Where Does MLS Go After Lucky Number 20?

This is a guest column by frequent contributor Nick Sindt. Always good to host your pieces, Nick!

Editor’s Note: Don Garber  and MLS are choosing their talents in South Beach this upcoming week at the annual MLS draft (that has shrunk from four rounds to three.) Yet, two new, and by the looks of it steamrolling-forward, expansion teams are churning up interest, ticket sales, and message boards in the Northwest.

Lucky number?

This coming Saturday, Garber will hold court with fans and associates of the Miami Ultras and you need to look no further than here to see what Garber will be harangued about. (Hint: It’s not LeBron-style contraction)

You have the New York Cosmos taking a reverse approach to gaining New York “market share” by trading on and generating revenue around their once (now twice?) in a lifetime experience while Detroit and Atlanta fans plead their case.

Seems the “ripe” time to discuss what’s next in the MLS program for it’s club number and competitive direction.


Promotion-Relegation vs. “Expansion” a philosophical debate

Garber: “What if we put a team over….there?”

Don Garber has oft been quoted stating that the Major League Soccer will be a 20 team league by 2012 and that MLS would not be complete without representation in the Southeast corner of the country. Recently the Montreal Impact have been named the 19th franchise and the New York Cosmos resurrection seems to have a better head-of-steam than any expansion bids coming out of the south. One is left to wonder how the league and the country can accommodate it all???

Here’s what we do know: MLS is perfectly content with doing things the “American” way (playoffs, spring to fall schedule, etc.) in order to help attract more viewers from the “Big Four” by keeping things as similar as possible. The “Big Four” all operate with 30 member franchises (32 in the NFL), and they expand their top leagues into new (and sometimes odd) markets as demand dictates. There is never any promotion of lower league sides or relegation of top-flight sides. Thus far, the MLS has followed suit, but can this trend continue as soccer grows and stays ever more popular with the all important 18-45 year old demographic? Assuming that Promotion-Relegation and the “American” expansion method are mutually exclusive I’ll put forth my opinions on which of the two is better in the long run for the game on this continent.


Given that all of the “Big Four” have plateaued (for the time being) at around 30 teams spread throughout the United States and Canada it would appear that MLS will eventually hit the same upper limit that the other leagues have. The main positives to expanding the league as the “Big Four” have done is that the league will be able to monitor the quality of the clubs and ownership groups that are brought into the fold; we won’t have Landon Donovan and his Galaxy team playing their home matches in the Home Depot Center and their away matches in some high-school football stadium that has potholes in the turf.

With MLS controlling entry into the league “The Don” and his cronies will also have tighter control over the league itself. Granted most of us would like them to loosen up some of the economic restrictions placed on the clubs, but we cannot argue against their success up to this point. This control also allows MLS to keep situations like Chelsea, Manchester City, Newcastle United, and Real Madrid/1970s New York Cosmos from occurring over here and throwing the entire competition out of whack.

Another item in the plus column is that 30+ clubs should offer a fair amount of coverage. With teams on the West coast, Northwest corridor, Mountains, Midwest & Texas, Northeast, and hopefully the Southeast in the future there won’t be a region of the nation that doesn’t have a team to root for, even if it means a multiple hour drive to get there.

In my opinion there are three major drawbacks to continuing expansion of the league in the same manner as we have been; 1) the Detroit Lions, 2) the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, and 3) unbalanced schedules.

First let me state that I’m picking on the NFL here not because I dislike American Football, but rather because it is the biggest, best, healthiest sport in this country, and, yet, these examples highlight the downsides of simple expansion.

The Detroit Lions…When I think about the Detroit Lions I think of futility. They had one of the greatest running backs the league has ever seen and yet they barely made the playoffs during his tenure. Their win-loss record has to be one of the worst in the history of the National Football League and yet they’re still around barely achieving “competitive” status. Darwin’s theory of natural selection has led to a more direct catchphrase “only the strong survive.”

The few, the proud...make that "the few...."

Yet here the Lions are, year after year, embarrassing themselves with paltry attendance numbers and a bad on-field product, the situation is often so dire that fans wear paper bags on their heads to openly mock ownership. It is so bad that the stadium was barely 2/3rds full during one of this season’s big televised games on Thanksgiving Day.

The Lions and other perennially bad teams seem to have found that magical calculus formula that allows them to maximize profits while minimizing the amount they spend on talent. But the sweet life in the top-flight is something that should have to be earned instead of guaranteed.

The Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, the Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens, the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, and not to mention at least two more fistfuls of examples from the NBA, MLB, and NHL, plus the San Jose Earthquakes/Houston Dynamo in our own MLS. All of these situations are gut-wrenching tales of an ownership group, for many different reasons, simply “up-and-moving” their team from one city to another, leaving fans devastated. Though this painful process of skipping town in the middle of the night is not exclusive to the American “Big Four” it is far less common (at least that I’ve heard of) in Europe, South America, and Mexico. My theory postulates that controlled expansion limits the number of teams in the country leaving many markets open to and craving professional sports (yes, even when the number of teams appears to plateau). When these markets want a sports team bad enough, they will cast flirtatious glances that would make even the most sexually loose men and women blush: lots of fans; big, new, state-of-the-art facilities paid for by Joe and Jane Taxpayer. How could any profit driven company/sports franchise say no to that?

Balanced schedules are touted by many Eurosnobs as the only way to determine a true regular season champion, and they have a pretty solid point. Playing each team in the league the same number of times as everyone else does ensures that the standings at the end of the season are the most accurate picture of how all of the teams performed over the course of the entire season, eliminating inflated records that come with earning points/results against a weaker division or conference. All of the “Big Four” leagues in the US/Canada have unbalanced schedules that lead into the playoffs. While the NBA, MLB, and NHL don’t have to play as unbalanced of a schedule, the NFL by its taxing physical nature must limit its games and therefore must be unbalanced.

All of this lopsided scheduling does lead to the eventual questions: 1) is the regular season mostly meaningless? and 2) is the team crowned champion at the end of the playoffs truly deserving of the title? Were the 2007-2008 New York Giants really the best team in the NFL or did they do just enough to get into the playoffs and get “hot” at the right moment? There are countless other champions in all leagues who finished sixth or lower in their league/conference who went on to battle their way to the title. While MLS still runs into this issue due to their own playoffs, you cannot argue that Real Salt Lake’s entrance into the playoffs two years ago was due to their lack of quality opponents during the regular season.

Another drawback of the unbalanced scheduling practice is the lack of key players and franchises giving each and every city in the league some face-time. With unbalanced scheduling in MLS, the Designated Player Rule is merely a way to improve a single team, whereas the current balanced schedule makes David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry, Juan Pablo Angel, et. al. assets to not only their teams, but also the entire league.


Everyone who follows the European soccer leagues knows full well the excitement for teams at both ends of the table that is possible with the promotion-relegation system so we won’t dwell too much on them, and instead focus on how they could benefit the MLS.

Philosophically speaking, I believe the best reason to implement Promotion-Relegation into the MLS league structure is it gives the league the ability to add more teams in more markets in a more organic fashion. Currently the format is to pick a city and simply place a team there, a la the Philadelphia Union or the Chicago Fire, or to take an existing lower division side and elevate it into the MLS (Sounders, Timbers, Impact, and the Whitecaps are all examples of this). Both of these methods dictate that the city/ownership group must meet certain worthiness requirements (money, stadium plans, supporters, and much more) prior to being awarded the franchise, which means that there are plenty of markets that will never be given a chance to prove what a great market they can be; Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Richmond, St. Louis, Raleigh/Durham, anywhere in Idaho/Montana/Wyoming, amongst many others. With a promotion-relegation system in place, a team’s worthiness for entry into the top flight would be determined on results alone (fingers crossed we don’t have an Italian style match-fixing scandal).

Promotion-relegation, if eventually (and hypothetically) implemented down to [a massive] 4 divisions (or further), allows for much greater expansion of the league without necessitating any changes to the format of the competition/season. And, it also helps solve one of the underlying issues of American Soccer; youth players moving from their big-time youth clubs to the MLS Youth sides for little to no compensation for the club that groomed the player. If clubs were part of a larger organism, there’d be rules and restrictions put into place to assist in solving these types of issues.

It also can assist in elevating the US Open Cup to a more lofty status. Currently the MLS clubs compete against minor league clubs that a majority of MLS fans know little to nothing about, but with teams bouncing back and forth between the divisions these matches can have added storylines based on previous league meetings.

The downside of a promotion-relegation system is obviously this:

Going along with that, there’s also the fact that lower league sports (not counting the NCAA because let’s face it NCAA Football and Basketball are sometimes better than the upper echelons of the minor leagues of the NFL and NBA) in this country exist almost in a vacuum. If MLS executives think it’s tough drawing a crowd now, just wait until they’re down in MLS-2 or the further nether regions of American Soccer.

