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American Intrigue: Promotion/Relegation

I was listening to the EPLTalk Podcast Weekend Review this morning on the way to work (and it probably isn’t said enough, thank you to Richard, Laurence, Kartik, and the Gaffer for this valuable resource!). Richard and Kartik discussed an impact game this weekend in the nPower Championship between Queens Park Rangers and Cardiff City, which was taken by QPR 2-1. And with all of the controversy surrounding Major League Soccer’s struggles to find identity in a crowded American sports scene, this concept of reward/punishment becomes an enigma to the fan who newly embraces European soccer.

adel taarabt 1772688c American Intrigue: Promotion/Relegation

QPR now leads the Championship by 5 points.

In the process of deciding to write this article, I actually came up with a number of unique, intriguing aspects of Premier League football that appeals to the American. Now I know that this is probably a rehash to an extent. I also know there are a few other 2010 WC Babies out there, if I may have license to coin this term for those of us who developed our love for the game based on a few weeks this summer.  So for those of you who have long been fans of soccer universe, I ask that you indulge me with this. For my fellow newbs, I hope this sparks your interest.

In America, we don’t exactly have promotion or relegation in our sports world. The closest we come to this is in the individual sports. In professional golf, you have to complete a grueling tournament called the Q-School to gain your Tour Card. If you don’t finish well enough, you can still play your way onto the Tour through the developmental Nationwide Tour. After you gain your card, you gain a year’s exemption to the tour, just like a promotion in Euro soccer. To remain, you have to complete the season in the Top 125 cash earners to keep your card. Otherwise, it’s back to the Q-School, lesser tours, and/or fighting for exemptions into a few PGA events, depending upon your clout within the golf world.

In professional team sports, this promotion/relegation function truly is foreign to us. In “amateur” college sports (you can decide the accuracy of that label), a school may be able to push their way towards Division I-A status, but that’s more because of school size, scholarships, and money. One example of this was Marshall University, a successful I-AA school that made the transition up in 1997 when the vaunted Randy Moss was catching everything within his reach.

At this point in my sports fanaticism, I wish the United States had a promotion/relegation history. Let’s take Major League Baseball for example, wouldn’t it be great to see teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals fight their way back from the minors? As a fan of those teams, wouldn’t you be that much more impressed if they were able to build their youth ranks, and have them succeed at a lower level?

The most endearing aspect to the nPower Championship is that these teams are experiencing what it means to win. One of the toughest aspects of being a lesser team in American sports is learning how to secure victory. It would be true to point out that most sports in the United States have a college feeder system, where the best players often experience victory. But oftentimes it can be more about a coach, general manager, ownership, and even the fan base bringing forth the “winning attitude,” or the latest cliché term for this aspect, “swagger,” to the organization. If a team like the Memphis Grizzlies earned their way back to the NBA from relegation, what would that do for confidence within the organization?

Promotion and relegation aren’t perfect. Aside from Blackburn Rovers, no promoted team has subsequently won a Premier League title (Blackburn was promoted into the inaugural group of EPL clubs from the 2nd Division and won in 1995). In most European leagues, there are one or two dominant juggernauts who rarely can be derailed. And many times in England, the promoted teams find it difficult to maintain their membership in the Premier League past the first season. In the current campaign, all three promoted teams are mid-table, which gives hope for their ability to persist. For any of them to remain in contention for so much as a UEFA slot in the table would be considered an historic accomplishment. Yet you look at the table, and all three of the clubs are a point out of the 7th place, which would qualify them for the Europa League.

As an American, promotion and relegation have become a fascination for me. It’s now something that I’d love to see incorporated into our sporting culture, though that’s not likely with the corporate nature of the major leagues. It’s one of the many intriguing facets to the Premier League (and other leagues around Europe) that make it standout in my mind and probably yours. In the coming weeks, I’ll touch on a few more of these.

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46 Responses to American Intrigue: Promotion/Relegation

  1. Chris McQuade says:

    2 (small things) 1. Football didn’t begin in 1992 – check derby and ‘brian clough’ to see about promotion.

