Major League Soccer must really detest the idea of the promotion/relegation system to turn down a lucrative offer to expand their media rights. According to Sports Business Journal, MP & Silva were prepared to offer MLS $4 billion for expanded global media rights (more than four times what they already receive) with one stipulation: the implementation of promotion and relegation.
So of course, MLS continued to (1) deal with domestic broadcast partners directly rather than through brokers or agents, and (2) reject any notion of promotion or relegation. It’s understandable - with $150 million expansion fees for potential clubs to enter into Major League Soccer, the thought of relegation to USL or NASL would not serve as an incentive to invest.
But this topic of promotion and relegation keeps coming up. Certain fellows on Twitter have made it their life mission, it seems, to bring this to MLS, USL, NASL, and the like—almost to the point of where we say, “All right! We get it already!” Honestly, it’s been so much from certain corners that many hate the idea because it’s been so... much.
Why should Rapids supporters care?
Yet, these well-meaning but repetitive people aside, what would promotion/relegation mean for teams, say, like the Colorado Rapids. If pro/rel were in place in 2014 and 2015, they would have resoundingly dropped like a millstone into the USL (my pick for the second tier). Yet, if they had been in the USL in 2015, the magical season of 2016 would not have happened. The Rapids would have been deprived of Tim Howard’s arrival from Everton FC, along with Shkelzen Gashi, Kevin Doyle, and other European players.
Clearly, the appeal for MLS owners is the absence of relegation, and thus (again) a less incentive to enter MLS. But what about owners of teams already firmly entrenched in MLS? Owners such as, hypothetically speaking, Kroenke Sports Entertainment. How could they process pro/rel when it comes to the Rapids?
Ownership: Positively, if relegation stood as a firm possibility, they would invest more into the club in order to keep them above water. Money would come in to put the best people in place in the front office, and get the right people on the bus in regards to players and coaches.
Negatively, KSE would likely pull out of Colorado, leaving ownership in limbo. We would then a need new, committed ownership to seeing the Rapids not just make a profit but to flourish on the pitch and every other venue; or risk Colorado being “Chivas-ed” - folding due to no ownership group coming on board and few (as mentioned previously) wanting to come in if relegation is in play.
Fans/Supporters: I would like to believe that if the pro/rel system existed, Centennial 38 would still exist en force, whether the Rapids be in MLS, USL, NASL or whatever league. Supporters would still support, but what would it do with fringe fans who will flock only to winners or at least a winning culture? In American, this aspect would take a hit.
Clearly, many Rapids fans are against pro/rel because the last few years (except for 2016), ‘rel’ is the part in which the Rapids would fall. But if there were a shot that the possibility of relegation would bring in a committed involvement from ownership to keep that from happening, would that change our tune? This system would sure make the bottom part of the table more interesting to follow.
It comes down to this
MLS Commissioner Don Garber wants 28 teams in MLS by 2019, which will tie it with the largest top flight league in the world (a reader noted that Argentina already has 28). That would most certainly be a proverbial feather in the metaphorical hat, for sure. And for that to happen, parity must remain, and pro/rel must be rejected so as not to scare off potential suitors to MLS.
The sad part about it all, as the SBJ noted, certain teams already playing in USL and the NASL have few, if any, in-roads into MLS.
At the end of the day, I would like to see this system in place. But this will only work if the owners are bought in to the system and will stay committed to their teams. And that, my friends, is the big, fat ‘if’ of it all.
If (yes, if) the owners could see the value of this system, it could pique interest of fans and light a fire under certain ownership groups to win to stay afloat.
But don’t count on it happening anytime soon.
What think ye? Sound off in the comments section or on Twitter.