The last pitfall of promotion-relegation would be the assumed involvement of the USSF with league structure, similar to The FA in England and other countries. Many have spoken out about the general Mickey Mouse-ness of the USSF when it comes to running the national teams, can you imagine what would happen if they got their hands in the MLS cookie-jar?


The way I see it, MLS would be wise to cap the league at 20 clubs for now, invest in the lower league(s) and in about ten years or so (so the latest franchisees get a good number of years hobnobbing with the big boys) instituting promotion and relegation with a healthier second tier league, and hopefully growing third-tier league. It should be noted that I don’t think we need to immediately go with 3 up and 3 down; if the lower tier leagues are not as competitive as one would hope, the league could certainly look at only accepting 2 teams from the league below it (regular season and post-season champs). The league could also look at going down to 18 teams in order to ease some of the fixture congestion as well as the weather concerns that must be dealt with in the beginning and the end of the American soccer season.

123 responses to this post.

  1. So long as neither idea puts a team back in Florida, I’m good with your reasoning on the matter. The state is a terrible place for any sport.

    Relocation or expansion should move soccer into the Deep South. If not for the control of school funds mostly for football, the SEC would be a power conference for NCAA DIV I soccer. There’s a base for soccer in the South, despite any stereotypes about the South and soccer.


    • That’s the beauty of Promotion-Relegation with multiple leagues, teams are put anywhere. They spring up in different areas and make it to the bigger, more glamorous leagues as their talent and results allow.

      And MLS and USSF wouldn’t be left with egg on their faces for a poor Expansion decision/team situation, like when they retracted the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny.


  2. Posted by Michael Heinz on 2011/01/06 at 7:13 AM

    Here’s what I’ve been spreading around on soccer blogs as of late. It’s what I firmly believe would be the best for soccer in North America, in terms of quality and prosperity.

    – 20 teams, single table (with playoffs, read below), balanced schedule, February to October. MLS regular season should have a specific structure, not games ‘whenever’. One game a week per team (something like 1 Thursday night game, 4 Saturday early afternoon games, 4 Saturday late afternoon games, 1 Sunday night game, so long as there’s a rhythm to it). Use MLS All-Star Break to allow adjustment for midweek fixtures that would be necessary in a 38-game schedule, finish those by the end of September.
    — Cap expansion at 20 teams and focus on building a viable 2nd division; many, many years later, when that 2nd division is profitable, we can begin to THINK about promotion and relegation to give teams at the bottom of the table more to fight for.
    – Top team (1st place) at the end of the regular season is the League Champion, they and the runners-up (2nd place) get automatic Champions League group stage berths (be they US teams OR Canadian teams)
    – The 8 other teams (places 3rd through 10th) in the top half of the table playoff for the third Champions League berth in the preliminary round (US or Canadian)
    – National cup winners gets the final CL preliminary berths (US-only and Canadian-only)
    – End SuperLiga, and use the financial backing behind that tournament to support the US Open Cup, our national championship. Rebrand the “US Open Cup” with a new name and so that it is placed on a pedestal, and respected, cherished, something the fans want to win, with teams in CONCACAF play entering the latest, and the Final being the sport’s premier annual event in the US (perhaps called the “Soccer Bowl” as an homage to the NASL era).
    – Use the lack of sporting events the week of the MLB All-Star Game to showcase the League’s biggest rivalries on ESPN’s family of networks

    The season format should look like this chronologically:
    – Beginning of MLS regular season (February)
    – CONCACAF Champions League Knockout Stage (February-April)
    – “US Open Cup” Qualifying/Canadian Championship (April-June)
    – Beginning of “US Open Cup” proper (June)
    – MLS Rivalry Week the week Major League Baseball has its all-star break (July)
    – MLS All-Star Game and a few summer friendlies with touring foreign clubs for teams not in continental competition (July-August)
    – CONCACAF Champions League Preliminary and Group Stages (August-October)
    – End of MLS regular season (Mid-October)
    – Semifinals of “US Open Cup” proper (Late October)
    – MLS Champions League Qualification, 8-team tournament (3rd place through 10th place) of two-legged ties taking three weeks (November)
    – “US Open Cup” Final, the neutral site “Soccer Bowl” (Thanksgiving night)

    So I’m in agreement with the notion of capping teams at 20 and focusing on building a stable 2nd division. It would do wonders.


    • While I disagree with a few of your suggesstions, I think teams one and two should be involved in a playoff melee of sorts, I think your proposition makes a lot of sense and The Don would be wise to take a peak at it.


    • Posted by Los on 2011/01/06 at 6:28 PM

      I like this proposal very much


    • Teams one and two should still compete in playoffs. As far as CONCACAF qualifying goes, MLS doesn’t have that much control over it. First of all, MLS can not give a CCL spot to a Canadian team without heavy cooperation from CONCACAF and the Canadian federation. American teams one and two of regular season have the first two automatic CCL births, but they still compete in the playoffs. In the playoffs, it should be either 12 or eight teams due to the lack of logic in a 10 team bracket. (Have you tried to draw it out. First round has 5 games, but the second has two with one team to spare. it would imply a bye for I’m assuming teams one and two.) The winner of MLS Cup (as it should remain to be called) gets the third and final automatic CCL birth; the runner up receives the first preliminary birth. Due to the possibility of one or two teams being in the final also being teams one and/or two from the regular season, the losing teams from the semifinal have to play a playoff for 3rd place of MLS Cup and the final CCL spot I do realize the possibility of Canadian teams in the top 4 of MLS Cup, and at that point the CCL spots become circumstantial. with one Canadian team (and no one already qualified for CCL) in the top 4 of the MLS Cup, the two remaining American teams will get the birth. Obviously this can eventually get very complicated, but if extra stats/games are needed to determine the winner of the next CCL spots the team that finished highest in the regular season that doesn’t already have a preliminary birth gets it and so on as needed. I also realize that the top four MLS Cup teams could be three from Canada. All I can realize say is nothing is perfect and much can still go wrong, but I’ve covered most of those bases. As soon as you need extra spots for CCL you just start going down the regular season table with the possibility of the eighth MLS Team competing in CCL. The playoff format as far as games is definitely the most confusing part if everyone must insist on a ten team playoff. The best I can come up is one through six of the regular season automatically are in the playoff while teams seven through ten playoff. seven plays ten and eight plays nine. the winner of 7/10 will play team one. the winner of 8/9 plays team two. winner of 1 v 7/10 will play the winner of 4 v 5 the winner of 2 v 7/10 will play the winner of 3 v 6 and so on. It sounds confusing in words I know, but maybe I can make a diagram if anyone is remotely interested. The other possibility I came up with was teams one and two have byes until what looks like the final of an 8 team bracket. 3 v 10, 6 v 7, 4 v 9, 5 v 8, NEXT ROUND… 3/10 v 6/7, 4/9 v 5/8 NEXT ROUND… 1 v 3/10/6/7, 2 v 4/9/5/8. Then it’s pretty obvious from there if you understand me correctly. The biggest problem with that is that you now have two pre-qualified CCL teams in the final four.

      On another note, I agree with all your other statements except for those regarding to rebranding US Open Cup. It is a good name if you ask me and a good competition or good idea. Instead of rebranding, they should just make more of an effort to market it and sell it to the general public. They should also expand it, but that comes with promotion-relegation and more teams in the US. As of right now, the only problem with the Open Cup is that the only team that takes it seriously is the Sounders.


    • Posted by Andy on 2011/01/10 at 2:36 AM

      I like this structure. The only problem I see with it is the playoffs for champions league slots. I just wonder how important the champions league is when you consider this past season the LA Galaxy played a C team against Puerto Rico and got beaten badly in two matches.


  3. Posted by chris on 2011/01/06 at 7:26 AM

    with the carolina railhawks going (almost) all the way this year. does that put them on the radar of the mls at all?
    or, how did these other teams make it?


    • Unfortunately I’m not as “in the know” as Matthew and the others that contribute to this site, so I can’t speak from actual fact. However, based on the clubs that have been elevated to MLS in the past it would appear that success on the field is not as large of a factor as one would think. I believe, and I’m speaking on conjecture only, that an ownership group with an appropriate amount of capital, stadium plans, and a proven track record of acceptable attendance figures are the most important factors in getting elevated into MLS.


  4. […] Vancouver and Portland are 17 and 18. Montreal will be 19. How to choose number 20? And where does MLS go after that? […]


  5. Posted by JW on 2011/01/06 at 8:24 AM

    I anticipate the MLS adding teams to the east and west and reducing inter-league play. Eventually, it will look like two separate leagues. The country is large enough to support 2 16 team leagues with an extended playoff.


    • Posted by FutbolAmerica on 2011/01/06 at 9:02 AM

      I would rather see it capped at 20 teams and develop the lower leagues. A promotion/relegation system can only enchance the league overall. It causes teams at the bottom of the table to continue playing through the entire year instead of just coasting the end of the season.