    2. Technically do players themselves not have promotion and relegation? For instance in the MLB you can be ‘sent to the minors’ if you have enough options left/pass waivers. Worked for Cliff Lee and Clay Bucholz!

    • Earl Reed says:

      I stuck to the Premier League’s history. I’m not too familiar with the earlier years, but researching it would probably be worth the effort in the long run.

      As for your second point, this is true, we have minor leagues. It’s a form of promotion and relegation. There’s something more appealing to me about having a whole organization be penalized for poor play or management. In most of our pro leagues, there is are broad television revenues that are split among all teams. A team like the Pirates can lowball their salary and take all that revenue and pocket it without fear of missing out next season. It would be great to see a team pay for their greed.

    • Dave C says:

      I don’t think the “individual” promotion/relegation of players being sent to the minors is comparable to genuine promotion/relegation. Being sent to the minors is more comparable to being sent to the reserves.

  2. DJ Allen says:

    I dislike baseball, so I won’t comment on that. As for the NFL, promotion and relegation wouldn’t work. The way things work is actually perfect for that league, so it wouldn’t be a great fit.

    The NBA and NHL? I could see this working. However, there is one major roadblock sitting in front of anyone embracing this (which I’ve just figured out in the last week or so): regional divisions.

    Let’s look at the NBA. Let’s say the Minnesota Timberwolves have a terrible season and get relegated to the D-League. Now, from the D-League, let’s assume that the replacement through promotion for them is the Maine Red Claws. That would be replacing a Midwestern team with an Eastern team. Does the league realign for regional connections again, then, or does Maine simply play outside its region?

    I’m all for promotion and relegation in MLS. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a Man U supporter, Celtic supporter, and I’ve got a line on Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC, and DC United in MLS. I’m a soccer fan and I would love MLS to go into this with a promotion/relegation system. Kartik mentioned on the last podcast I heard that the NASL and MLS would be working towards “something exciting.” Hopefully that is what they’re working on.

    Good article!

    • Crayton says:

      For the NBA or NHL you could just have an East division of 8 and a West division of 8. Promote/Relegate the same number of teams from each division/region.

    • Yorkie says:

      I’m interested in hearing what Kartik mentioned in the podcast. Do you know which one it was so I could take a listen?

  3. john says:

    I’m totally against it.

    Maybe I wouldn’t be so against if you were able to get the lower division games on TV (and maybe in England you can I don’t know).

    Here’s the thing…..say I’m a New York Mets fan. I no longer live in New York so I can only go to select games (when they come to Cincy, Pittsburgh etc). Now say they get relegated. The team that I’ve rooted for years I can no longer watch and prehaps not even listen to on the radio.

    Being completely honest when I first started watching EPL, I had that in mind. I don’t want to root for a bottom dweller team. Typically I’ll root for someone that just got called up from the nPower championship (this season blackpool) but my team is arsenal. Now if they go down for some reason, i’ll still follow and root for them but I wanna be able to watch my teams on TV.

    Another thing I dislike to an extent is lack of playoffs. On one hand, the fact that the reg season represents 38 games and everyone plays an equal schedule, that has its advantages. But the problem is the most talented team will ALWAYS win this way whereas if you have playoffs, you’ll still have the most talented team winning most of the time but you’ll get surprises here and there as well. I think thats what everyone thats not a United or Chelsea fan would want.

    I dont think lack of relegation is MLS problem. Its just lack of talent.

    • patrick says:

      Playoffs? The MLS just expanded to 10 teams… Does a mid table team really deserve to walk home with the trophy? NO. MLS has its bright points, no clear run away clubs like the top four in the PL, but the play is so hit or miss. But I watched the majority of Philadelphia Union matches this year, and they played a nice high energy attacking style and the new fanbase was really energized. So don’t write them off, just understand that its a mid level league.

      Now in England,playoffs in the lower divisions does lend a great deal of excitement. Especially when going up to the PL is on the line. The top two always go up, and the next four battle it out. And normally they are a very balanced pool.

