MLS Expansion and Relegation: How to Make it Happen
Stephen Mangat brings you his take on one of North American Soccer’s most crucial and compelling debates, and describes an organizational scheme that may come to be one day…
Ah, the promotion/relegation debate. Is there a North American soccer topic that brings out greater numbers of idealists, pessimists, and pundits? And what of Major League Soccer’s inevitable expansion? While we likely know which franchise will be number 20 (New York 2), where will first division soccer arrive next? And while pro/rel and expansion may, at first glance, appear to be two separate issues, they’re actually bound up with one another. So the question persists: Will professional soccer in North America ever go the way of the rest of the world?
The MLS franchise system makes it unlikely that promotion/relegation will happen in the foreseeable future. Simply put, the franchise fee paid by owners (Montreal paid $40m most recently) gets them into MLS and, as the prevailing argument goes, why should a team from the North American Soccer League (NASL) be able to get into the first division without paying? In addition, the introduction of relegation means a greater amount of risk to MLS clubs, as a franchise’s value could (would?) plummet upon relegation.
Nonetheless, relegation should happen for a multitude of reasons. Let’s quickly review the simple, entertainment-based reasons for its implementation:
- It raises the stakes of all matches.
- It eliminates a majority of the dead rubber games at the end of the season.
- It provides for the chance (and perhaps more importantly, the hope) that any team from any town can move on up and play with the big boys.
Let’s judge by pictures. What looks more fun to you?
An unfair comparison, but you get my point.
So now that we’ve established that (a) we want promotion/relegation and (b) it’ll be difficult to convince risk-averse owners to get on board with it, how can we make it happen?
Answer: By decreasing the risk posed to current franchise owners and ensuring they are adequately compensated by any clubs that would be eligible for promotion.
Here’s our multi-step process:
1) Continue expansion beyond 20 to create an MLS 2. This expansion will be partly new teams (in interested markets) and partly existing teams that are “promoted” (much like, in recent years, Vancouver, Portland, Montreal, and Seattle). The franchise fee will be lower (let’s say $20m), but most of the cap rules, stadium expectations, etc. will remain the same. In effect, “MLS 2” is still MLS.
2) Build MLS 2 and announce future promotion/relegation. Once MLS 2 hits a critical mass of teams, fan base, and salary spending (a number decided upon and kept private by the league), the league announces that in 5/10/15 (?) years the worst team from each MLS conference will go to MLS 2. During its first year, MLS relegation will be based upon three or so years of results, so a fluke year won’t pose an immediate threat to a franchise. The same will hold true for MLS 2 promotion, which will be granted based upon some formula that considers three years of results/point values, trophies won, etc. Incrementally over time (and depending upon the number of clubs in MLS & MLS 2, respectively), up to three teams from each league will rise or fall each year.
3) Build MLS 3 the same way, lather, rinse, repeat. The same thing will then happen with MLS 3, with smaller cities paying a smaller franchise fee, yet still having to operate under the umbrella league’s rules. Like MLS 2, some of these lower-league clubs will be made from ones that now exist outside of MLS (much like Seattle Sounders, Montreal Impact, and Portland Timbers all trace their roots to non-MLS clubs). So, in addition to the short list below (listed in no particular order), check out a comprehensive list of the current NASL and USL Pro clubs to get an idea of where MLS 2 and MLS 3 clubs would (most likely) be located. Eventually, an MLS 8 club will be founded in Delaware, I’ll purchase and fund it a la Roman Abramovich (via my earnings from this blog, which will be an international must-read by that time), and we’ll win loads of trophies.
“MLS 2” possibilities:
- San Antonio
- Twin Cities, MN
- St. Louis
- Virginia Beach
- San Juan, PR
- Newark, Delaware (Yes we can!)
- SF Bay Area 2
- Quebec City
- San Diego
- N. Virginia
Author’s Note: I left out all Florida locations because no one in Florida watches sports save for college football.
Needless to say, it’s only a matter of time before some version of the aforementioned scenario happens. And if you, loyal reader, have your own thoughts and ideas, please let us know. We’d love to continue this conversation in the comments section or via email at OTFSoccer@gmail.com
– Follow future Newark United F.C. manager Stephen Mangat @smangat12
– Editor Scott Fenwick contributed to this article. Follow Scott @OnTheFire97