      Like in the NBA and NFL, teams will sometimes take a late season flop to get top pick in the next draft. However, if you have a promotion/relegation system while a team may be in the bottom half of the table, they have incentives to continue playing because of the financial damage from going down a level. You could also enchance that by giving the top draft pick to the team finishing highest at the lower level and gaining promotion, giving them a better chance at staying up in the new league they’ve entered.


    • I agree that the country is large enough to sustain at least 30 franchises, but I’m not sold on two separate leagues of the same caliber. With expansion you will get the more NFL like scheduling with serious reductions in inter-league play. But if you go with a single table (or conference tables) in a 16-20 team league with lower leagues working their way into the upper echelon, you reduce the amount of late season “flops” that FutbolAmerica mentions.

      Plus you get the expansion into the different areas of the country but in a more organic fashion that reduces external pressure to immediately succeed. There will and should always be internal pressure (within the organization/club) to succeed, but MLS shouldn’t be overbearing in their pressure for a team/market to succeed in order to not look like chumps, and I feel that the current expansion model carries a lot of that weight.


      • Posted by JW on 2011/01/06 at 6:02 PM

        I agree, and I would love to see a second division with promotion prospects. The problem with getting there, as I see it, is that the current trajectory for MLS leads to a sustainable and profitable existence with that format. I don’t see that changing, unfortunately. It’s not that the system I think will happen won’t produce good soccer, but it could be better.


  6. Posted by Kevin on 2011/01/06 at 8:35 AM

    I just want to know when the hell is Saint Louis getting a freaking MLS team. Every year their are rumors of this happening. They even have a stadium in the works but they will not build it until MLS gives us a team. SOOOOOO FRUSTRATING!!!!


    • With promotion relegation, it would not be when is St. Louis going to get an MLS team and thus build their stadium. Instead it would be when is St. Louis going to build their stadium and make a push to get the talent on the field to get them into MLS.

      Obviously both avenues of expanding the league have their pros and cons, but your question highlights the biggest pro for Promotion-Relegation, there would be no more excuses in the St. Louis market.


  7. Posted by Blazindw on 2011/01/06 at 8:43 AM

    I disagree with your assessment of Detroit attendance at Lions games. Sure the Lions were awful, but attendance fell because of the economy, not because of how terrible they were. Their first nonsellout of Ford Field didn’t come until 2008 and that was amid a conservative estimate of 35% unemployment that still exists today. The other 3 Detroit teams experienced the same thing through a recession that has affected Michigan for an entire decade, not just the 2 years the entire nation has suffered through. During that time, both the Pistons and Wings won titles, went to multiple finals, and the Tigers went to the World Series. The Lions won about 12 games…yet they continued to have sold-out crowds for every game.

    Great article…just had to defend my home city for a minute.


    • Sorry Blazin, I had to pick on someone and the Lions immediately sprung to mind. I completely understand the point about Ford Field being sold out until the “recession” but rightly or wrongly, the Lions are synonomous with futility in many areas.

      BTW I am a Wings fan, have been since before they were consistently one of the top teams. So I’m not a Motor City hater.


      • Posted by Jeff on 2011/01/06 at 11:12 AM

        There is also the issue of one Matthew Millen. The Lions are not the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their futility is not directly tied to an attempt to maximize profits at the expense of a talented roster. They were just managed horribly for the better part of the ’00s by Millen and company.

        I understand and agree with your point, but the Lions are a faulty analogy.


        • Fair enough, they leapt to mind immediately, but let’s take a step back into the 90’s when they had one Barry Sanders. Millen wasn’t GMing it up then…


        • Posted by Jeff on 2011/01/06 at 2:35 PM

          And they made the playoffs 5 of Sanders’ 10 seasons with the likes of Rodney Peete and Scott Mitchell at the helm. Yeah, more could have been spent around Sanders, but there are only so many Montanas and Marinos to go around. I’m sure a lot of American Football fans would like their owners to spend more on their teams. I’m sure the same could be said for a large number of Football clubs.

          And, ultimately, I am a big proponent of a promotion/relegation system for soccer development at some point in the future. It is the most logical way to allow for a natural development of the league(s). Just have a thing for defending the Lions, I suppose.


        • My apologies to Lions fans. If futility is not an apt description then underwhelming might have fit better (from my personal perspective). I could’ve picked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the example but they don’t have the longevity that Detroit does; any team in the NFC West aside from the old 49ers of the 80s and early 90s could be used. The Pittsburgh Pirates after Bonds and Bonilla would’ve been another fair example. I could go on and on coming up with other examples of futility (in my opinion of course), but I chose the Lions and I apologize if it offended.


        • Posted by Jeff on 2011/01/06 at 4:01 PM

          Arguments work better with concrete examples sometimes, but unfortunately I don’t think there is a perfect example for what you were trying to get across. The Lions are a fair example of it, but I felt you left out a couple of points important in putting their recent futility in context.

          Any team which you chose would have had someone defending them. Your apology is unnecessary (for me, at least), Nick. I certainly appreciate your continued input in the comments, and I look forward to more pieces from you.


  8. Posted by John on 2011/01/06 at 8:48 AM

    I would like to make the argument that one only has to look at the horrid mistakes made by the NHL in expansion to realize that you need a market and identity in the place you expand to succeed.

    MLS shouldn’t put clubs in places where they aren’t going to succeed. Fan support and good ownership should trump locational spreading. I know it sounds good to have a club in the south east somewhere but it sounded good to have the Atlanta Thrashers at one point as well.

    Now….. not so much.

    I personally think that the MLS needs to go more urban in their expansion. The average fan doesn’t need more stadiums in rural areas that are far away from public transport. We don’t need more “family friendly” stadiums that cater to a diluted and less passionate fan base.

    If a place like Detroit or Atlanta has the fan base, the passion and the infrastructure to make a team a long standing reality than so be it.

    However, (and a big caution)

    One only has to look at almost EVERY single major pro sports franchise in Florida/Miami to realize how difficult it is to succeed there. Even the “de facto” team, the Dolphins, don’t draw sell out crowds. Now I know that the new hot team is the Heat, but before LeBron they had difficulties getting sell outs for play off games.

    I hate to say it but Miami doesn’t seem to work very well for sports. The bureaucratic red tape and petty land disputes/lawsuits that have prevented the (twice champion) Florida Marlins from opening a new stadium…. the weather… the ambivalence of the sports fans… the lack of attendance for the Rays, the lack of attendance for the Heat and Dolphins… It does not portend well.


    • I agree that MLS shouldn’t be putting clubs anywhere anymore. Let them develop on their own and rise to prominence on their own. If Tampa or Miami build a club that’s capable of it and sustainable, more power to them.


      • Posted by Andy on 2011/01/10 at 2:41 AM

        funny how promotion and relegation works. The teams(and cities) that deserve to be in top flight get there.

        sadly pro/rel has a massive obstacle . MLS owners. How do we ever get them to vote for pro/rel?


        • My gut reaction to your question about the owners is one of two responses:
          A) This is going to happen because The Don has decreed it so, or
          B) Find a way to prove to the current ownership groups that Promotion-Relegation will garner more interest (meaning money) in the sport in general, and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

          Since B is the more likely option I could see the league being capped at 20, then saying for a few years that only one team would bounce back and forth. Then in a few years when everyone is getting used to the system, another team would be dropped, and eventually three (if we stay at a 20 team league). Ultimately it comes down to convincing the owners that any system/league structure change is a good thing for Soccer and that anything that’s good for Soccer will be good for any and all clubs.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/01/10 at 7:18 AM

          I know that things have changed, but the whole notion of calling a club a ‘franchise’ or a ‘product offering’ really grates me. Sometimes I wonder how the hell to MLS execs expect fans to get emotional about a team, and really get behind them, and for the team to have a real place in the community when owners are only interested in the trial balance / balance sheet?

          Saying that, it would be interesting to look at the business plan for a prospective MLS team, especially time lines and when they expect to break even etc.


        • You’re dead on, teams in any sport in this country are really unashamedly and very transparent about what they’re actually running which is a business. As such organizational brass tends to latch onto the latest buzzwords they learned at the corporate retreat when creating their communications to the genereal public.

          While we all know that the clubs in England are businesses, it is nice to know that they once started out as clubs with a connection to the community and that they still attempt to flog that connection even if it’s only a thinnly-veiled half-truth at this point in time.

          I think this topic is actually much deeper than what can succinctly be discussed in a comment or two so I’ll stop before I get on to a wildly confusing point-counter point discussion with myself (busy day at work today).


  9. This is why we were all hoping for an MLS2 bailout of the whole USL/NASL debacle of recent years.

    If MLS could develop a second division, comprised in part of stronger clubs from NASL and USL, that could then take advantage of MLS’s bargaining power and economies of scale with things like marketing, websites, broadcast, etc. then we would have a respectable second division.

