NASL (Ottawa in 2014), and who knows if any will happen in the USLPro.

    This would draw THAT much more into the financial market. There’s some existence of the CSL to make it worthwhile too. If nothing else, then combine the CSL with the NASL and USLPro to grow all the leagues financially and in publicity.

    We do have bigger fish to fry. That’s getting more publicity. What NBC and NBCSN are doing will help. There are more people that have those channels than those who have FSC. We need our soccer on mainstream television. We need our soccer on mainstream radio. And we need our soccer fans to support American soccer instead of brushing it off “because it’s not the quality of the EPL, La Liga, or…”

    I say give it another 5-10 years when there will be soccer people in the business world. We are still a generation behind other countries in who has the money. Once there are soccer people running the big money corporations, we’ll see more emphasis in sponsoring and advertising in soccer IN THE US. It’s fun to be a part of continued growth in “the beautiful game.”

  4. Tommy says:

    “Until we are free of the cloaked financial model that props up teams in preferred markets while restricting quality across the board…”

    Can you substantiate this statement? One can’t write a supposedly rational piece and then throw in wild conspiratorial supposition like this and expect to maintain a level of credibility.

    Malign the salary cap all you want, but understand several things:

    1) Europe is moving toward “financial fair play” practices that, at the least, will restrict the ability of rich owners swooping in and lavishing on player contracts, using equity and funny money to do so. Instead, a team will only be permitted to spend what it can reasonably be expected to afford — a number dictated by gate receipts, TV contracts and other revenue streams.

    In a way, FFP is a salary cap. And FFP will go into effect long before MLS’ salary cap grows.

    2) NBA - the most popular and profitable basketball league in the world - uses a salary cap.

    3) NFL - the most profitable sport league in the world - uses a salary cap.

    4) MLB uses a profit sharing scheme to encourage small-market teams to remain competitive.

    5) Sports leagues are businesses. They are ran to make money and survive. MLS intends to make money and survive based on sound planning and investment. This means they control expenses and strive to make more than they spend. European teams (Bundesliga withstanding) do not do this.

    Now.. onto Promotion/Relegation:

    1) Promotion / Relegation is a business model. One of at least two — and it’s it BY FAR not the most successful if profit is the main indicator. In fact, 3 of the top 5 profitable leagues in the world DO NOT PRO/REL!!

    (Oh yeah, 3/5 of the most profitable leagues in the world are American.)

    2) Pro/Rel rewards money over all else. A salary-capped league rewards coaching and planning.

    Any decent coach can guide Man U to a top-3 finish, year-over-year.

    3) Not a single European coach has been successful in MLS. Chief on their list of complaints is the salary cap. Why? Because they aren’t allowed to buy themselves out of their own ineptitude.

    4) The United States and Canada is a big area of land. Pro/Rel (especially if fueled by rampant spending which I still can’t believe this blog poster endorses) can leave entire segments of the soccer population without a local top-tier representative. This is unacceptable on too many levels to count.

    • Earl Reed says:


      Thanks for your feedback. I fixed that statement because I meant to say that it gives others the opportunity to have that view. In it’s current form, with allocation money at the center of the system, nobody knows how it is doled out every year. The only thing that can be said is this: Seattle nearly doubles LA’s attendance, and yet has no players that come close to having the stature of a David Beckham or Thierry Henry. That is by Seattle’s choosing, but there could be economic effects (franchise fee or unfavorable lease at CenturyLink for instance) that prevent them from using all of there available funds towards a major DP signing.

    • To clarify, you don’t really mean European coaches. What you mean is coaches who have experience of the European/Latin American model of coaching have trouble adjusting. Those guys whose first management jobs were in the US (Yallop, Nicol, Smith to name the successful ones) adjust fine. I’ve always thought that MLS franchises appoint the wrong guys. Rather than go for names, go for the guy who can spot a player and coach a player. Somebody like Dario Gradi would have done fine.

    • gbewing says:

      love this reply from Tommy
      I think relegation/promotion is a different structure not necessarily better or worse. There are pros and cons of both. Do I want a league like Europe where 2 teams (La Liga) or 4 teams (EPL) own the league every year. Is it better for MSL to have our version of Chelsea-Man City just buying trophies? not sure. I also think coruption and rigged games are a bigger threat in relegation system.

      MSL was a competitive exciting league last year- I’m not wild about playoff system but it doesn’t mean you can’t come up with a system that supports fair play and relatively equal resources that involves the relegation model. Both systems have strengths and weaknesses.

    • Alex says:

      You’re comparing fruits with vegetables or however the saying goes. Those leagues are profitable because they have no other competition both domestically and international. Who else but usa play American football ? And basketball the closest thing to a American international sport are played in a handful of countries with usa being the top.

      Soccer is a different animal. It is wholly international. The only countries that I know of that don’t have pro rel and use single enity or some form of it is usa Australia and Korea. Out of those three both Australia and Korea announced of a future plan to expand in order to create pro rel. Leaving usa as the only closed league in the world. That i know of anyway. If pro rel is such a bad business model then most of the world wouldn’t use it to organize its leagues. And most would fold. Exactly how many have folded? am I saying we are all go for pro rel? No in the future yes but not now. I just don’t think its fair to compare American sports with soccer because the environment of both are just so different.

      The proof is in the pudding. Just look outside our borders. And no you don’t need to be 100 years old for it to work just look at Japan. They only had pro rel since 1999 and I havent heard of any financial distress from them oh and soccer isn’t the most popular game there. Its baseball.

      • Charles says:

        The average attendance in Japan for 2012 according to Wiki…….1,240.

