Promotion / Relegation

By Stephane Brisson-Merrick, Apr 12, 2015


With the MLS expanding, NASL and USL expanding (well having MLS II teams) its time that we actually start arguing about a true promotion relegation system (pro/reg). We all have heard the arguments about travel, TV rights and fan markets. The best I’ve  heard its not the North American way. I hate to disappoint people but you are playing a GLOBAL game not a North American game. Football leagues have been around for a 100 years and have evolved that they can connect to each other and integrate as needed. That argument is the same as “well we have been doing it the same way or 20 years and it works”, well hate to burst your bubble kids we used coal for ages and it worked then we use oil. The other thing I hear is that wanting pro/reg is being eurosnobs and this way works. Bare with me on this, I will either convince you, make you think I'm an idiot or make you hate the idea even more. Chances are you will take two out of the three.


TV contracts is actually the best argument I’ve seen against a pro/reg system. TV markets are huge, would ESPN want to pay top dollar and all of a sudden NYRB and NYCFC get relegated and they lose that market? I completely understand but guess what folks every, TV stations has minimum two channels these days. Set up a good streaming service, maybe season ticket holders get a discount on a pass. Many options available these days that the excuse they have is invalid.


Now travel will always be an issue regardless of what system is used. Best idea is to do two road then two home. I also remember when MLS went to 19 teams, Vancouver Whitecaps used  a travel agent to plan the games to do  home and away evenly. Look, if a handful of supporters can figure this out compare to a multi million dollar league someone is not using their head or just don't want to have home and away games. Maybe the league's could make a deal with train and airline companies to get  discounts if they become a sponsor.


Fan markets can be tricky. There are loyal fans, plastic fans and glory hunters that you will have to attract team instantly. Majority of the MLS got their teams instantly but some fan bases can be dedicated. Yes you will lose numbers in the stands but this is where the Front Office comes in. Sell tickets at an affordable price, merchandise and advertise your club. I have noticed with the MLS in particular the teams rely on the league to sell them. Hate to break it to you MLS, sports fans in North America are picky compared to their European counterparts. So be prepared for rough seas.


I have always never understood this about sports in NA, if you finish last you get a prize (one of the best draft picks). These teams are being REWARDED for failing and if I did that at work I would be fired. If we go basic and say the three divisions have 20 teams each (and yes I am not including the stupid MLS II teams) make it simple three up and three down. This will force clubs to perform rather than be content that they don't make the playoffs or took nine games to get a win/draw. Chivas USA, TFC does this ring any bells. If a team says they can't survive without top flight, well they have two solutions, have a good business model and win games. So if the clubs say they can't do that then the clubs are poorly run and just looking for a corporate handout. When all the stars align and we set up the leagues and teams, give them a five year period to grow their bases and then start Pro/Reg. For all this to happen, greed and selfishness needs to be removed from the equation and FIFA needs to step in and verbally slap USSF and CSA into becoming adults and make this work.


If we were to go to pro/reg it would challenge teams to be more creative on and off the field. This is a dream for some and a nightmare or others. It would be fun to see big markets like Columbus, Toronto and Philly get relegated and maybe Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Carolina got promoted. This scenario would make lazy team owners lose their minds, would be hilarious to watch the bad marketing and possibly the best marketing. As much as we think we can change it we need to have bigger numbers before we tackle this issue. So lets enjoy what we have today and pray for a pro/reg league tomorrow.