      I think it was discussed here before for a similar type playoff for the last champions league spot… something like 3, 4, 5 & 6 battle it out for the automatic spot and the qualifying spot. It will never happen as EUFA would have to sign off but an interesting idea nonetheless.

      as for relegation in American sports… Sure would make August/ September baseball more exciting if the Mets are playing the Pirates to stay up in a three game series, but the way American sports break up sports into divisions would make it difficult. Toledo Mudhens go up and the Mets go down… owners would never go for it.

      • AlexSWill says:

        10 teams? That’s a joke right? You surely mean 20. The league FORMED with ten teams. MLS ended the year with 16 and will start next with 18. 2012 will definitely have 19, MAYBE 20. No doubt 20 by 2013.

    • Dave C says:

      @ John
      To address a few of your points:
      Firstly, you’re right that it sucks that if you get relegated, you can’t see your team on TV as easily (this is still true to a great extent in England – Sky Sports does show a couple of lower division games per week, but nowhere near to the extent that you see EPL games. If you’re a fan of a championship side, you’re lucky to see them on TV more than once or twice a year). Radio coverage is always good though, so you wouldn’t have to worry about that.

      However, the flipside of this is that if you’re a fan of a lower league side, you can dream of being promoted and getting on TV more often. For the lower sides, especially in relatively provincial areas, you can’t underestimate the appeal of simply getting to see your side on TV. That’s a great incentive.

      Secondly, your point about not being able to go and watch the NY Mets if they were to be hypothetically relegated isn’t right. Sure, you might not be able to go see them play against Cincinatti or Pittsburgh. But you could still go and see their away games (in a lower division) against Dayton, Youngtown, Altoona etc.

      As for disliking the playoffs, I can’t help you. Of course the 38 game season guarantees that the most talented (or consistent) team will win – that’s the whole point. We want the best team to win!

    • Crayton says:

      If the Mets get relegated, you could see them play against Columbus or Louisville. You would probably still see them play the often lowly Pirates too.

  4. Brandon says:

    I always have found that to be one of the best aspects about the EPL. Any team does have the chance to make it to the top. I just don’t think that will catch on in America because of the money aspect. No owner would want to run the risk of their team being relegated. I can’t say that I blame them. If you take the MLS for instance the league is still forming and building up to the magical number of 20 teams. It would be hard to attract investors if there was a risk their team could be relegated to a league with not as much exposure. Maybe once the MLS gets to full capacity and the USL issues get worked out it may be an option.

    I just can’t see the NFL, MLB, or NBA jumping on board. I don’t like to say never, but it is highly unlikely.

  5. StephenLucey says:

    While a nice thought, relegation/promotion isn’t really a possibility in the US. The Premier League occupies the penthouse suite of the English football hotel. With nearly 1,000 teams within the geographical range of the American Mid-Atlantic coast, dropping in and out of a lower or higher division presents few logistical challenges.

    As an American, and a relative soccer neophyte, I have asked the same questions. While we have the overall population to more than support a multi-tiered system, we will most certainly always lack the interest in soccer that pervades England.

    I suggest that we enjoy what we have, and be very considered when improving it.

  6. Steven says:

    It would never, ever work in MLB or the NHL. The minor league teams are affiliated with the big league clubs, and minor league teams don’t play in large enough markets to support major league teams. The NFL doesn’t have a deep enough talent pool to make it work, and you can’t have cities like Hartford building 65,000 seat stadiums. It wouldn’t work in the NBA because owners of losing teams would lose boatloads of money because NBA operating expenses are much higher than those in soccer.

    Promotion/relegation in America would be fun and everything, but it doesn’t work from an economical standpoint.

  7. AlexSWill says:

    Glad to see you tackle this as it is certainly an intriguing notion.

    One aspect you don’t touch upon here is the business aspect of the sport.

    To put it simply: relegation would destroy the MLS. What do you think happens when the newly expanded Union finishes in the bottom three (like this year) and gets relegated? How about the $77 million the state and city spent to build their new stadium? What government would invest in these clubs who have the potentiality (even if there was temporary protections) to get relegated to the unbelievably obscure USSF-D2? In a sport fighting to be the 4th option in the country? Funding would shut off faster than you could believe.