        That is 1 tousand two hundred and forty.

      • Charles says:

        Alex did you know that stat and were misleading us ?

        Or were you purposely misleading us, in effect lying to us ?

      • Tommy says:

        “Those leagues are profitable because they have no other competition both domestically and international. Who else but usa play American football ?”

        You’re muddying the argument with a red herring. It isn’t about how far-reaching a sport is, it’s whether or not pro/rel is needed to be successful. The Big 3 American sports don’t have pro/rel and NOBODY in those sports is clamoring for it. This is despite the presence of a robust minor league system in baseball, a minor/dev league in basketball, a minor league in hockey, and college football (that last one is a bit of a stretch.) Either way, none of those sports use pro/rel.

        (Oh, and so we’re clear, every sport but American football has an international presence. The other “American” sports are professionally played throughout the world.)

        And to rally home the point: Soccer isn’t perfectly governed. Look no further than FIFA for evidence of that. It stands to reason that the model of “that’s how it’s always done” is not necessarily the best way to do things. Pro/Rel isn’t sacred. Not by a long shot.

        And guess what? It isn’t necessary. Pro/Rel isn’t integral to the game. It is mentioned NOWHERE in the Laws of the Game.

        There is no benefit to Pro/Rel that outweighs the corruption, the runaway spending and fluctuating financial stability of the clubs that participate in it.

        None whatsoever.

    • Harold says:

      the NFL, NBA, and MLB are not global games. They are isolated leagues with a volatile player market with a small number of teams competing over a small number of qualified players.

      You cannot compare this to soccer which is a global game with a global player market.

      is it your argument that because the NFL has a salary cap and no pro/rel that the MLS should do so also? Then i guess you would be for no pro/rel and a salary cap for the EPL? My your logic if it works in the NFL it will work in the EPL.

  5. T-money says:

    If MLS was to go to P/R,they will lose fans more then you think. Why? because fans like me, love soccer, and even started watching top European leagues before I ever watched MLS. However I grew bored of seeing Money win championships, and not hard work. In America we value hard Work,we value the little guy having a chance. The European model doesn’t have that element of excitement for me. If it’s not the UCL,I don’t watch European soccer. Also MLS fans are very loyal fans, Eurosnobs are not loyal fans, they are bandwagon fans.When MLS starts to grow more and more, they will jump on the bandwagon. However they are not a fan base you can build around. MLS fans, have went through the bad and good times. We are they true soccer fans,I dont wan’t any Eurosnob near my league.

    • Tim says:

      I could not agree more. Eurosnobs only wnat pro/rel becuase they are neutral and I get that. The big issue is that fans of teams in MLS will not be attending games when you are in a single table mid season and their club has no shot at winning anything. There are simply not enough die hard fans to commit to that(in most markets). I love the fact that money does not mean championships in MLS and to just say that ro/rel will fix all the issues is just crazy.

    • The original Tom says:

      College football is really popular, and in that sport some teams have vast financial advantages over others and that are perienal winners and underdogs. Europe, England in particular, did not have such vast revenue disparities between teams until the 1990′s- for 90 years promotion/rel existed, and yes, they were bigger and smaller clubs, but the gaps were not as vast as they are now. Look at the list of league winners in any decade before 1990.

  6. Eplnfl says:

    Yes excellent piece. Gets to the heart of the problem why MLS must keep its current structure for the foreseeable future.

  7. Promotion and relegation would require a much larger quantity of clubs who can draw enough fans, corporates and sponsorships to compete on a nationwide (read: Continental) level. Right now, there’s barely enough for MLS. Raith Rovers’ chairman Turnbull Hutton said that nobody in Scotland can support full-time football there with less than 2,000 fans. I wonder what that number is in the US.

    • Christopher says:

      Yes. This. Even if MLS starts bringing in NFL money, there simply aren’t enough soccer teams in the USA to support Pro/Rel. The two sports in which it would work here are Baseball and College Football. Other than that - terrible idea.

      • Gazza says:

        Agree with Michael and Christopher. Pro/Rel is a dumb idea for any sports league. It does nothing but reward clubs for spending money they don’t have. MLS owners will never be stupid enough to even think of implementing it. It would take the league back to 1993.

        • Harold says:


          pro/rel is how the game is played in every frickin soccer league on the planet except for USA and Aus. It’s one of the reasons soccer is the most popular sport in the world.

  8. Scott says:

    We can’t even talk pro/rel until the D2 & D3 levels are stable and teams aren’t folding or expanding year after year. in 10 years or so this could be a potential topic, but let’s get the soccer pyramid stable before we even think about it! Great Article btw!

    • The original Tom says:

      Except that you don’t invite those league’s in, you invite those clubs into an MLS2. But yes, I agree that you need strong clubs, but the chance of promotion will make them stronger. Remember, even the English system was closed at the 4th tier until recently (1990′s), the last place team in the old 4th division would be up for re-election to stay in the league.

  9. Corgster says:

    If TV revenues are the Golden Goose for the “Big Leagues” in the US (even adding college football) how is allowing Harrisburg, PA the chance to take part in those TV revenues going to improve the sport of soccer? Free market capitalism will say Harrisburg will fail at higher levels, but that doesn’t stop the owner from using his money to buy talent not supported by the media market without a cap.

    Again, I don’t think Des Moines v. Boise is going to be the reason why the MLS Board of Governors agrees to institute pro/rel. It will have to be something else entirely.

