For years, supporters and detractors have debated the pros and cons of promotion/relegation and the effect such a concept might have on the American game. With the American soccer pyramid currently composed by closed leagues, a closer alignment of the American structure to the world’s game has been a hotly contested subject.
However, those who desire to see the change applied to American soccer finally received concrete evidence to support their argument. And it comes from a proven and reliable source.
Early Monday morning, Deloitte, one of the “Big Four” accounting firms and the largest professional services network in the world (providing audit, tax, consulting, enterprise risk, and financial advisory services) released a summary of their study into American club soccer and an analysis of promotion relegation, requested by Silva International Investments (UK) Ltd, an owner of NASL club Miami FC.
The eight page document makes a number of observations of the benefits pro/rel would offer US soccer:
- Added interest throughout leagues and seasons due to the narratives it would provide
- A driver of increased attendance and matchday revenue as evidenced by former NASL and USL clubs that have entered MLS
- Compelling content for broadcasters as evidenced by overseas coverage of the promotion races in England and Italy
- Motivated ownership at all levels as they would be encouraged to invest in their teams in order to achieve promotion, maintain their position, or avoid relegation
- Improved player development which would assist in the US National Team’s efforts to better itself
- Better alignment with the world’s game, making the US a global player
- These would ultimately result in a structure for the long-term growth of the game in the US
The report did not shy away from the risks that the implementation of pro/rel might bring including the potential lower quality of the playing ability of promoted teams, their management, their stadiums, an increase in costs, and of course, a major sticking point in most debates, the potential of relegation being unfair to long-term investors of a league.
Among a number of conclusions in the summary was one that suggested the closed league system is more focused on minimizing loss instead of maximizing prospects and leaves them overly reliant on expansion fees.
The summary addresses other points and reaches a number of other conclusions, but in short it does reach one that should surprise no one who has followed this debate: US club soccer is not ready for the immediate implementation of promotion/relegation and a number of factors must be discussed before the subject can move forward to the next levels.
The one of most pertinence to fans of lower league teams is “the continued development and stability of a second tier competition to develop clubs capable in management and football terms of joining the first tier.” Despite the efforts the of the NASL at this point in time, this past season alone has seen the losses of three teams and leaves another pair with uncertain futures, indicating this is one issue that still remains.
The report would likely also be of interest to clubs like the New York Cosmos who have won three of the last four NASL titles, including the last two back to back.
However, one thing is for certain. It’ll still be some time before we see promotion/relegation implemented in the United States, if ever.