The above tweet from U.S. Soccer pundit, Taylor Twellman, provoked me to tackle a couple of subjects that often come up within U.S. Soccer circles- Promotion / Relegation and the "international calendar" which is the league schedule played by the Big 4 leagues in Europe (England, Spain, Germany, Italy). Both of these hot button topics tend to rear their ugly heads whenever an event like the Euro Championships or World Cup are in session.
Let's start with the "international calendar" that so many people clamor for. Let's be clear here, this is in actuality a "European calendar." Many leagues throughout the world are on different league calendars, contrary to that of the Big 4 Euro leagues. Oh, but that's right, the Eurosnobs here in the U.S. of A. live in their own little European bubble, where soccer begins and ends with whatever Europe does. Thus, they refuse to take into consideration a multitude of important factors that go into operating any league throughout the world. You know, minor business metrics such as attendance, TV exposure, sponsorship, competition within the sports landscape, etc. Those wacky little minor intricacies that don't actually coincide with the success of any business operation, right!?
I know when I ponder attending a soccer game, nothing gets me more riled up than the thought of sitting outside for 2.5 hours in January in cities such as: Boston, Chicago, Columbus, DC, Denver, Kansas City, Minnesota, Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, Salt Lake, and Toronto. I would bet a large pile of cash that many MLS fans would not attend games if they played during the winter. I am a massive soccer fan, but you will not catch me freezing my ass off at a game in one of those cities in January or February. No way, Jose. I know that I am not alone here. Attendance across the league would plummet!
TV Exposure and Competition Within the Sports Landscape
Does MLS really want to try to compete with the juggernaut that is American football? Given the current MLS calendar, MLS has the spotlight almost completely to itself for most of the season. Furthermore, with the Big 4 European leagues being off during the summer, MLS is able to attract more soccer eyeballs for themselves during its peak time. MLS should want to take advantage of that summer window where they only compete with Major League Baseball. More TV time slot availability is also a big coup. Plus, starting the season in August, MLS would get swallowed up by start of NFL and college football. And as the season progresses, the other Big 4 here in America (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA) will be in full-swing, making exposure for MLS even more complicated.
Can someone, anyone please explain why so many soccer folks are just dying to have MLS sync up with the Euro calendar? Because, I assure you that just because Europe does it, doesn't mean it is correct!
Promotion / Relegation
As far as I can comprehend, the promotion / relegation gimmick is just not realistically ever going to become a reality. There is no way in holy hell that the business owners who have paid exorbitant expansion fees to the tune of tens and hundreds of millions of dollars are going to take the chance of their franchise being relegated to a "second-tier" status. No way, no how! Sorry! And could you blame them?
Secondly, the current second-tier in the U.S. Soccer pyramid is the United Soccer League (USL), which consists of 33 teams across the United States and Canada. Over half of the teams in the league today are affiliated with MLS franchises. For instance, the New York Red Bulls have the "Baby Bulls" as they are nicknamed, in the league, which is a squad of young developing players within the New York Red Bulls system.
Allow me to throw out a potential, yet realistic possibility that could come about in a U.S. Soccer promotion / relegation situation... The "Baby Bulls" win the USL championship and are promoted to Major League Soccer. That same season, the New York Red Bulls fall flat and finish dead last in MLS, thus they get relegated to the USL. Do you actually think that the Red Bulls would go for such a "trade" for lack of a better term? The same situation could come about for the Timbers & Timbers 2, Sounders & Sounders 2, Toronto FC & Toronto FC 2, Philadelphia Union & Bethlehem Steel, the list goes on and on.
My question is this... Why is promotion / relegation so critical to the success of Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer? The only slightly reasonable response I have heard over the years, is that it would incentivize potential lame duck owners to "win or else" (I'm looking at you Stan Kroenke and the Colorado Rapids), which I grasp on the surface how that seems reasonable, but in all actuality I simply do not believe any MLS owner would be so uninterested in being competitive that they would sabotage their team to make an extra penny or two.
Ultimately, each markets fan base has the power to not attend games, which leads to a dip in revenue. No owner is so chintzy that they would operate their business for any extensive length of time in such a manner. If the fans don't show, sponsors will not invest. When sponsors pull advertising, revenue drops. When revenue drops the bank account feels it. The vicious cycle goes on and on from there. Every owner is well aware of this.
And let's be honest here, the fellas running professional sports franchises are generally Type A personalities, so they don't tend to do things half-assed. They have egos, pride, and bravado. They want to win! It just so happens that some ownership groups are more apt to succeed and win than others. Even the aforementioned Colorado Rapids have tried and tried to change things up within the front office and on the field, but to no avail in recent years.
I am certainly open to hearing the soccer worlds thoughts on this subject. I am open to having my mind changed, if someone out there can present a realistic case. Until that argument comes about, can we cut it out with the "promotion / relegation" talk, please?