A study from Deloitte has backed promotion and relegation in the U.S. Soccer pyramid.
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The study — largely backed and organized by owners in the North American Soccer League (NASL) — states that 88 percent of soccer fans in the U.S. want to see promotion and relegation in the USA.
Of course, currently it is a closed system in North America with Major League Soccer the top-tier and no relegation from MLS possible and many would argue that it would be unsustainable to have a pure pyramid system in place in the USA and Canada.
With NASL struggling to challenge the U.S. and Canadian soccer authorities to open up the system, its status as second-tier has come under threat as clubs are losing out financially and with MLS’ growing partnership with the current third-tier United Soccer League (USL), it is difficult to see what the next step for U.S. Soccer is.
Hence why this report was commissioned by a company owned by Miami FC (a newly formed NASL club) owner Riccardo Silva, as NASL clubs are trying to draw attention to their plight with MLS continuing to dominate the North American club soccer scene.
The NASL has lost three teams after the 2016 season with both Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury joining the USL, plus Minnesota United joining MLS. Two other NASL clubs, Rayo OKC and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, are reportedly having money issues after the 2016 season.
Further issues for NASL include the third-tier USL filing for second-tier status (more on that from the USL president Jake Edwards here) with a decision set to be made shortly by U.S. Soccer on that, and although the report is heavily in favor of promotion and relegation it also states that there is plenty of work to be done for it to become a reality.
Below are the conclusions from Deloitte’s report on the future viability of pro/rel in the USA:
Open leagues may attract more fans to matches – evidence from other leagues demonstrates that the spectacle of promotion and relegation, and the churn of teams between divisions can actually be of net benefit to attendances across the club pyramid as a whole.
Increased attention and audiences will translate into increased revenue – with increased competition at all levels of the club game, and at both ends of a league, matchday and broadcast audiences may be increased. In so doing, this can deliver increase in matchday (e.g. ticket sales), broadcast (e.g. greater viewing figures leading to enhanced broadcast rights deals) and commercial (e.g. more attention delivering greater returns for commercial partners) revenue.
Promotion and relegation will motivate ownership at all levels – by enabling the ambition of owners further down the pyramid (through promotion), as well as by removing the safety net for owners (through relegation), this will motivate ownership to invest and/or develop their club so as to capitalise on the benefits of promotion or avoid the penalties of relegation.
Opening the pyramid will attract investment at all levels of the game – owners looking to develop a long term club project, growing a club from a grassroots organisation to a professional one, may be more motivated to become involved than would be the case with no prospect of promotion or entry to a professional league without a franchise fee payment.
Increased opportunities and competition would assist with player development at all levels – with more competition throughout the pyramid through the prospect of promotion and the threat of relegation, the intensity of competition for players would increase, as would the emphasis for clubs throughout the country to develop their coaching infrastructure.
Opening the leagues can be done in a way so as to mitigate any risks – effective implementation of governance regulations and minimum league standards would ensure that the financial security and sporting integrity of leagues was preserved whilst also allowing the leagues to benefit from the potential identified upsides of promotion and relegation.
As it stands however, US club soccer is not immediately ready for promotion and relegation – for the topic to move forward several key topics needs to be addressed including:
– Decisions made on the optimum number of teams in the existing leagues;
– The continued development and stability of a second tier competition to develop clubs capable in management and football terms of joining the first tier; and
– Consideration of the mechanism by which long term league investors have their “equity” protected, at least in the short term, from relegation.