    Plus, MLS, LLC has something on their side that will be their ace card for a while. The US Courts. It won a case against a NFL-funded players’ union suit right as MLS was deciding to fold or not in 2001. MLB is the only monopoly allowed to exist and it is presumed all the other national professional leagues qualify. It can run this single entity model without a problem and hang it over the head of the players (unlike EU labor laws, see Bosman). Finances held in check is what the men with gobs of money want. I’m not a corporate shill, but observe law and business practices.

    And on a second thought, wouldn’t we want these caps or otherwise it would not be out of the realm of impossibility of seeing an oil baron buy up the LA Galaxy. Do you want a league where the majority of owners are pouring money into players only? It may attract great talent to play here but we’d end up like the English national squad. Talented but bereft of being as good as their domestic league. Would they care about academies in the same way?

  10. Charles says:

    Artificially putting teams in a position to not be able to win a championship in a parity league is just very stupid from a business perspective…and pro soccer is a business.

    If we had a joke league like most of Europe, go for it, keeps the riff raff from making the league even more of a joke. We don’t.

    Roth, owner of the Sounders, said there is zero chance of MLS changing the structure, so based on my first paragraph being 100% correct, the Pro/Rel discussion is dead. MLS will expand past 20 teams rather than excluding.

  11. soccerreform says:

    Hi Earl. Obviously it would be redundant for me to voice my support. Two things, though.

    First: Americans do watch foreign leagues because of promotion and relegation - even if they don’t know it. Here’s how: Americans like to watch unlimited clubs. The only system proven to accommodate said clubs is an open one. Every single attempt at closed league top-flight soccer leagues of unlimited clubs has failed.

    You may not know you’re watching MCFC or Barcelona or Milan because of promotion and relegation. The fact is, every one of those teams would kill a closed league.

    Indeed, caps and limited teams may be peculiar to closed league success, but anathema to open leagues. In the NBA, NFL, MLB et al this might not be a big deal. Teams aren’t exposed to international play. Those leagues are generally recognized as the best in their respective sports.

    Obviouisly MLS doesn’t share these circumstances, and probably should share the same league model as a result.

    Second: Agree that open leagues provide a stable platform from which to draw foreign investment. Just as importantly, they allow existing support to be tied directly to club building by allowing - nay demanding - unlimited clubs. I believe supporters are inspired by this freedom here as much as anywhere. In an open system, your ticket is more than permission to be a 12th man. It is helping provide the funds your club needs to stave of relegation, grab that US Open Cup, or become one of the best clubs in the world.

    Promotion and relegation is not a business model. It is a policy. Owners of any company making virtually any product would love the MLS market. They have for 1000s of years. That’s because it isn’t a free market.

    Free markets require good policy. They require policy makers whose heads aren’t buried in the pockets of one business. All around the world, federations are providing that kind of independent leadership. It’s diabolic that the United States Soccer Federation cannot.

    And for crissakes, if you’re blaming lack of lower division development for lack of pro/rel - you’re in denial. If you agree with what Earl is saying here - you acknowledge the obvious:

    Lack of lower division development, investment and thus interest is a direct result of lack of pro/rel. If the FA suddenly closed up shop lower division investment would dry up. You really don’t think US Soccer is doing the same by steadfastly refusing to sanction open leagues?

    MLS can do whatever they want. I suspect they could sell their brands on the open market today for a healthy profit. When the federation finally sanctions open leagues, hopefully they’ll exercise that option.

    When US supporters tire of a system that allows MLS to limit the US game in search of profit, US Soccer will do exactly that.

    MLS ‘aint going to fit through the eye of this needle, and we’re moving closer to that reality every day. So let’s cut the cord already - instead of waiting another 25 years for MLS to make another 2500 excuses.

    I don’t want to be sitting here in 2050 hearing some mealy mouthed MLS commissioner or their USSF mouthpiece say “Real Madrid has 160 years of history and we only have 60. Give us a little more time”

    You stand around and wait for MLS, and that’s exactly what you’re going to get.

    • Jacques Pelham says:

      Bravo Ted. A few things I’d like to reiterate and respond to in your comments and the original piece:

      1) As an American soccer fan, I want to make sure our Division 1 League (MLS) plays host to the best soccer in the land. Given last year’s US Open Cup results, I’m not so sure that’s currently the case. 9 of 16 MLS teams lost to lower division sides last year. 2 of those teams lost to amateur teams. Pro/rel ensures the best soccer rises to the top. Do we want to deny ourselves that?

      2) US Soccer should be the focal point for the pro/rel debate, not MLS. USSF sanctioned MLS as the Division 1 league just as they sanctioned NASL as the DII League and USL Pro as the DIII League. Like you said Ted, this is a policy question and USSF is the policy maker. The group of teams/owners currently organized as MLS are subject to USSF policies (at least on paper, the financial realities probably make this significantly more complicated).

      3) Lot’s of talk on here about “sketchy” owners coming in and corrupting the competitive integrity of the game as a result of pro/rel. But what about the opposite situation: small shareholder or member based entities that seek to organize a club and ascend to the highest levels? Barcelona, Real Madrid, Swansea, Green Bay Packers? All professional clubs of the highest quality that are organized according to a community ownership model (partially in Swansea’s case). It’s practically impossible for such a club to negotiate its way into MLS without pro/rel.

      • Tommy says:

        1) Pro/Rel doesn’t ensure the best soccer rises to the top. It ensures the biggest investment rises to the top.

        Sometimes that’s the best soccer. But sometimes it’s not. Give me an Everton over a Chelsea any day.

        3) For every Real Madrid, there are ten MUFC wannabes swimming in MUFC-style debt. All in the name of pursuing a championship.

        There’s no need for a lower-level team to negotiate its way into MLS if that lower-level team were allied with MLS to begin with in some sort of minor-league development program, a la MLB.