    Fans don’t leave teams after relegation in Europe because it’s a part of who they are. (Like the Sox in my neck of the woods) This league isn’t even 20 years old, it’s barely apart of it’s current fans – but it’s getting there. And one day it may be ready for rel/pro system, but, I really hope it’s after the 50 year anniversary. More important than entertaining football per the European model, is long term survival, and with states and cities (and people!) ready to invest, lets not throw this into the system.

    However, I will say again, I’m glad we’re having the conversation. It means people are ready for the next step. I’m just not sure that’s it!

  8. Napkin Jones says:

    Back in June the Wall Street Journal had an interesting article on how NCAA football could adopt the promotion/relegation system:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704009804575308782794344398.html

    Would like to see it myself some day, especially the MLS, but I couldn’t see league owners approving something like this.

  9. eplnfl says:

    Good effort here and I look forward to more.

    American professional sports are supported by tv money. The networks work based on television markets. For instance, if a NY or LA team goes down in a relegation system the networks would have a stroke. So while promotion/relegation has it’s merits in the European markets it is a non-starter here in the US. Just think what would happen to the Chicago Cubs in a relegation system ! LOL!

  10. Robert Hay says:

    First, I want to echo the praise of the EPL Talk, I love listening to it on my way to work.

    You definitely should check out the MLS Talk posts over the past few weeks to see how high the passion runs for promotion/regulation system to be adapted. There is a definite segment of American soccer fans that want the game to become more European.

    Good analysis of the challenges though, well written article.

    • Robert Hay says:

      And by “you” I mean EPL Talk readers who may not normally read MLS Talk.

      And by listening to EPL Talk I mean the podcast.

      • Earl Reed says:

        Too bad this isn’t Ligue 1 Talk. Then the second person singular and plural would be sufficiently different!

        Thanks for your feedback, and I agree, American EPL fans should read MLS Talk and support our domestic league.

  11. Cory says:

    I think the reason this argument crops up more and more is because some MLS fans, such as myself, want to see a greater influence placed upon the regular season. It’s a great accomplishment for a team to have the best record in the MLS and last all 30-some-odd matches in great form. I think the fact that the playoffs follow afterward cheapens the regular season. When LA won the ‘Supporters Shield’ I’m sure LA fans were happy, scrapped those thoughts aside instantly, and then were focused on the playoffs. I also think that competition, especially from the fear of not staying up in the top division, does ask more of teams and pushes their efforts to the maximum. I think before you can have promotion/relegation you’ve got to have a thriving, healthy second division. Maybe the NASL is aiming in that direction – I really hope so.

  12. David says:

    The biggest day in sports here in the US is by far the Super Bowl- which is the culmination of a playoff. In some cases, the playoffs in sports garner more attention than the regular season unless you’re a diehard fan of the sport.

    Another fact is that in the US, we use the franchise system- the leagues decide what cities to go into and who are the owners of said teams; you can’t just start a team up and petition to get into the league. If they ever decide to create a European Super League, they’ll probably go that route because the money paid for the franchises would be tremendous- it would also necessitate no promotion/relegation to protect the owner’s investments.

  13. Lloyd says:

    “…Yet you look at the table, and all three of the clubs are a point out of the 7th place, which would qualify them for the Europa League.”

    Not necessarily…
    Spots 1-3 = qualification into the groups stages of Uefa Champions League
    Spot 4 = a place in the qualification stage of Champions League
    Spot 5 = Europa League Qualification
    Carling Cup Winner = Europa League Qualification
    (If Carling Cup Winner also finishes in top 4 then the team in spot 6 Qualifies for Europa League tournament)
    FA Cup Winner = Europa League Qualification
    (If FA Cup Winner also finishes in top 4 then the RUNNER UP of the FA Cup Final qualifies for Europa League Tournament)
    (IF FA Cup Runner Up finishes in Top 5 (yes 5) then the team who finishes in spot 7 gets the nod for Europa League)
    *This year was an anomaly with respect to the 7th place team qualifying for Europa League. Portsmouth (last years FA Cup runners up) had gone into administration and due to the rules no team in administration can compete in European competition in the following year. Hence Liverpool were granted a spot in the Europa League Qualification)

    Hopefully that clears up any confusion of this matter

    Here’s a link that verifies my comments
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_in_England#Qualification_for_European_competitions

  14. Matt says:

    I’d like to add another perspective to this – I’m a Brit who moved to the US a few years ago.

