NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson gave a wide-ranging interview on an array of topics related to the second division in the United States and Canada to The Telegraph newspaper this week. The most talked about and controversial comments by Peterson relate to promotion and relegation within the league system in North America.
For five plus years, the NASL has courted the fourth division NPSL as a potential partner. These discussions, which began in June 2010, intensified after a partnership was announced between first division Major League Soccer (MLS) and third division USL. This partnership involves the loaning of players and the parking of MLS reserve teams within the USL structure.
Commissioner Peterson states in the interview that he will appeal to the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) to try and push for promotion and relegation. Currently USSF bylaws do not provide for promotion and relegation based on league place. However, five of the last seven new franchises in Major League Soccer were formerly lower division sides that were “promoted” to the top division for strictly economic purposes. Additionally, five former second division clubs are currently playing third division soccer having self-relegated for economic reasons at various points over the last decade.
Peterson’s feeling that the NASL could set up a promotion and relegation scheme with the NPSL is a bit naïve. While Chattanooga FC drew close to 20,000 fans for this past weekend’s NPSL final, most NPSL sides hardly have enough market penetration or the types of facilities that will sustain a second division club financially for even one season. Additionally, the NPSL itself has always been a bit of an ad-hoc league with various regional divisions having virtual autonomy under which to operate and schedule matches. This likely would not fit cleanly with the NASL’s team-driven yet strong league office model.
Regional considerations must play a role in any discussion of promotion and relegation in North America. Most fans in this part of the world that advocate promotion and relegation look to Europe for inspiration. But the trip from Newcastle to Swansea , the longest possible trip in the Premier League, is shorter than any road trip Orlando City currently makes in MLS.
Travel budgets are the single biggest expense for second division clubs and the sprawling nature of NASL’s map is one of the reasons several clubs have self-relegated to the more regionalized play of division 3 USL. Peterson rightly understands this dilemma and that is why, despite the constant pressure to add teams on the west coast, he is wisely waiting until he has several sides ready to play before pulling the trigger. A single geographically isolated club like Edmonton in NASL or Orlando in MLS can rack up incredibly expensive travel bills. For smaller sides that barely get by as is, the increased exposure of being in a higher division is unlikely to completely offset the need to travel cross-continent.