        To wit: the fans of Orlando FC attend their games not because of a chance to be promoted, but because there is good soccer being coached. Pro/Rel is completely unnecessary for success.

        • Jacques Pelham says:

          I appreciate the response Tommy!

          Ok, so you’re arguing that professional division 1 competition in the U.S. shouldn’t be open to all clubs across the land because, according to your argument:

          1) Pro/Rel causes financial disparities between clubs which can sometimes correlate with on-field success.

          This doesn’t address the main function of promotion/relegation of creating a risk/reward system that is open to all clubs that wish to compete. MLS, NHL, MLB, NFL, and NBA all have examples of clubs that outspend their rivals in pursuit of competitive advantage. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. The Yankees, Cowboys and Lakers all exist in a non pro/rel league architecture. Sometimes they win. Sometimes they don’t.

          2) Pursuit of championships causes financial mismanagement of clubs.

          Again, this is non-responsive to the pro/rel main function of competitive risk/reward. Plenty of examples of poor financial management in closed systems NBA Hornets, MLB Expos, NHL Coyotes. Bad management is bad management regardless of the existence of pro/rel.

          3) Well managed lower level teams with higher level ambitions should aim for some kind of MLS reserve league status as opposed to competing with MLS clubs at the highest level.

          Let’s use a recent example: Cal FC beat Portland Timbers in last years US Open Cup. At least in one competitive game Cal FC outperformed Portland (after Cal FC beat Wilmington, a USL Pro team). And Cal FC’s reward should be…becoming the Portland reserve team? That is completely different in function and reward. Is Apple’s reward for outselling Microsoft to become Microsoft’s B Team?

          4) Orlando City has decent attendance and is “successful” without automatic promotion for on-field success.

          Orlando City is aggressively pursuing inclusion in MLS. So, it seems the club isn’t content with their current level of “success.” Why? I’d venture to say it has something to do with wanting to aspire to top level competition and the fact that lower division soccer in the U.S. is generally a huge money loser. Promotion is a competitive and financial reward for past performance

        • soccerreform says:

          Tommy…. Investment is not the enemy. The enemy is a system that limits the quality of every US club in an open global market. Maybe that system works in NFL, who are the global market of American Gridiron. Maybe it works in leagues like NBA and NHL, where both leagues are (for now) still regarded as the best in their sport, and their teams are still insulated from international competition.

          I’m sick of limiting our clubs, our player development, and our game in some misguided attempt to make it work for soccer. I’m tired of MLS conceding the lions share of the US soccer market to foreign clubs and league in their attempt to eke out a closed league profit. I’m sick of us trying to apply lessons learned from closed league failure to soccer, which has never thrived in closed leagues.

          Why are so many MLS defenders so obsessed with accounting - and why don’t they take a broader look at it?

          If people want to build a great clubs in the US, I think we should be encouraging them, not desperately trying to stop them.

      • soccerreform says:

        Like the comments, Jacques.

        I just can’t bring myself to see investment - in any form - as the enemy. If we ever get the the point where one or two unscrupulously run superclubs clubs are dominating play in some American Old Firm, we can deal with it then - or apply FIFA FFP guidelines.

        I think it’s an unlikely scenario. Scotland is the size of Massachusetts. I just can’t see limiting every American club - and the US game itself - in order to prohibit this scenario from developing. We’re cutting off nose to spite face - to the 100th power.

    • Charles says:

      I actually do NOT watch the top leagues in the world for that exact reason. Having the Super teams win all the time is just dumb.

      Dumb because it is boring, Man U and Barca win again
      Dumb financially,
      You have to have the whole world of teams just to have as many successful teams as the US has in the NFL.

      People make this HUGE leap that soccer is doing fine elsewhere to soccer would not be bigger, better without the joke league structure…they are of course wrong. Eliminating Newcastle from the main competition hurt financially, hurt the league and hurt the team…it will do so again.

      There is zero need for it in a parity league. All the teams that are finacially viable will play in the top league here rather than excluding some every year.

      Which is just the way I want it. We do not want a joke league where Newcastle type team sign contracts to say if you are great you can leave to play on a good team, a worthy team. No thanks go sell your joke league ideas to EPLTALK.

      Let’s talk soccer, Lindpere to the Fire ?

    • Harold says:


      i think pro/rel fans need to organize. It’s my opinion that most soccer fans in the US favor pro/rel. But i think a lot of them have grown so tired with MLS they’ve just washed their hands with it and no longer really care.

      A couple years ago i decided I wouldn’t watch an MLS match until single entity was done away with and until there was some movement towards accepting pro/rel. And I haven’t watched an MLS match since. I wonder how many other American soccer fans did the same. Looking at the TV ratings its very clear American soccer fans are not watching MLS. The reasons for this aren’t fully known but I would argue that the Americanization of the global game is the main reason.

  12. Austin says:

    I think the answer is obvious here. If the salary cap is non-negotiable (and I believe a salary cap is no more/less harmful than uncapped salaries) then just have a salary cap at every level. If MLS has a cap at $3MM, then DII gets $1.5MM, DIII gets $.75MM, etc. That way, salaries won’t sink a club that gets relegated, and a promoted club will still have to spend wisely to compete in the new division. It allows for parity that American leagues love while promoting sound business decisions.

    In that system (really just in general) I’d love to see them abolish the draft. Let teams make their own player personnel decisions, and give the players the option to play where they want.

    • Charles says:

      “that way getting relegated won’t sink a club”

      I got a great idea how about not relegating them ?