    I love the promotion/relegation system. As a QPR fan, I’ve seen 2 relegations and 1 promotion in the past 20 years or so, but there are teams that have gone up and down divisions far more frequently than this.

    However, there are also consequences to this system. The promotion/relegation system is very heavily reward-based, where the best get better. As the article mentioned, the only team which has been promoted and subsequently won the title in the past 20 years is Blackburn Rovers, who had the help of a multi-millionaire who bankrolled a team of expensive players in order to meet this goal.

    But it goes further than that. In the past 10 years, the top 4 of the EPL has been dominated by the same 4 teams: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. The majority of the teams in the EPL spend most of the season trying to stay in the EPL, rather than challenging for the title. This does tend to make the league somewhat stale for “mid table” teams.

    The US system on the other hand, focuses on the draft. This is a relatively new concept to me, but I love this. I love the idea that the leagues are constantly striving for equality, effectively it means that every single season is guaranteed to throw up some unexpected surprise teams. The one thing I’m completely against is the idea of teams “tanking” for better draft picks, but unfortunately I can’t see an easy way of getting around this. Of all the sports, I think Basketball has got closest to a working solution for this with the lottery…

    In summary, there are benefits to both systems – I think the system which is in place at the moment is the right one for the US, but the fantastic thing is that there is the opportunity available to look at other leagues and sports globally if you want this type of emotion in your diet!

    • David says:

      One way that has been bandied about by some to keep teams from tanking to improve their draft positions is to give the first few picks to the teams with the best record that didn’t make the playoffs as an incentive- but then after that base it on the worst records (so the worst team would still get a decent draft pick- sort of like with the NBA lottery, the worst team by record can do no worse than the 4th pick).

    • joboo says:

      Exactly. The thing everyone who supports pro/rel forgets, or ignores, is that it encourages mediocrity. Teams like Fulham, Everton, and Aston Villa are simply trying to remain mid-table, beat their main rival(s), and hope to every now and again make it into the Europa League.

      At least teams tanking to get a better draft pick are trying to improve themselves, albeit in a strange way. With pro/rel teams are forced to choose mid-table mediocrity or to spend ridiculous sums to make the top.

  15. sucka99 says:

    Given the business of sports in America, promotion and relegation will never work as no sane businessman would be willing to risk seeing their incredible capital investments (stadium, personnel, etc). potentially go to waste because the team sucked.

    Plus given the strong position of the NCAA as the de-facto farm system for basketball and football (and to an extent baseball, hockey and soccer) and their business model of free labor, there’s no way a second division would even be viable. Baseball’s minor leagues are a collection of regional leagues. the NBA DL barely attracts crowds and soccer’s second division has been a slot machine of stability. Even when the NFL had competition from rival leagues the teams would fold and re-appear every offseason.

    It’s just not part of our culture.

  16. Jason says:

    Being entrenched in the soccer culture that we are in here. We can understand the merits of a Pro/Rel system. But this is the America and for the culture at large it just won’t work. Sports in this country face competiton from other sports and a large geographical nation which England does not have. In theory, if a team gets relegated in a particular city, they risk losing the fans to another team in that city that is playing a different sport and that is winning. So they will get on their bandwagon. There is a big bandwagon mentality around here in the USA. I live in Washington DC, the Washington Capitals NHL hockey team barely filled half there arena a few years ago. (I was of those people). When they started becoming good, they sold out the place every game.

  17. Joe says:

    The idea of promotion/relegation in the US is a lovely pipe dream, but nowhere near feasible in the short term. MLS teams that got relegated would simply fall apart – they don’t have the kind of long-term fan support that lower-tier teams in England have. Teams would lose over half of their attendance overnight, and there goes the franchise.