    In time these second tier clubs would have proper venues, established fan bases, entrenched sponsors and established marketing and broadcast channels. Everything you would need to consider a pro/rel scenario.

    The north american second division would be much further along if sponsors and fans didn’t have to wonder if their team would come back for another season. MLS ownership of a second division would solve just about all of that uncertainty.


  10. Posted by Garrett Tozier on 2011/01/06 at 9:31 AM

    I completely agree with your conclusion in the article. I like a 20 team league (give it to the Cosmos for all I care), then MLS building up a viable second division (possibly working with the NASL) to create MLS-2 in 10 to 15 years. A lot of division 2 teams are in the South already (Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, Carolina, and Puerto Rico if that counts as the South).

    If the league did look South for expansion straight to MLS instead of the Cosmos, I think it would be beneficial to promote a few teams, on a staggered timetable, similar to the Seattle/Portland/Vancouver scenario. But only once the Southern markets prove they are ready. Promote Miami one year, then Tampa the next, the Atlanta etc. Or relocation could be mixed in with financial promotion, say by Columbus moving to Atlanta (not to pick on any team, just an example) and promoting the Tampa and Miami franchises. The league could stay at 20 teams this way and have the South covered. I just think it isn’t wise to go into the South with only one team, others should be nearby to create rivalries etc.


    • Posted by SamT on 2011/01/06 at 10:48 AM

      In terms of regional self-identification, most southerners would not identify with any cities in Florida — save Tallahassee or Jacksonville. And certainly not Puerto Rico.


      • Posted by Garrett Tozier on 2011/01/06 at 12:04 PM

        I was being lazy, should have said The Southeastern United States instead of calling it “the South.” I agree, anything on or south of I-4 isn’t “the South.”


  11. Posted by Russ on 2011/01/06 at 10:14 AM

    Promotion/Relegation simply doesn’t jive with the current business model of American soccer.

    We need the entire league in the black and thriving before we can even think about that (not to mention the viable 2nd division already alluded to).

    It will be several decades at least before it’s a realistic option, IMO.


    • Russ – I couldn’t agree more on the needing the entire league doing well before implementing this. I think 10 years could/should be enough time to do so if the clubs get aggresive and have this in the back of their minds. 20 years might be more realistic, but I’m an optimist.


      • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/01/06 at 11:11 AM

        what if we jumped right into promotion/relegation. maybe a date is set, for sometime after the next two or three seasons. in a sense mls has a promotion system already. the clubs like the sounders, who were well organized were promoted into the MLS. perhps there geographic loction hd a lot to do with it. same with portlnd and montreal, these are former usl club who have gained promotion into the MLS.

        it seems to me that you put the system into place and let the chips fall where they may. perhaps dc united gets relegated the first season the system is in place and maybe the team that gains promotion is the richmond kickers. it would be a nice story and it is very american. then dc united would have to fight the following season to get bck into the top league.

        this senario cant be more than ten years away, at most. id bet the day usa takes on a more international schedule will be just about the time promotion/relegation becomes a real serious option.


        • Posted by Andy on 2011/01/10 at 2:50 AM

          i’m really gung ho for pro/rel but you couldn’t go pro/rel right away (or even in 3 years). You would have to create a stable D2 first. The reason for this is many MLS clubs have debts and liabilities that they can pay off because of the revenue they get from being in MLS. Many clubs are not even close to paying off their SSS. If a team like Sporting KC were to be relegated into a D2 that was not stable they would not have enough revenue to pay off their debts. They would go bankrupt.

          I agree that announcing pro/rel and setting a date would do wonders for getting investment into D2 (and D3). You would have teams forming organically and vying for position into the lower leagues. But the announcement I think would have to be somewhere around 6- 10 years. D2 would have to be stable enough to allow relegated clubs to stay afloat.


  12. Posted by jim on 2011/01/06 at 11:00 AM

    Relegation is stupid and will never, ever work in America. It only works in countries where soccer is the national obsession of every city, town, and village. It isn’t here and never will be. MLS has a solid niche in the American sports market and should keep steadily working to grow that.

    There are just too many other huge sports competing for mindshare. There is a huge system in place for football and basketball that takes kids from high school to college to the pros. In baseball there is a massive minor league system that reaches from big cities to small towns across America. And the hockey minor leagues are very widespread throughout the Midwest and Northeast.

    We have two feeder systems — minor leagues for hockey and baseball, NCAA sports for football and basketball. And the NCAA system has been slowly eating into the minor league system in recent decades. Neither system has anything like relegation and never will.

    Relegation will never ever happen in America.


    • Thanks for your two cents. Fair enough that the other sports don’t do it, never have, and never will. Fair point that you don’t like relegation. Doesn’t mean it CAN’T work for soccer in this country.

      The problem with doing a straight apples-to-oranges comparison of Soccer and the Big 4 is that soccer has different methods of player movement/feeder systems, different competitions coinciding with the regular season that you don’t see in the others, etc. So soccer is different and doesn’t need to be pigeonholed one way or the other.

      As for your concern about mindshare, I do point out that these feeder leagues for other sports do often exist in a vacuum of very local consciousness, so relegation could have a hugely negative impact on those clubs. However, doing something different often piques mindshare simply because it’s different.


    • Posted by Russ on 2011/01/06 at 11:12 AM

      Relegation in what England has with 4 leagues and a conference where dropping means teams lose a LOT of moeny? No. But I think a watered down version of relegation might work here.

      Basically, everyone is in the same league but designate one half as MLS 1 and then MLS 2. You can only be the national champ if you’re in MLS 1 but you’re not risking anything huge money wise if you drop in terms of revenue sharing or TV money.


      • First of all I think before MLS thinks about promotion-relegation, they first need a better TV deal so that most games are nationally televised on some sort of network(s) that most people have. TV deals for MLS2 would be similar to now if not slightly worse. Rarely will you see nationally televised games, but clubs generally have local TV deals. I’m not sure how MLS operates in terms of prize money for the champion of MLS, but obviously the winner of MLS2 shouldn’t be paid the same as the “Champion of American Soccer”. Although I agree if you tell owners there is a massive risk of losing money and a lot of it, if you are relegated, they won’t be happy, but obviously you still want the club to have a reason to want to be back at the top flight besides bragging rights.


    • Posted by John on 2011/01/06 at 11:47 AM

      Hey Jim,

      Instead of saying “relegation is stupid”, why don’t you say “I don’t like relegation and here is why”

      Attacking the idea in an obtuse way without providing a real reason other than “this isn’t the way things are done round here” does nothing for forwarding the discussion.

      Recruiting and the NCAA really don’t have anything to do with relegation or soccer because the feeder systems are vastly different between the sports.

      England has 51 million people, roughly the combination of California and Texas. So basically, can you give soccer to 51 million people in the US and let the other 257 million divvy NFL,NCAA,NHL,NBA amongst them?

      To adamantly dismiss relegation based that “it isn’t done that way in the other four sports” ignores what relegation can do.

      It can be the reason why people live and die with their club. You can bet that the fans that stayed with Leeds on their way down and through the years were the loyal ones. Same with Palace, Hull, Forest and the like… Relegation can BUILD character amongst the fans due to the bonding during hard times.

      Maybe it seems an impracticality right now, but there is no reason to dismiss it outright. If MLS has a toehold in the sports scene than let it be different than the NHL, NBA, NFL or MLB. The idea of the Rochester Rhino’s making a run from the MLS League 2 to MLS is more exciting to me than thinking of the poor poor people who root for the Pirates only to watch them be sub 500 every year with no impetus, no forward motion and no chance at anything.

      The best parts of Soccer in the US comes from the uniqueness of the game. Let’s not give up on one of the fantastic ideas used world wide just because it doesn’t fit the mold of our current leagues.


      • Posted by jim on 2011/01/06 at 12:20 PM

        You’re wrong. Relegation is a silly idea that would never work in modern America. It’s a waste of time to plan and hope for. It’s a fantasy based on ignorance of America and the American sports landscape. Relegation exists in European soccer because of the huge first-mover advantage that soccer had as an organized sport in those countries.

        And to compare 50 million people packed into England vs some hypothetical 50 million American soccer fans spread across the vastness of America (and outnumbered at least 6-1 by non-fans) is, again, just silly. It’s the intensity and ubiquity of soccer in the English social order that makes it work, the generational history that reaches down to every village and pub.

        If it it makes you happy to imagine small towns across America magically becoming soccer fanatics … then go ahead. Maybe we’ll have hundreds of water polo teams with rabid fanbases across the country by 2050, too. Maybe every little boy from Arkansas to Wyoming, from Phoenix to Atlanta will dream of playing for his local club lacrosse team. Maybe racquetball will be the dominant sport in 30 years. I demand we institute a promotion/relegation system for team pole vaulting! It’ll be huge. Imagine Small Town, USA competing against the New York Vaulters for the national championship. Imagine 50 million pole vaulting fanatics across America.