      Everytime we get the Rest of the World arguments we always need a patch.
      “If we take a mid season break and the don’t play any games above the Mason Dixon line for a month..then overlap the MLS Cup fianls with the start of the next will work”

      DONT EXCLUDE TEAMS EVERY YEAR, it is just dumb.

      • soccerreform says:

        I want to join the open global market of club soccer, where every club is allowed to strive to meet their destiny, and where no league limits the quality of their clubs.

        The only system that accommodates these clubs includes promotion and relegation.

        I don’t want every US soccer club limited because it works for the NFL. The NFL is the only league of consequence in its sport. MLS is one of dozens of leagues in its sport.

        In the NFL, you’re accepting that teams will be limited for relative parity. In MLS, you’re accepting that teams will be relegated to second, third, fourth, or 75th class in the world for relative parity.

        • Gazza says:

          @soccerreform Teams are limited in the NFL? Limited by what? Ted, that is the dumbest statement you’ve ever said. And that’s saying something!!!

          • Harold says:

            they are limited when it comes to increasing their brand and they are limited as to financial deals. For instance, the NY Jets cannot negotiate a sponsorship deal with any company they want. It’s the NFL that does so and it is league wide.

            The brand is the NFL. It works for the NFL because the NFL is one league and the only football league. American football is not a global game and there is no competition.

            This does not work for soccer. With soccer, independent clubs control their brand. Manchester United chooses their sponsor and controls their brand. The brand is not the EPL.

          • Gazza says:

            Really Harold? Limited when it comes to increasing their brand?! That’s the best you got? The NY Jets are suffering are they?

            It works for the NFL because the league structure is sound. Just like the NBA and NHL (which are worldwide sports) dominate their sports. Pro/Rel is the worst possible system to operate any successful sports league - the lack of salary budget or cap makes it worse.

      • Harold says:

        whats your argument against pro/rel? Read a few of your posts and can’t put my finger on it. Would you stop watching if there was pro/rel?

        • Charles says:

          I don’t know if you were addressing me.

          I don’t want teams not being able to win the championship every year. If they are able to be in the top flight of soccer, let ‘em.

          Would I stop watching….probably not, I am watching the English leagues in the off season and it is beyond joke stage. Were the Sounders one of the excluded teams.

          What is your arguement for excluding teams ?

          • Harold says:

            well there would still be playoffs so every club would still have a chance to qualify and then go on a run.

            I don’t see how pro/rel in MLS would change that.

          • Charles says:

            Clueless, you relegated teams, they would not be in the playoffs.

            Seriously thonk before you post.

            Why are you excluding those teams ?

  13. spanishMLSfan says:

    i’m spanish and support MLS from canary islands
    The MLS is ok with this format of closed league (close to 20 teams in the future)
    But in my opinion if there should be a second and third division with ascent and descent between them
    First season
    MLS reserve league - D3
    NASL and USL PRO - D2
    D3 rise of the first 3 to D2
    D2 down the last 3 to D3
    Second season ……….
    I believe that in this way, young people of the academies of the MLS will have a greater demand and will have to play more seriously and that the young American players of the teams of the NASL and USL PRO (D2) have more opportunities and improve their game and the teams in the MLS would be young players with more experience and improve the level of their academies
    The economy of the teams of the NASL and USL PRO (D2) would be independent of the reserve teams
    It is my opinion
    Sorry my english is poor

    • Charles says:

      Your English is fine, but why would MLS stop at twenty teams ?
      They won’t.
      They will make twice as much money with forty teams. No need to exclude 1/2 of the teams that could be playing in MLS.

      • Harold says:

        no they wouldn’t.

        With forty teams the quality of play would be seriously watered down. Not to mention it would further alienate traditional soccer fans who are already pissed about the Americanization of soccer.

        Using your argument why doesn’t the NBA have 40 teams? MLB?

        • Charles says:

          The salaries of those league make it that smaller cities wouldn’t be able to meet the standards of the huge money leagues.
          Soccer is a VERY low money sport. Even at the top it is small money. I think Messi makes like $17 million a year.
          The MLS Salary soft cap is $3 million a year..very low barriers to entry.

          You are going to add 10-20 teams to the world and THAT will water it down. Gimme a break.

  14. Harold says:

    I agree that the salary cap and the weird way MLS micromanages wages and player movement is an obstacle to pro/rel league structure. But its also an obstacle to good soccer.

    There is absolutely no need for a salary cap in MLS. I have never heard a good argument for one. Someone please try to make one without repeating the tired nonsense that without one MLS would become like the EPL with the have and have nots. It’s simply not true and I’ll explain why.

    For one, the kind of players available to MLS are not the best players in the world. The international soccer player market is global and a players salary is set by the market. It’s not a volatile market like MLB where you have a small number of teams competing over an even smaller number of qualified players. If a player like Edson Buddle were to get his free agent value in MLS would we really see MLS clubs overspend? Of course not. Free agency and removing the salary cap would not lead to clubs overspending each other into oblivion. This is not the 1980′s. Something called globalization happened. There’s a competitive and very non-volatile player market that exists.

    Why does MLS have a salary cap? Part of me wants to say that its because they want to suppress wages but i think the reality is the reason they have the salary cap is because they don’t consider soccer a global game. They are trying to model soccer after the NFL where you have a static league that is isolated and can control player wages and player movement. They think this will bring parity and they think this will be good for the league. Their thinking is that it works for the NFL so it will work for soccer. This is foolish and it harms the growth of soccer in the U.S immensely.