  18. Rob G says:

    Interesting Article, I also English and a QPR fan which must be how I found this article.

    1. In the Championship (England’s second tier soccer league) the first two teams go up automatically, then the 3rd-6th places play in a playoff (3rd plays 6th over two legs, 4th plays 5th over two legs and then the winners play a single match at Wembley).

    This itself is very brutal as often the team that ends the season on the best form often has a very good chance of winning this. Promotion is estimated at being worth £90,000,000 (roughly $140,000,000) to a football club so some would argue it should be the top three clubs that should go up (Teams that have been most consistent over the course of the season). Though as a Neutral fan the Playoff’s in the English leagues are great to watch.

    2. The Small clubs have a local determined and loyal following, and the big clubs often attract what in england is known as a “Glory Hunter” someone that just supports a team because its doing well. This in England is slightly frowned upon, and always brings out piss taking from fellow fans! But in the US its more acceptable to support the best team/guy or support or appreciate many teams. (I believe, and mean no offence by this statement – I could be wrong).

    3. As stated before, the geography of the US and the England is completely different. For it to work in the US you would have to have lots and lots of leagues and already MLS is one league. Smaller clubs most probably wouldn’t have the funds to travel from say California to New Jersey.

    4. I hear soccer has a huge huge following amongst kids in the US, which would make sense as its essentially a very easy game to play, especially compared with other US sports which require more equipment. However as I understand it this doesn’t translate into the adult game, professional or semi-professional, so I doubt Promotion or Relegation would work until more teams started up and more importantly leagues are established. I guess come a certain point the MLS will get to a size where they have enough teams.

    Bit of a long post, and probably not very well written but thought I’d join in the debate!

    • Joe says:

      I completely agree with your point #4. As a country, we just don’t have the breadth and quality of soccer programs to even come close to a proper promotion/relegation system at this point. Teams who are currently in the top flight (MLS) are just barely starting to turn heads and gain some loyal supporters, with a few exceptions (Sounders and Timbers come to mind). If any team besides those few exceptions were to be relegated to the second division, the support would die and so would the team. We just aren’t ready, and probably won’t be for at least another generation.

  19. Rob G says:

    Interesting Article, I’m also English and a QPR fan which must be how I found this article.

    1. In the Championship (England’s second tier soccer league) the first two teams go up automatically, then the 3rd-6th places play in a playoff (3rd plays 6th over two legs, 4th plays 5th over two legs and then the winners play a single match at Wembley).

    This itself is very brutal as often the team that ends the season on the best form often has a very good chance of winning this. Promotion is estimated at being worth £90,000,000 (roughly $140,000,000) to a football club so some would argue it should be the top three clubs that should go up (Teams that have been most consistent over the course of the season). Though as a Neutral fan the Playoff’s in the English leagues are great to watch.

    2. The Small clubs have a local determined and loyal following, and the big clubs often attract what in england is known as a “Glory Hunter” someone that just supports a team because its doing well. This in England is slightly frowned upon, and always brings out piss taking from fellow fans! But in the US its more acceptable to support the best team/guy or support or appreciate many teams. (I believe, and mean no offence by this statement – I could be wrong).

    3. As stated before, the geography of the US and the England is completely different. For it to work in the US you would have to have lots and lots of leagues and already MLS is one league. Smaller clubs most probably wouldn’t have the funds to travel from say California to New Jersey.

    4. I hear soccer has a huge huge following amongst kids in the US, which would make sense as its essentially a very easy game to play, especially compared with other US sports which require more equipment. However as I understand it this doesn’t translate into the adult game, professional or semi-professional, so I doubt Promotion or Relegation would work until more teams started up and more importantly leagues are established. I guess come a certain point the MLS will get to a size where they have enough teams.

    Bit of a long post, and probably not very well written but thought I’d join in the debate!

  20. Adam says:

    It would obviously never happen because of financial reasons, but even more it shouldn’t happen because of competitive reason.