        There are all sorts of fun, magical things we can imagine when we ignore reality and just focus on what we’d like to happen.


        • Posted by John on 2011/01/06 at 12:32 PM

          Why so caustic?

          With pointing out the population numbers, I made the attempt to say that there are plenty of people to enjoy the pie of sports in the US.

          As a country we are too big to dominated by one particular thing.

          More people watched the world cup final in the US than in England. That isn’t hypothetical numbers but real ones. Has the MLS made those inroads yet? No, but it is making gains in the right areas (fan involvement and community excitement) IE Vancouver and Portland

          We have a market here for soccer.
          If we have a market here for soccer, than we have a market for the ideas that soccer brings.

          I don’t think relegation is a pie in the sky.

          To correct you, I am not wrong because I am not advocating anything in particular. If relegation works for the US than so be it, if it doesn’t than so be it.

          Try to relax about it and see both sides of the argument.


        • Where in the above piece is reality ignored? Is it something I would personally like to see happen? Absolutely. Do I lay awake at night waiting for it to happen? No.

          I never once imtimated that Promotion and Relegation would turn Nowhere Nebraska, BumbleEFF Idaho, and Backwoods West Virginia into rabid soccer towns. The point of this piece is merely to state that Promotion-Relegation (instead of Expansion) gives areas like that a chance if they have a club that’s good enough. The current system does not give them a chance.

          If you want to think the Promotion and Relegation is absurd to contemplate in the US, fine that’s your opinion. I disagree with it, but I won’t begrudge you for having an opinion. However, throwing a temper tantrum to make your points isn’t going to make us take your opinion seriously. We can’t really continue this discussion because it’s obvious that you want to speak in intentional hyperbole and make-believe to get your point across instead of the what’s been presented; which is that I think Promotion and Relegation would benefit the league because of X, Y, and Z. If Pole Vaulting and Water Polo had niche leagues that garnered TV time (even as lowly as MLS) outside of the Olympics then your points might be a little more relevant.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/01/06 at 12:49 PM

          The English (& European?) Leagues have been in existence for 120+ years. Nobody is suggesting that MLS can replicate that in the short term. Nobody is even saying that it will be replicated in the long term. But to not even give it a chance or to entertain the idea as the sport grows in this country, seems a little narrow minded. Nobody really knows what shape the MLS will be by 2020, but with a negative attitude, I can guess that growth with will stunted.

          And yes, there is money now, a lot of money. But pre-1992/3, there wasn’t the gulf in class or income inequality between Division 1 and Division 2.


    • Posted by micah on 2011/01/08 at 8:06 AM

      the pro/rel debate is a great one, I am generally for it, because it hasn’t been done here. That is what initially drew my attention to the sport in the first place is that the mindset of the game as a whole is differrent. I’ll even add that I think the big issue of the NCAA football bowl system could happen to MLS if it continues expanding one league. I even think that instead of the bowl system NCAA should use a pro/rel system.


    • Posted by Andy on 2011/01/10 at 2:53 AM

      thats just old thinking and a very american-centric way of looking at soccer, which is an international sport.

      Want a soccer culture in America? You’re never going to get there with a closed off Americanized soccer league. Only pro/rel will bring soccer culture to America.

      The NCAA is already becoming less relevant with soccer in this country. It’s about the acadamies, youth teams etc.


  13. Posted by Tim on 2011/01/06 at 11:10 AM

    I have personally spoken to a league (not MLS) Exec about installing Pro/Rel in his respective league. He said he loves the idea of it, but the biggest issue is maintaining fans and stadium size. He told me that it would be very unlikely for people to continue following their teams if the club was relegated. They would not want to be associated with a second division club. Additionally a bigger issue would be stadium size. The stadiums of the promoted teams would not be able to accommodate top division crowds while the relegated team would be playing in a huge arena with a sparse crowd. He went on to say that teams that suck do indeed need to be punished rather than rewarded, but until the second division of his league became more viable (and it already is quite viable), he could not see pro/rel on the American sports scene.

    Additionally he went on to tell me that his league and a few other leagues would utilize jersey sponsors if the number was large enough.


    • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/01/06 at 11:19 AM

      tim, you must be talking about a mlb exec. that would be the only sport where stadium size would be so much different between mlb ball parks and farm leagues, which are certainly viable leagues. so you are using americas pastime as the model.


      • Posted by Garrett Tozier on 2011/01/06 at 12:12 PM

        If you look at lower division teams, they are all playing at 5k-10k seat stadiums (except Miami). MLS teams (once new stadiums are all built) will be playing at 20k capacity stadiums. I’d say double the size is a significant difference.


        • Posted by Tim on 2011/01/06 at 2:34 PM

          Exactly, the only thing most second division clubs have going for them is that they usually have space to expand, its just the price tag. I honestly hope teams start to look at what Vancouver did with the temp stadium and how it’s a viable short term (5 years max) project while a good stadium is being built.


      • Posted by Tim on 2011/01/06 at 2:30 PM

        Or am I talking about NBA with the D League, or maybe NFL with the UFL or perhaps the AHL. All the stadiums would require a massive move or expansion. Doubling (if not tripling) the size of an arena is very expensive because their footprint is usually quite tight. While a football stadium or baseball stadium may have room around the stadium to expand.

        Also MLB is perhaps the only league with no international expectations, while NFL, NBA, and NHL want their piece of the international pie.


        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/01/06 at 5:47 PM

          but you said a viable league, im not sure these secondary leagues are so viable, like baseball farm leagues. how many teams can you name in these leagues, i mean minor league baseball has name recongnition compared to the nfls minor league


        • Somehow I don’t picture jersey sponsors for NFL or NHL teams, so I’m going to cross those off my list for potential leagues. It would be nice if you were allowed to tell us what league you were talking about though.


        • Posted by Tim on 2011/01/06 at 10:20 PM

          Kevin, I would, but this guy asked me to keep the name of the league out of anything I told people. So basically my word is my bond.


    • Posted by Berniebernier on 2011/01/06 at 5:36 PM

      I think this is a very valid point. In England (to pick an example) London has numerous teams (Fulham, Totenham, Aresenal, Chelsea, West Ham in the EPL alone). In the US we right now have teams that represent multiple state areas (New England Revolution). Being from Boston I will travel to see the Revs on rare occasion (its about an hour commute) but I would never go to see a league 2 game. Now if the field was in my neighborhood I would 1) go more often and 2) go even if they were league 2. For a Londoner to go to a Fulham game is as easy as going to the movies where as going to a Revs game is a trip that requires planning.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/01/07 at 8:21 AM

        I think you have to remember that football in England is the major sport, and people have been ‘born into a club’. MLS is only 15 years old. Give it a generation, and watching live football / attending games will be more main stream and less counter culture. From what I have seen at Gillette, most fans are football fans, rather than Revs fans – that will change.


      • Posted by Andy on 2011/01/10 at 3:03 AM

        in a pro/rel system you would likely have a Boston team that would organically form that is closer to you.


  14. Posted by Manny on 2011/01/06 at 11:11 AM

    Great article and I agree with the writers view on capping the league at 20. I for one would like an all American league instead of this dual country league. Yeah it’s nice and all since there are not many other potential American cities ready for an MLS club but as the sport grows in the U.S. and Canada for that matter, it would be best to kick out the Canadian clubs so they can form their own leage. This will free up 3 slots for American clubs.


    • Posted by John on 2011/01/06 at 11:51 AM

      Toronto has some of the best fans and attendance for a franchise that hasn’t treated them well.

      Vancouver has a long standing following, excitement, an interesting new management team and a new stadium.

      I would rather have those two teams than a struggling team in Nashville that pulls 2000 people because people don’t care.

      You would kick out the third highest attended MLS club (Toronto)?


      • Posted by Manny on 2011/01/06 at 12:53 PM

        At this point no but in the future yes! I hope Canada can get there stuff together so this could happen. Like I said the Canadaian clubs have created a lot of buzz for the league and the sport in both countries but eventually the training wheels are going to have to come off and Canada should be able to cater a league of their own.


    • I can’t really get on board with removing Canadian Teams because those three teams would then become the Old Firm of any Canadian League. Leave them in there and MLS is just a US/Canadian thing, who knows we may annex the carribbean soon and they can be MLS2 and 3 teams.


      • Posted by Manny on 2011/01/06 at 1:01 PM

        From what I hear the Canadians would like nothing better then to have an all Canadian 2nd division and are trying to conceptualize it currently. Who cares if they become like an Old Firm it’ll be their league to deal with.


    • The only reason I don’t like Canadian teams in MLS is because it complicates things so much when it comes to MLS clubs playing outside of MLS. For that reason only I really hope that MLS can help grow soccer in Canada so that they can support their own league. Maybe at that point the three Canadian teams will want to go to that league. However, if it were to never happen or I never live to see the day (which ever comes first) I wouldn’t really care because we’re used to it in other leagues.