    One look at what MLS teams spend shows that the goal is not “financial fairness” at all. NY Red Bull spent $15 mil last year. Columbus Crew spent just over $3 mill. NY Red Bull spent $13 mil on just three players. What did it get them? They finished 5th in the league. If spending more than another club in MLS really meant dominance then we would have seen it already.

    When looking at a policy its always best to look at the pros and cons of the policy. When i look at MLS’s salary cap I can’t find one pro argument. Here are the cons-

    -prevents clubs from fielding balanced competitive teams
    -prevents clubs from winning the champions league
    -dramatically hurts the quality of play on the field. For evidence of this go watch tape of last years NY Red Bull team: 3 millionaire players playing alongside players who would be lucky to make it in League 1 in England.
    -an obstacle to a proper soccer pyramid with promotion/relegation

    Now, before anyone says that without a salary cap the league would go under please answer this question. There are almost 100 soccer leagues on the planet. Not one of them has a salary cap. Why is it that not one of these leagues has gone under? Why is it that leagues equivalent to MLS don’t go under?

    In other soccer leagues teams who overspend are punished through relegation. The system works.

  15. Mark says:

    I think soccerreform needs to stop posting under different names! Haha you are a joke buddy! You are going to reform nothing!

  16. Cavan says:

    Every time someone posts something in favor of pro/rel in our country, even if it’s indirect and a hypothetical years-off scenario, God kills a puppy.

    Not really but this topic needs to go away. It’s not happening and it’s a bad idea for a modern league in a large country.

    • Harold says:

      every time some MLS-snob talks about soccer someone face palms.

      You morons don’t know anything about the global game. Go back to watching college football or something.

      • Cavan says:

        Ok, I’ll bite.

        You failed to provide one reason why pro/rel would help MLS run a sustainable business model or help our national team. You know what helps our national team? Having a stable and growing pro league.

        You know why the first national pro league since the original 1920′s ASL folded in 1984? Unsustainable spending. Hmmm… What do your valued overseas leagues with pro/rel do? They overspend unsustainably. (Yes, I know about Germany being the exception.)

        You know what would set our national team back to the early ’90′s at best? MLS going out of business. You can hate on MLS all you want but it’s now the backbone I our national team. The majority of our national team either plays or has played in MLS.

        You also know what has nothing to do with the quality of play in MLS? That’s right… pro/rel.

        Now, I don’t really care either way in the big picture about pro/rel philosophically. I don’t like it pragmatically because:

        1) My beloved DC United would have been relegated after a bad 2010 season. How would a minor league team ever get a stadium plan approved (including one that is 100% privately financed) in a major league city like Washington, D.C.? The city would laugh at you if you tell them that you want to take up valuable land next to a Metro station with a stadium for a minor league team. You would then get laughed out of your zoning hearing if you even got that far.

        2) In our country, fans don’t follow minor league teams like they do major league teams. Period. Why would you ever want to kill a team’s fanbase by sending them down to the minors after one bad season?

        3) Since getting relegated is basically a death sentence in North American sports with all the loss of fans and exposure, it would encourage overspending and an arms race just to keep up with the other teams. We’d have the (original) NASL all over again. How is that good for the game or the national team?!?!?

        • Harold says:

          everything you’ve said is only relevant if we went pro/rel tomorrow before the infrastructure is in place.

          First let me address the MLS would go out of business argument. There are almost 100 soccer leagues on the globe and almost all of them have pro/rel. Not one of these leagues has gone out of business. The reason? It’s impossible for them to go out of business. They aren’t a business. That’s MLS’s current problem. It’s setup like a corporation with its single entity model. What have we been saying all along? Indepedent clubs survival and equals growth of the sport and the pyramid. Please tell me why other soccer leagues around the globe, leagues that have pro/rel and that are lesser leagues than MLS don’t go out of business.

          Now on to your other arguments.

          1) Pro/rel between MLS and NASL would not happen until NASL met certain economic benchmarks. For instance pro/rel would trigger between MLS and NASL once NASL had 18 clubs with 3/4 of them playing in SSS and 3/4 of them with youth academies. Once this happened it would pull the pro/rel trigger between the leagues.

          This creates economic certainty and would increase investment into the lower leagues. NASL is starting to get investment now and there is no plan for pro/rel. Imagine how much more they would get if D2 clubs could increase their value through promotion.

          2) lower division clubs are not minor league teams. You are looking at soccer as if its just another American sport. Minor league teams are static. They don’t move up. Lower division teams can get promoted. This is how soccer is structured everywhere on the planet.

          3) there’s never been pro/rel in America so how would you know this? As far as overspending goes if it makes sense for some clubs they will spend more, but the type of player available to MLS is not the type of player that breaks the bank. One thing globalization did to the international soccer market is remove the volatility. This isn’t the MLB where average pitchers get huge contracts because there are only a handful of pitchers available. There are thousands of soccer players available of similar quality. Short of Robert Van Persie deciding he wants an MLS career the likelihood of your nightmare scenario is pretty much zero.

          Now, how does pro/rel help the national team? It’s simple. For one it brings us more clubs. But more importantly it shortens the distance from player to club. Young players will get into the pipeline sooner because they will have a pro team closer to them. Those teams would train the player and if its in their interest sell the player to a higher tiered team. This is how it works everywhere in the world where soccer is successful.

          We know what works in soccer. It’s not a closed off NFL style soccer league. MLS is doing it wrong and it damages the growth of soccer in this country and hurts our national team.

          Thats why so many of us want to see pro/rel.

        • Jacques Pelham says:

          How about this Cavan:

          Let’s remember that the MLS business model has had some pretty scary wobbles when it comes to sustainability. In fact, MLS came close to closing its doors in 2001-2002 and contracted Miami and Tampa Bay as a means to remain a going concern. All credit to the league and the clubs for recovering to where it’s at today but let’s not get too far in the clouds about the financial state of the league.