    The major European soccer leagues need the promotion/relegation system because the fact of the matter is most teams have no chance at winning a their top leagues championship. The promotion/relegation battle gives smaller teams something to play for.

    A mid-table, small club such as Fulham, Stoke, or Birmingham is never going to win a Premier League title. Finances of the league just don’t allow this to happen. As bad as Kansas City is in the MLB, Memphis is in the NBA, or Cleveland in the NFL they all have a fair chance of obtaining players, making the playoffs, and thus winning a title. They don’t because they are all horribly run organizations, but they have the opportunity to turn it around some day.

    The Premier League has had 4 champions since it was created. In that same span La Liga and Serie A both had 5. The NBA had 7, NFL had 13, and MLB had 11. There is more competitive balance in American pro sports.

    The Bundesliga is the most American-like run league. With their finances reigned in regard to players pay and shared revenues it is much like Us leagues. They have promotion/relegation, but just about every side has a chance at the title. They’ve had 6 champions since ’92, but even generally it is a much more competitive league.

    Promotion/relegation works in Europe because of Champions League/Europa League, which means you don’t have to win your league to have a great season. Spurs had an amazing season last year, and were 16 points away from winning the league. Fulham finished 12th, but had the great Europa run. There is no equivalent in the US where finishing 4th or 12th is just as good as winning the league for certain teams.

    American sports fans will never attend games if their teams aren’t competing against major league teams on the major league stage. There are just too many other sports to attend, as most cities have 2, 3, 4, or even 5 pro sports franchises. From a financial and competitive standpoint the promotion/relegation system will never happen and it shouldn’t happen.

    • Dave C says:

      Just a few thoughts/counterpoints.

      Firstly, I don’t think it’s true to say that the European leagues need pro/rel only a handful of teams are actually competing for the league title. I can’t speak of other nations, but certainly in England the pro/rel system has been around for MUCH longer than the apparent stale situation at the top. Back in the day, the league was much more open, and it wasn’t just the usual big 2 or 3 teams winning the league, but they still had relegation.

      I don’t think relegation is primarily to give the teams at the bottom end of the EPL something to play for. I think it’s more a case of giving the 72 professional clubs below the premier league (and the dozens of semi-pro teams beneath them) something to play for – it’s simply a function of the fact that we have so many teams in England, and without a route to the top, most of them would just fold.

      It’s interesting that you hold up the Bundesliga as an example of a much more open and competetive league, even though it’s only had 6 winners since 1992 (compared to five in the EPL). Doesn’t sound much more open to me. And I’m guessing the vast majority of league titles in those years were won by Bayern Munich. I do agree their league seems a lot more financially sustainable however.

      With regards to the paragraph that ends “There is no equivalent in the US where finishing 4th or 12th is just as good as winning the league for certain teams“:

      Firstly, I would disagree that finishing 4th or 12th is just as good as winning the league for certain teams. Spurs fans would much rather have finished first than 4th, likewise for Fulham.

      Secondly, there are situations in US sports where you don’t need to have won the championship to be considered to have had a great season. You can simply finish with a great regular season record, but flame out in the play-offs. Or you can have a mediocre regular season record, but have a good run in the play-offs. Or you can win any one of the endless division titles, penants, American league/national league championships, conference titles, etc etc, without winning the actual superbowl/world series etc.

      • joboo says:

        In 2009-10 the New England Patriots went undefeated in the regular season, but lost the Super Bowl. Their season was, and is, seen as a failure.

        You cannot have a good regular season and flame out in the playoffs and have it considered a good season unless your team hasn’t made the playoffs in ~20 years, e.g. Pittsburgh Pirates. Ask San Jose Sharks fans what they think of their five division championships, one President’s Trophy, and zero Stanley Cup Finals appearances.

      • James says:

        I agree with Joboo. Winning the Europa League, or reaching the final is a much greater accomplishment that winning an American pennant or playoff spot. American sports fans are much less loyal and patient than European sports fans. This is coming from an American that has completely gone away from the American sports world onto the shining light of European football.

