A Deloitte report has positive things to say about the potential for promotion and relegation in United States soccer, but the MLS is leery of its analysis.
Commissioned by Silva International Investments–a holding of Riccardo Silva, the owner of the NASL’s Miami FC–the Deloitte report makes the case that open leagues could benefit soccer in the United States. The report, a summary of which can be viewed here, says that a structure in which teams can be promoted or relegated to other leagues is not suitable immediately, but could enhance fan interest and increase league viability over the long haul.
According to the report, factors such as the number of teams in each league, development of lower tiers, and investment would need to be addressed before promotion and relegation is viable. However, some believe that these factors are manageable and that promotion and relegation should still be considered in North American soccer. More from The Telegraph:
Dan Jones, Head of the Sport Business Group at Deloitte, said of the report’s findings in a press release: “US soccer has a major opportunity to capitalise on the nation’s growing interest in soccer.
We believe the introduction of promotion and relegation into the existing league system could have numerous long-term benefits, including increased attendances, increased broadcast audiences, improved commercial revenue and a positive impact on both elite players and grassroots participants.
“The current closed system has served MLS well in its early years, but as it matures it is reaching member capacity, preventing further expansion. Other challenges facing the current structure include growing fan interest in overseas leagues such as the English Premier League and a stagnation in the number of players annually registered with US Youth Soccer.
While promotion and relegation are utilized by other countries for soccer, the model would face some questions in the United States. Despite the presence of farm systems and development leagues, no other major sports league follows such a model and the MLS is facing a unique set of circumstances. With expansion–and subsequent investments in new stadiums and other organizational necessities–on the way, the MLS is pushing itself into more markets and gaining a broader presence in cities that have hosted other major sports for decades.
Unsurprisingly, MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott says the league is not too enthused about the notion of promotion and relegation, as The Telegraph found in a follow-up story:
“I’ve read a summary of the report and I’ve only been able to give that a cursory review. I don’t know if there is more than the summary or not,” Abbott told The Telegraph via telephone. “It’s been written about a lot, the report was paid for by an NASL owner with a vested interest in promotion. I think we have to look at it through that lens and recognise that there’s some serious credibility questions with respect to the report itself.
“With respect to the substance, the report ignores the really fundamental aspect of what is required to continue to grow professional soccer in the United States and that is the investment of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars, in a wide range of programmes, infrastructure and initiatives, including player development, soccer-specific stadiums, marketing, the creation of high-quality broadcast and digital content to name just a few.
“And by narrowly focusing on the sole criteria of winning the championship in the second division, the NASL’s proposal does not propose or require any of this investment – and I think in fact would discourage it.
“It is simple common sense that a team that is promoted and faces the prospect of relegation the next year would not be prepared to invest the hundreds of millions of dollars required to build a stadium or the other areas needed to grow a strong fanbase.
Given the MLS’ path, and the fact that both the NASL and USL are going through periods of transition, the implementation of promotion and relegation is unlikely to occur in the United States any time soon. The report, however, does maintain the debate over the best course for United States soccer.
Photo of 2013 MLS All-Star Game by Brett Flanders via flickr.com.