          Here’s the issue: financial disparities and mismanagement occur in every industry. They occur in every major american sport, not just world football which happens to have promotion/relegation. However, when you concentrate risk of failure in the league rather than individual clubs, it threatens the entire league (like it did for MLS in 2001/2002) rather than limiting exposure to the clubs themselves.

          Let’s use Glasgow Rangers as an example. Arguably the most successful Scottish club goes into bankruptcy and as a result, is relegated to the 3rd division of Scottish Football. Bummer for Rangers supporters and all the players who were basically left without a team, but did Rangers failure lead to a failure of the Scottish first division? No. First division football in Scotland goes on and Rangers main rival Celtic even knocks Barcelona down a peg in the Champions league.

          In this respect, pro/rel is about risk allocation. Rangers, Pompey, Villareal…they’ve all overspent but does their mismanagement threaten the mere existence of first division football in their respective countries? Clubs step in to take their place and the competition goes on. For all the UNSUSTAINABLE BOOGEYMAN!!!! out there there are plenty of clubs that are managed properly and within their means.

          Regarding fan dedication, I invite you to consider the team/stadiums in San Antonio and pre MLS Portland. Both lower division teams with dedicated fans and stadiums. All done without the prospect of ascending to first division football.

          Further, for all the downside talk about unsustainable spending and competitive disparity, the fact is we have no way of knowing the scale of the potential upside of adopting a pro/rel system.

          Perhaps pro/rel could help lead to a massively expanded financial pie that benefits the entire U.S. Soccer pyramid or be the catalyst to a U.S. World Cup victory. When there is a direct line to top level competition for folks at every level in the U.S. Soccer pyramid, the road is wide open for development and progress in the game. Two of MLS most valued franchises, Portland and Seattle, came from the lower divisions with significant fanbases and existing culture/infrastructure. Imagine the potential if 2nd and 3rd division teams were capitalized/constructed with the knowledge that on-field results could lead to 1st division football.

          • Cavan says:

            Arguments about teams in other countries have nothing to do with the realities in our country. Soccer is the number one sport in those other countries. Many of them don’t even have any clear #2 team sports league. The UK has rugby as does France. The Mediterranean countries have good basketball leagues but they’re very distant #2′s after soccer.

            In our country, soccer is #4 or #5 as a spectator sport. Don’t you think that might change the financial realities a little bit?!?! Even if/when soccer becomes #4 or #3, it will always be the new kid on the block. Why would you want to kill a team’s fanbase after one bad season? Why would you want to make it so multiple sets of fans have no chance of ever seeing their favorite team lift the MLS Cup?

            I know that there is a difference between D2 and minor league. However, few American sports fans see the difference. To most Americans, D2=minor league, regardless of the technicalities.

            You mentioned teams that moved from D2 to MLS. Did you notict the huge increase in attendence and media attention when they became major league teams? Did you notice all the stadium building/renovations that were not done for the D2 incarnations of the teams?

            You have not really given any reason why we have to do it like leagues that are 100 years older than MLS. You just treat the English system being the ideal as axiomatic and then make every argument from there.

  17. Jacques Pelham says:

    Yes, let’s talk about financial realities.

    Fox and Telemundo spent $1 billion dollars to acquire the rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cup in the United States. That’s more than any other broadcast market in the world and almost 2.5 times more than what ESPN and Univision paid for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

    NBC Just won a bidding war against Fox and ESPN jointly for the broadcast rights of English Premier League in the U.S. NBC bid close to triple the amount that Fox currently pays for the EPL U.S. broadcast rights.

    Big american sports money is flooding in exponentially to broadcast high level soccer, the apparent “new kid on the block.” I don’t know about you, but I might take that as an indicator of the broader financial realities relating to soccer in the U.S.

    MLS does not have a monopoly on professional soccer broadcasts and MLS attendance/television viewership as compared to other sports leagues is an incomplete and unpersuasive metric for gauging the financial potential for the sport in the U.S. against the backdrop of how actual economic actors are investing to acquire the most valuable soccer broadcast properties.

    Re fans and stadiums. I did notice the increase in Portland’s stadium attendance, revenue, and media profile. What a great incentive for any lower division club that wants to aspire to first division football! Did you notice the fact that San Antonio is building their stadium while still an NASL (D2) team? Did you also notice that San Antonio drew over 13,000 fans to their home opener last season? Why should those fans be denied the opportunity to celebrate their team raising the MLS Cup through sporting promotion?

    • Charles says:

      If any of these teams are viable they should be in first division, not sure why you disagree and want to keep some teams in second division ( or lower ).

      Makes ZERO sense. Harold wouldn’t answer, maybe you will. I doubt it.

      • Jacques Pelham says:

        You didn’t really ask a question so I’m not exactly sure what you want me to answer but I think I get the general gist of where you’re coming from so I’ll try to respond.

        First off, I think it’s paramount to restate the fact that, under current policy, only teams that are invested into the MLS structure are able to compete for the Division 1 championship in the U.S. There are hundreds if not thousands of adult amateur and professional teams within the 4 levels of the U.S. Soccer pyramid. Under the closed architecture of the current system, only the 19 MLS teams are able to compete for the division 1 championship.

        I think you’re arguing more against the idea of mandating relegation from the first division to allow for promotion from the second/third divisions rather than outright opposing the idea of a structured pyramid with pro/rel between the levels of the pyramid.