  21. Jleau says:

    Nice post, please keep it up.

    I enjoy prom/reg but believe it hurts the English game more than it helps. Fighting to move up or stay up is a source of a lot of team financial difficulties. Also, it doesn’t seem to promote player development. That’s done in the reserve leagues and academies and they don’t seem to wor well either.

    I actually think the baseball system works best. I hope that is where MLS and the NASL are headed. The US needs longterm player development and that is probably the best way to get it.

  22. Patrick says:

    As an American Norwich City supporter, I can attest to the fun of rooting for a team in the lower divisions. I was beside myself when Norwich made it to the old 1st Division final in 2002. My buddy and I drove 2 hours from college to my parents house since they had FSC and we didn’t. I was devastated when they lost on penalties.

    But, they won the Championship in 2004 and spent a year in the EPL including a memorable 2-1 win over Manchester United. They enter the last day of the season needing a win to stay up. FSC showed the match. They lost 6-0 to Fulham and were back down in the Championship.

    They’re in playoff position currently in the Championship. Maybe, I’ll get lucky and will be able to root for my side in the EPL again next year.

    This model could work with American soccer. The MLS has the NASL and it would fun to see a 20 team MLS league with no divisions and no playoffs. I think it would add to the legitimacy of the MLS

  23. Lars says:

    I hate how poorly managed teams in US sports get “rewarded” with the rights to the best college players and revenue sharing.

    • Dave C says:

      I’m no expert on US sports, but I would like to know what measures are in place to stop a team deliberately doing badly (once it becomes clear that they’re not champion-contenders) in order to get the best picks the following year?

      • David says:

        Mainly it’s the interests of the coaches and players- if you tank the season, that usually means you’ll be looking for employment elsewhere the next.

    • Joe says:

      Time and time again people with no understanding of US sports will make this comment about getting “rewarded” for doing poorly, and time and time again I point to the FOUR champions your precious EPL has had in the time our NFL has had THIRTEEN. Do you not understand that it’s fun when any team can win it? Do you not understand that sometimes it’s nice when the good teams have a CHALLENGE to stay on top, rather than just always getting the good players and yawning through another top-4 finish?

      In regards to the other comments about tanking: in the NBA there is a lottery for the top 14 picks, so doing the worst doesn’t guarantee you anything (and usually the worst does not get the #1 pick). In MLB, it takes years to develop any prospect into a decent major league player, so a great pick doesn’t really get you all that much in the short term. In the NFL, on a 53-man roster where there’s 11 on the field at a time (much like soccer), the difference that one rookie will make on a dreadful team is pretty small. If you put Carlos Tevez or Didier Drogba on West Ham today, would they really be that much better? They might not be the worst, but they certainly wouldn’t be competitive.

  24. Smokey Bacon says:

    Promotion & relegation works in England since almost all clubs have a hardcore support that would follow them regardless of division. Clubs have a much longer history and are part of the local community. Kids grow up supporting teams like Millwall because their dads did and their dads before them. There is a fantastic blog posting out there called “Because my Dad does” that describes what its like to support one of the lesser teams. There is simply not that kind of following in the US, nor the strong bond with the local communities. At the end of the day, MLS teams are “franchises” that can be moved and/or have their name changed at will. I doubt many teams in a MLS Division 2 would survive more than 1 or 2 seasons max.

    All MLS needs at this stage is a few tweaks to the current playoff format. If I was Garber, I would keep the conference system but borrow from the best features of American sports.

    1. The division winners get home field advantage and a bye through the first round of the playoffs.

    2. The next 2 best placed teams in each conference play the first round of the playoffs for the right to meet the division winners in the conference championships.

    3. The two conference champions meet in a 2-leg MLS cup final.

    All playoff games are 1 game only with home field advantage decided by regular season standings.

    I would make the MLS final a 2 leg affair. There is just not the atmosphere at a neutral venue. Did anybody in Toronto really care about Colorado v Dallas? Baseball has 7 games so why cannot the MLS cup have two? It would bring the crowds into it and generate a much better atmosphere for the finals.

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