      • I wasn’t aware that Canadian teams in MLS caused confusion. If that’s the case the CCL needs to either re-work itself to be more in-line with what’s going on in our neck of the woods, or we need to get a Canadian league going.


        • Canadian teams qualify for the CCL by winning the Canadian Cup or some thing like that. I’m not really sure what the name was, but basically TFC, Vancouver, and Montreal play a round robin and the best record goes to the CCL. I don’t really know exact details, but last time I checked (right around a year ago) that’s how it was.


  15. Posted by JD on 2011/01/06 at 11:15 AM

    I really like promotion-relegation, but not for America.

    The MLS is not a mature business (yes, with single entity it is a business), nor is the sport widely popular in this country. There can be no argument that the financial problems that are rife in European football are due in large part to the promotion-relegation system.

    Also, take a look at America’s second tier, and you get a good look at the type of support clubs would receive if they played in the second division. Add to this, that no television network is going to air the games (MLS can’t even get full national television support as it is). It would be financial genocide for the sport.


    • I disagree that it would be financial genocide for the sport in general. It’ll definitely hurt the hell out of those clubs that are relegated, but that’s part and parcel of the system. Eat or be eaten.

      As for your point about the Euro Financial issues being tied to promotion and releation…not sure I buy into all of that. promotion and relegation existed before money became a monster in the sport, and we had fewer Leeds situations “back in the day.” I blame the current problem on club owners treating teams like toys and thinking that the Blackburns and ManCitys of the world should eb Champions League contenders as soon as you splash a little green. Ambition is wonderful; lustfully and greedily demand success tomorrow drives clubs to the brink of extinction. I have no problem with other teams usurping the Big 4 clubs in England for the Champions League spots, but you have to understand Blackburn won’t get there by the end of this season, nor probably next season. City could, but their Jekyl-Hyde personna is making that look unrealistic this season. To conclude my ramble about this; Leeds and similar situations happen because clubs are hedging their bets on future earnings, and if the team capitulates they’re up a proverbial creek. Betting on future returns at a club like United or Barcelona is a safer bet than most but it’s still a bet that can have disasterous consequences. If teams invested their money in a smarter fashion these crimes against the clubs’ fans would be far more infrequent.


  16. Posted by kaya on 2011/01/06 at 12:13 PM

    I really would like to see promotion/relegation at some point, but I can’t help but think the bottom line is the universities, not as much the current lack of broad support for professional soccer. In europe, private soccer clubs develop youth sports, and here it’s the schools. I don’t see how you avoid direct competition with universities once you add lower league(s).


    • Posted by Russ on 2011/01/06 at 12:50 PM


      MLS is already directly challenging the university system with the home grown player rule/the growing number of pro academies at MLS clubs.

      Pro/Rel would have nothing to do with that, IMO.


      • Posted by kaya on 2011/01/06 at 3:23 PM

        It’s a challenge, but nothing like would be seen if you had the seamless relegation/promotion and semi-pro/pro leagues like they have in europe. There’s really no room for university athletics in their system and I think to get more or less “there” from “here”, you’d need to rethink the whole scholastic sports system for soccer… a pretty tall order.


        • I don’t think College Soccer has to disappear with Promotion and Relegation. Similarly, I don’t believe the Draft has to go away either. Will their importance be reduced? Probably.

          At the end of the day, it’s not up to MLS to keep college soccer afloat, especially if they’re not playing by the same rules as the league and all international leagues/competitions.

          I don’t want future soccer players being great in MLS or hasbeens who can barely read, but at the same time we can’t proclaim that football players and basketball players coming out of the NCAA are getting the education that we’re led to believe.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/01/07 at 8:08 AM

          Sorry to go off on a slight tangent, but to chip in regarding ‘the whole scholastic sports system for soccer’

          The way football works in England is like this (not 100% sure about the Continent but think it’s close when I think of the youth competitions I played in):

          If you’re good enough, you’ll play for your high school (11-16)
          The ‘town’ scouts watch these, and if you’re good enough, you’ll play for you town – eg Croydon
          The ‘county’ scouts watch the town games, and if you’re good enough, you’ll play for you county – eg Surrey

          Clubs will send their youth scouts to both town and county games to try and find the best youth players – and once recruited, they put pressure on the players not to play ‘school’ football, but to train with their qualified coaches exclusively (“inducements” are common). This generally happens before the player is 14, maaaybe 15. And I’ll be polite here too – the players that make it, aren’t academically gifted, and aren’t generally encouraged to pursue studying in their home environment. Basically what I am saying here is that football in England (Europe) is still a very very working class sport – so it’s not so much that “there’s really no room for university athletics in their system”, it’s more that they’re picked up way before uni age by a club (whether it be an EPL / League), and they’d never go to uni anyway. There is no draft system, so why would they go, there’s no need? The only reason that (NCAA) athletes go to uni in the US is because that is the route to the professional league, right? Obviously there are a couple of exceptions.

          So my points are: are clubs going to have these scouting networks to pick up players at 11-15? And perhaps more importantly, are the middle class soccer Mums going to let their kids go to an academy and potentially forgo uni?


        • Good comparison of the systems.

          Scouting networks are picking them up younger and younger these days. The youngest Academy Teams for MLS clubs are U-16s I believe, but don’t quote me. And with competition and $$$ becoming more fierce, they’re only going to get younger and younger.

          Middle Class Families are currently the ones that play the sport in the organized “higher” levels and thus become the crux of the issue. Personally I would let my son or daughter move abroad or sign with a club at a young age if they had the talent; my wife probably wouldn’t agree with me. But as you mention give it another generation and opinions might be changing.


  17. Posted by Russ on 2011/01/06 at 12:49 PM

    MLS would have to work backward to get to pro/rel in that the league would have to expand past the recommended 20 team first division limit suggested by FIFA to maybe that traditional North American 30 team mark and then cut the league in half to “simulate promotion/relegation” (to borrow a Don Garber term).

    MLS 1 – 15 teams
    MLS 2 – 15 teams

    2 up, 2 down every year.

    That’s the only realistic way I see this happening in our lifetimes.


    • That’s true… he said simulate promotion/relegation. To me that says he doesn’t want to put owners at risk of losing money and he doesn’t want MLS to be at risk of a decline in interest in new owners. In other words, he wants MLS1 and MLS2 but he want’s equal, if you will, leagues as far as financial and support goes.


  18. Posted by joe dirt on 2011/01/06 at 12:53 PM

    I’m a huge Pro-Reg fan. Its soccer democracy if you want to call it that rather than a cartel like the NFL or NBA. One huge problem that we have to figure out first though is how do we get public funding for more soccer specific stadiums if a franchise can get relegated. I think city councils will balk at that proposal. Putting up millions for a stadium only to see the team relegated. If we want pro-reg I think franchises need to start self funding stadiums but its tough to get that kind of financing without large attendence and tv revenue. I’m definately looking forward to rooting for a top flight team here in my home market of Atlanta, and I want us to get there thru pro/reg becasue it means more than just being gifted a franchise, but I think its a long way off unfortunately. Need more revenues before we get there.


    • Posted by Tim on 2011/01/06 at 2:43 PM

      Ho-ray a Pro/Rel fan that has realism.

      The sports league exec I mentioned above said this would be the biggest issue of Pro/Rel in his respective league.

      The only suggestions I could think of were the following:
      -Keep the cap and make it the same top to bottom
      -Make all teams have a minimum stadium size
      -Have second division games on TV as much as first division and maybe play their games on different nights to avoid competition.

      In the end keep the structure of MLS just have a pro/rel inserted into it. Given this will be an issue with the free the league people like Westervelt, it would allow the pro/rel to exist and maintain the overall survival of the league.


    • Excellent points and I completely agree that the system would have to overcome a lot of hurdles, which my small-ish brain didn’t digest and comment on in the post (thanks for bringing them to the table). In the end though those hurdles are scalable even if it’s not champaign, roses, and rainbows all the time, and the league would be better off for it.


    • I’m not sure privately funding stadiums is a big issue. I haven’t followed other MLS Clubs’ SSS searches and how they were financed, but I know Houston did their whole stadium deal done as privately funded. (or most of it… it was very confusing) The bigger problem is trying to get people to sponsor them knowing they are not even in the best league. I don’t think the soccer community is large enough or loyal/passionate enough for sponsors to still have a reason to sponsor.


    • Posted by Andy on 2011/01/10 at 3:20 AM

      I think a pro/rel system would make it more likely that D2 teams would get public funding for stadiums.

      Look at Rochester. The city of Rochester built a SSS for the Rochester Rhinos partly to make the club more appealing for MLS expansion. Well MLS expansion didn’t happen but if there was pro/rel Rochester would have a chance to get to top flight. The city built a SSS knowing chances to get to MLS were minimal.If there was pro/rel the city may have built a bigger SSS.