        I get that, especially given the hard road many MLS clubs/owners/fans have traveled to attract the audience they have earned since the beginning. I also get on board with the idea that 20 teams might not be an appropriate cap for first division teams given the size of the geographies in the U.S. and Canada.

        So, a question is what is the appropriate cap for first division football to balance competitive integrity with logistical factors? And, what’s the best way to find that balance point?

        How meaningful would a 40 or 50 team first division competition be? Could division 1 soccer accommodate an 80 game regular season to ensure teams played each other home and away in a geography as large as the U.S. and Canada? Would this be viable for teams with the amount of travel expenses and diluting the importance of each home game? I seriously doubt it.

        Every major sports league in the U.S. has tinkered with this balance with varying results. MLS has turned down plenty of teams for a variety of reasons to maintain this balance. You see this in world football as well. Scotland’s 1st division has only 12 teams. England’s has 20.

        So, in leagues with open competition that rewards success at lower levels, relegation is a necessary component to maintain this balance and accommodate promotion from lower divisions.

        So for arguments sake, let’s say 24 teams in the U.S. first division makes the most sense. Currently Division 1 MLS has 19 teams. What is the best way to establish the remaining 5 teams to round out the hypothetical 24 team first division?

        The current process is opaque by design and largely divorced from sustained success on the field. Decisions on promotion are made by MLS gatekeepers without transparency rather than on the field for all to see. Do we prefer the gatekeeper system rather than the organic process of open competition to determine which clubs ascend to first division competition?

        Back to my hypothetical, once we get to 24 teams, do we close the league off and say sorry to the rest of the teams out there that want to compete at the first division level?

        Again, its seems like we’re both working with the idea of the value of open competition. I just don’t see how you do that sustainably without pro/rel.

        • Charles says:

          Just like MLS are doing right now, just like every league in the world that doesn’t exclude teams from winning the championship does…an un-balanced schedule.

          Wow, turns out MLS had it right all along.

          Don’t exclude.

        • The original Tom says:

          But Charles, your excluding some teams and cities permanently. Pro/Rel only excludes them until they get a good enough team again. Might be 1 season (Newcastle) or 20 (Leeds), but the fans get to watch them fight on the field to get back in. That, to me, is better than fighting in the board room (“if we drop funding for schools to build this stadium, would you please let our team in”).

          • Charles says:

            No I would not, if they can meet the minimum standards ( every league has those, stadium capacity, funding, etc ), I would NOT exclude.

            I looked it up a while back, around 40 teams have made the top division since the start of the EPL. I am fine with a 40 team league. US is bigger, so the league could be bigger if they can get there.

            Why doesn’t MLS just do pro/rel now ? A 10 team league is where they were at a few years ago.

            Exclude, demote, relegate, 9 teams to second division right now. They can earn their way up if they win. We can expand the number of teams as other teams get eligible.

            IF you want Pro/Rel you should be very for this. I don’t know why 20 teams, is the firm cutoff. If it is such a great idea… it no.

            Oh BTW, Colorado didn’t make the cut.

          • The original Tom says:

            18 to 20 teams is a good number because you can play every team twice. When the MLS was 10 teams it was boring. But I’m not opposed to doing things differently to recognize our geography and culture- such as every team plays two games against the nearest MLS2 sides, or the Open Cup is fixed regionally. I understand when teams such as Seattle and Portland, when relegated, would still want to play big clubs like Colorado.

          • Charles says:

            Me either, we can skip the idea of demoting teams and just have them play in a parity league with a chance to win every year.

            MLS can’t afford to lose Portland and Vancouver to second division and then watch em fade away.

            ps. England can’t either, but they are too stupid to realize it is happening.

  18. spanishMLSfan says:

    Forgiveness for cower in the discussion the MLS must close in 20 teams (my opinion)
    The teams/cities/franchises excluded from the search for the NASL competition or the D2 and when i spent some time creating the promotion of pro/rel although i do not like that idea

  19. David says:

    “Until we are free of the cloaked financial model that could appear to prop up teams in preferred markets while restricting quality across the board, American fans will shun our top league and thus continue the trend of poor ratings and undervalued TV contracts.”
    Personally I think that the situation is much more complex than this conclusion would indicate. While the financial model is frustrating, looking back on the history of the league and of professional soccer leagues in this country, it does seem prudent if not absolutely necessary. The bigger problems come from the league’s broadcast “partners”. Sure the league has contracts with ESPN and NBC, but the efforts by those networks to promote their coverage has been minimal at best. The league needs to help this by providing an aspect that people would latch onto. For my money, I would prefer to see the league make a push on bringing back some American players, such as Alejandro Bedoya or Maurice Edu, rather than focusing on brand names in the twilight of their career. Don’t get me wrong if the right player is available and wants to come to the league, by all means let them come. For as much of a headache as David Beckham was during his first couple of years in the league, he undoubtedly raised the league profile, and when he accepted the league he became a joy to watch on the field as well.
    I do think that the league is making strides financially, but the league has to stop trying to be something that it is not, and it is not a European league, it is not a league that can currently support promotion/relegation. After all who is going to spend tens of millions of dollars on a franchise and potentially hundreds of millions on a stadium only to have to roll the dice on relegation and thus wasting that investment? Such a gamble is not in the American sporting mindset.

    • David says:

      Sorry, My last statement was meant to begin “People should stop expecting the league to be something that it is not.”

    • Charles says:

      but you don’t think that NBC is promoting the league. I would have to disagree with you there. Perhaps you meant Fox Soccer.

      We will see in year two, but I am very happy with NBC, who picked up more games than their contract stipulated and seemed very eager to do all the right things.

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