      There are other USL and NASL cities that have done stadium studies. A recent study was just completed in Baltimore for the club Crystal Palace Baltimore. The study looks at the viability of a smaller sized stadium that holds around 8k and a larger stadium. Crystal Palace Baltimore has no chance of getting into MLS yet the city of Baltimore is considering public funding for a SSS. If the club was in a pro/rel system they would be more likely to get a SSS.


  19. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/01/06 at 1:01 PM

    How would the draft system work (fairly) if you had a promotion – relegation model? Surely you’d have to move away from this and have clubs have their own academies and more talent scouts…

    I can say I have been on the receiving end of both promotion and relegation. When you go up, or stay up on the last day of the season, it is one of the best feelings you can have in your (‘sporting’) life. But, if you go down, wow, it’s a feeling I would even want my worst enemy to experience (well, OK, perhaps Millwall fans!).

    It would add a fantastic dynamic to football over here, BUT only when MLS is ready for it.


    • Thankfully MLS clubs are already moving towards their own academies and scouting networks.

      I don’t necessarilly know that the draft system would have to be abolished, but tweaked based on the teams going down and those coming up getting rewarded fairly.

      As for doing this when MLS is ready for it, I agree that we couldn’t simply draw a line in the sand and say in 2013 this is going to be the way that it is. Good point that I didn’t quite cover above.


  20. Posted by jeff on 2011/01/06 at 1:03 PM

    The league will continue to grow teams, but MLS will never sanction promotion/relegation. It just doesn’t make financial sense from an american point of view. They’ll always want to place financially viable teams in whatever market can sustain them. If you listen to the Don he always talks about the importance of conferences. I can see two 12-14 team conferences (east and west) playing a balanced schedule in conference, and then one additional game with each opponent from the other conference (alternating home/away every year). Once the league grows to 15-20 teams in each conference it’s a balanced schedule in conference, and you have to wait for the playoffs for NY v LA. Add a 3rd v 4th place game with champions league play on the line and you’ll add an extra game to the east v west thing. Remember the USA is freakin huge. England is the size of Louisiana, Germany the size of Montana, and France is smaller than texas. We are a BIG. ASS. COUNTRY.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/01/06 at 2:11 PM

      I guess the other thing is the amount of investment that is needed. Who would build a 20K+ SSS and then perhaps face the threat of relegation and 1/4 capacity?


    • “England is the size of Louisiana, Germany the size of Montana, and France is smaller than Texas.” Doesn’t that make them all smaller than Texas? Doesn’t that make them all smaller than Alaska? Doesn’t that make England and Germany smaller than California. If you combine England France and Germany, Alaska is still bigger by 555,595 squared km.


    • Posted by Andy on 2011/01/10 at 3:27 AM

      I’m not sure what being a big ass country has to do with it. Is it because of travel costs how long it would take to travel form the east to west coast?

      Lets say that half the clubs are on the east coast and that you play them once on their ground a year. That’s only 10 flights to east to west and vice versa. That’s still less travel than every other major sport.


  21. Posted by Matt on 2011/01/06 at 2:13 PM

    Promotion / Relegation is by far the best option for all of the reasons that you and others have listed above. I don’t see that MLS is interested though and surely their investors aren’t. They are a collective and don’t want the free market pressures. Shame for MLS and Americans as other leagues will always be more interesting because of that.

    Just imagine how much more interesting baseball would be with pro/rel. If you are a fan of a small-market team like the Pirates, it’s the same pathetic existence sub-.500 year after year in the current structure.


  22. Posted by DCU1996 on 2011/01/06 at 2:40 PM

    STOP at 24.


  23. Posted by nickw on 2011/01/06 at 4:17 PM

    Promotion-Relegation is a system that evolved when there was no tv and travel was much more limited promotion-relegation would not help small markets it would give them a team that never has a chance at the championship. We don’t have to be like Europe. I like soccer, but think American leagues are much better organized.


  24. Posted by dikranovich on 2011/01/06 at 5:31 PM

    people should start realizing that promotion/relegtion is not simply a european thing. it is not restricted to countries that are small either. brasil is slightly smaller than the usa and they have the system. i say let your major league basball execs do it their way.

    really when you get right down to it, the biggest impediment to the growth of soccer in america is the other sports being afraid of loosing “marketshares”. the people will have to rise up and be counted.


  25. Posted by Soccernst on 2011/01/06 at 7:07 PM

    In the English League System there are 23 levels, 140 leagues, 480 divisions, and around 7000 teams all connected via promotion/relegation. By contrast: MLS/MLS2 would be 2 levels, and 20-40 teams

    It seems to me that is a pretty huge difference.
    • Impact of relegation/promotions is lessened when you have 23 levels.
    • All teams in the English system started small/humble and some grew over time to achieve regional, national, and international followings. Meanwhile investing over the years in players and infrastructure. They grew into big businesses. In a future MLS/MLS2 will have all been created to make money for their owners now.

    It’s like trying to create the Prem and League Champ without the other 21 levels. Dont think it will work.


    • Sure it would be a rough go since we don’t have the other 21 levels, but England didn’t just sprout 7000 teams in 23 levels all at the same time. They had to start somewhere, somehow.

      Even if you don’t believe it would work in the end, do you believe it is the better of the two options for expanding the league and the sport in this country?


      • Posted by Soccernst on 2011/01/06 at 8:17 PM

        I’m not an expert on english football history but I do know the didn’t start with the a lucky and wealthy few in the Prem, then convince them to add the LC and the other 21 levels below with risk of moving down. I’d guess you start with many leagues and create a champions league with the promise of moving up. It makes all the difference.


        • Posted by Soccernst on 2011/01/06 at 8:27 PM

          Which could be interesting. Expand until there are enough tesms to make a league ABOVE current MLS instead of below. Best teams get promoted to the new league. Might get the owners listening. This is way different than bringing in a lower caliber below with the threat of joining them. Lowest common denominator is a current MLS franchise.


        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/01/06 at 11:46 PM

          these are some interesting points you are trying to make. the truth is that the priemere league was not always so. the priemere league used to be called the first division. now the first division is actually the third division. the championship division is the second division and of course the second division is really the forth division.

          i know this though, there was a boston red sox, before there was a durham bull.


        • Posted by Soccernst on 2011/01/07 at 9:50 AM

          Your point about the Prem… exactly. In a mature business environment you gotta go up not down. In 1988 10 clubs were looking to break away from the English football league and form a super league, and again in 1991. They were too big for the old system. So they made a bigger, richer and better level at the top with special benefits but continued connection to the original league via pro/rel.

          So for MLS… grow to 32 (ish), then spit to 16 with the top teams moving up. You can continue to add INTO THE BOTTOM LEVEL under similar circumstances that all teams entered the league. And when/if there are enough for a 3rd league above, then add it. I can’t see current owners agreeing to promotion and relegation without new clubs “paying the same dues they did” and more importantly making promotion/relegation an opportunity for a better return on their investment, vs a risk for loss.


        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/01/07 at 3:44 PM

          soccersf, that was one of the discussions recently was the fact that england was banned from european competition between 1985 and 1990 and now you are pointing out that england wanted to start a super league during this period. it all makes sense to me now.


        • Posted by Andy on 2011/01/10 at 3:31 AM

          yeah your exactly right. The english pyramid grew from the bottom up.

          If our pro/rel pyramid happens it would have to be top down, meaning it’s not going anywhere until the top league allows the bottom leagues a chance at a slice of the pie. That’s what is going to be the biggest hurdle for pro/rel in America. MLS was structured as a league to make MLS owners profit, not to create a soccer culture in this country.


  26. For me, the USSF getting involved with lower level leagues tells me that the USSF wants promotion and lower leagues while MLS keeps shying away from it. It’s too bad the USSF really does have the final say don’t they?


  27. Posted by Eliot on 2011/01/06 at 11:11 PM

    I like the idea of promotion/relegation – it could potentially bolster the lower tier leagues and help keep soccer democratized. Naysayers argue that relegation would probably cripple a club’s support structure – and that is of course possible – but promotion could breathe life into a new region and bring in support there.

    Before I’m written off as naive, let me state that I believe promotion/relegation in MLS is a solid decade or more away, if it ever comes to be at all. As it stands MLS is built on single entity business ownership groups that had to earn their way into the league – instituting pro/rel at this stage would imply a breach of contract between owners and the league. Not to mention NASL isn’t at the level where it can be a healthy league sitting below MLS for pro/rel. There are other reasons, of course, but IMO these remain the most prominent. I think I’m with Soccernst on this – pro/rel would more likely work if MLS expanded to a high enough number of clubs and then developed an ascended tier that current MLS clubs could be promoted to.

    On another note, I think MLS needs to ditch the century-old American idea of conferences. By all means, keep the playoffs – but move to a single table format and let the top 8 or 10 clubs advance in to a series of two-leg aggregate series leading either to MLS Cup or to the better-promoted US Open Cup. Furthermore, the major bane of the Big 4 is that each league goes through a season with teams competing for a single championship. It’s worked thus far, but MLS could and should build the prestige of the US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League. Even SuperLiga could be more significant. If nothing else it helps make the regular season more meaningful and gives fans of clubs competing in the top 8/10 more opportunity to watch their team compete for hardware. I like Michael Heinz’s idea above.


    • Posted by Andy on 2011/01/10 at 3:33 AM

      very interesting

      so maybe like an APL (American Premier League) as top tier, MLS as second.


  28. […] Garber Will Talk To Miami Ultras: This Is What He'll SaySB NationTelegraph.co.uk -The Shin Guardianall 100 news […]


  29. Posted by jb on 2011/01/07 at 11:13 AM

    I think pro/rel would be great for the fans, and would be an excellent way to give MLS a way to distinguish itself from the other major American sports. I tend to think the MLS has always tried too hard to make soccer more ‘Americanized’ (thru rules, marketing, etc) as opposed to building on the global culture that already exists.

    But the bottom line is that money talks. No way will MLS and their owners or prospective owners agree to pro/rel if they stand to lose millions if their team gets relegated. And I don’t blame them. If a way can be created so that it is ecomonically feasible to have pro/rel, then it becomes a realistic option. How I don’t know, but that’s the hurdle that must be jumped.

    I really liked the thought from the earlier post about eventually creating a league above MLS, a MLS Champions League or such once there are enough teams. Sure sounds better business-wise than the thought of being ‘relegated.’


    • Here’s my thing about Pro/Rel but using a league above the MLS, call it MLS Premier or MLS A:
      “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
      By any other name would smell as sweet”

      There’s still promotion and relegation, the media and $$$ will still follow the higher league. Essentially you and others are saying po-TAY-to and I’m saying po-TAH-to.


      • Posted by Soccernst on 2011/01/07 at 7:09 PM

        I flip flopped about thinking it was poTAYto poTAHto to expand up vs down.

        I just don’t think pro/rel will happen out of good will to “lesser clubs” joining below MLS. It will happen because some clubs get to be too big for MLS. It will be dollar driven. We’re the super 12 clubs and we’re starting our own league. We have the stadiums, we have the stars… let’s go. Then maybe, maybe it’s possible as part of a negotiated deal.


        • It’ll be interesting to see who makes it happen; the league or the clubs. For it to be the clubs as you say, MLS would have to remove the financial shackles that are currently in place. I can see this happening at some point when the league and teams are financially healthier, but I see promotion and relegation getting closer to reality first.


  30. Posted by s44 on 2011/01/07 at 11:33 AM

    I wouldn’t put it in jim’s caustic terms, but the pro-rel obsession of the American soccer fan is, I think, one of his less endearing articles of faith. Besides all the financial reasons that make it impossible here, it would give poor incentives for player development (“might as well play the kids” is *not* something bottom-table teams get to try)…


    • If MLS sugar-daddy adidas heard you say that, they might ramp up their marketing campaign of “Nothing is impossible.” I digress.

      Your point about the player development and getting to “bleed the youngins” is valid to an extent. I think the higher profile teams in England got away from this once the Premiership TV Deal hit its current staggering heights which has created that extreme gulf in money/class between the Prem and LC. GeorgeCross would be able to better attest to this: George – “Before there was that cavernous drop-off between the two, were more teams trotting out their youngsters near the end of the season on a more frequent basis?”


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/01/07 at 4:39 PM

        There is some weight to S44’s claim. Obviously it’s very difficult to prove, as there are mutliple variables.

        Yes, the money has added pressure to managers to produce today. Gone are the days when it took Alex Ferguson 7 seasons to win the title – that won’t happen again, I don’t think – there’s just too much pressure to stay in the Prem, so clubs would buy a proven player rather than give a youngster a chance (obviously there are exceptions).

        I feel that back in the day, Div1 clubs used to look in the lower divisions for talent rather than abroad. But I guess the world has become a smaller place with the internet and satellite TV, and the general information available. That together with the general inflated price for domestic talent has led the more frugal / financially responsible clubs to looks overseas.

        Yes, young players are breaking through now, but I also think to a certain extent that there’s been a full circle, compared to 1995-2006. Clubs realise that they cannot compete financially, and cannot bankroll such transfers, so there’s been a massive amount of investment in academies. Now, whether these players will be given a chance at the top clubs is another thing… but we are seeing players being loaned out to mid-tier EPL clubs. I personally think Arsenal’s blueprint is pretty sound in many ways. More academy products (not necessarily English) are getting into the 1st team / squad.


  31. […] with MLSWashington TimesRooney's brother signs with MLSWall Street JournalTelegraph.co.uk -The Shin Guardianall 101 news […]


  32. Posted by Dennis Justice on 2011/01/07 at 12:33 PM

    Um, FIFA caps how many teams can be in a top flight at 20. Try to go beyond that and see top leagues in UEFA revolt. So unless there IS a system of promotion and relegation, you can say no MLS teams to Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Birmingham, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, etc. The ONLY way to bring them in is to have pro/rel.

    Sepp Blatter directly told President Obama we needed pro/rel right in front of Garber, yet nobody presented any plan for eventual pro/rel at our World Cup bid presentation. Even South Africa and little Qatar has it. FIFA has made it painfully obvious future World Cup bids will depend on countries having pro/rel. Why does the American soccer media NEVER bring this up?

    MLS is not looking after soccer’s interest, but their own.

    Not only CAN pro/rel work, we have to have pro/rel work if soccer is really going to ever grow, and if we are to ever get a World Cup bid in the future.

    Oh, yeah, all you MLS defenders will tell us why it can’t work. Um, there were many millions who watched the World Cup. Only FIFTY THREE THOUSAND A WEEK watched MLS on FSC on average last year! The MLS Cup Final was outdone in the ratings by WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL! FACT! Americans love soccer but hate MLS. We know quality when we see it and it’s ain’t from Mediocre League Soccer.

    In Klingon culture, a boy is a man when can hold a knife. UFC makes more money than MLS and it was left for dead 10 years ago. Stop drinking the Kool-aid and stop defending the status quo.


    • Posted by FutbolAmerica on 2011/01/07 at 4:33 PM

      While I agree with most of what you say, the MLS on FSC numbers are slightly skewed. For those of us on direct TV we can only get FSC if we pay for a sports package which is more expensive than the MLS direct kick package, so I go with that instead since I don’t follow mlb, throwball, etc.


      • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/01/07 at 8:38 PM

        throwball, buddy, you cant be serious with that nonsense, i hope to god you aint born in america talking like that? the freaking nfl playoffs start tomorrow, please consider showing a little more respect.


    • Posted by John on 2011/01/07 at 4:52 PM

      I like it when someone has a point to make and yells at the other people to stop drinking the Kool-Aid.

      It always means that you are headed for a completely level headed and sane argument.

      Can we debate whether or not Klingon’s drink kool-aid.


  33. […] Where Does the MLS Go After lucky Number 20? This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← FIFA Ethics Committee Member Gives Up LikeBe the first to like this post. […]


  34. Posted by unicorn4711 on 2011/05/08 at 10:34 AM

    The pro rel guys are missing the reasons why the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL all don’t have such a system. Mainly, the US and Canada have common media market and it’s REALLY, really big. Way bigger than the media market in Germany, Spain, France, Italy, or England. With only 20 teams in the top flight in England, no one is too far away from a match. The league is relevant in the entire country. The TV revenues expects viewers from all over the country. Same deal for the other top European countries. In the US/Canada league, on the other hand, if we are only allowed to have 20 teams, you’ll see 3 in NYC, 2 in LA, and huge areas where people ask “WTF is the MLS?” Yeah, they’ll see ESPN highlights, but it won’t have local interest. The successful leagues in the US and Canada know that it is best to generate viewers from a large geographical base. We have some local-only sports like lacrosse. They can’t get the media coverage or TV deals to generate real revenue. The NFL, NBA, and the rest know that it’s worth it to give places like Green Bay and OKC teams in order to be relevant in as many possible. The MLS should follow this format and leave relegation to leagues in geographically smaller countries.

    Finally, how do the FIFA 20 team caps apply to MLS? It’s in TWO countries, the US and Canada. I say that gives us up to 40 teams. Okay, at least up to 20 per country.


  35. Posted by lestidwell646@gmail.com on 2012/06/27 at 2:04 AM

    Interesting article, with this I would like to talk about Charles Wang . Undoubtedly I got inspired by him when I read about him in a business magazine. He owns several companies and at the same time Wang is an active philanthropist working with such causes as the Make a Wish Foundation, Smile Train, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, among others. He also founded Charles B. Wang center in New York.


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