The Korean Football Association (KFA) has announced that they will implement a full promotion/relegation system by 2027. Soccer in South Korea already has a form of promotion and relegation throughout their six tiers. Nevertheless, it is currently impossible for clubs at the bottom of the pyramid to make it all the way to the top.

The top two tiers, K League 1 and K League 2, consist of fully professional teams. Clubs in these two divisions can only currently move up and down in these particular leagues through promotion and relegation. Semi-professional teams fill the third and fourth leagues in the Asian nation. The bottom two tiers are then only amateurs at the moment. Semi-professional clubs can only take part in levels three and four, and amateur teams are then stuck in tiers five and six.

However, this will all change in the next few years. These semi-professional and amateur clubs are set to able to move as high as the South Korean top flight. As a result, top-tiered teams will then have the possibility to drop down multiple levels as well. Along with opening up the entire system, KFA officials also plan to create a new seventh tier as well.

Including playoffs in Korean leagues is still an option

Although soccer authorities will introduce a full promotion-relegation system, lower-level clubs must first obtain certain licenses to be able to feature in the K League 1. This will help ensure that every club can prepare for the massive move.

“For a semi-pro K3 League side to earn promotion in 2026, they must win the league in addition to obtaining a K League club license, which requires each club’s venue, administrative capacity, and youth academy to fulfill the minimum conditions per K League standards,” explained soccer journalist Steve Han.

Precise details regarding how clubs will be promoted/relegated are not yet known. “Whether K3 League winners will earn direct promotion remains undecided for now,” continued Han. “The KFA is considering a few options, including a promotion/relegation playoff between the bottom KL2 side and K3 winners. In the K5 League, the top two sides will be promoted to the K4 League.”

American soccer fans generally want pro/rel in U.S.

The decision by the KFA was widely met with praise on social media. After all, full promotion/relegation is extremely popular amongst soccer fans. It is typically the most preferred way to determine which clubs play in the top divisions around the world.

Nevertheless, the system is not currently in use here in the United States. Major League Soccer teams, no matter how terrible they are, have a safety net knowing that they will never suffer relegation to the second tier. This concept generally does not sit well with fans.

Despite the intense disapproval by the fans, things will likely not change anytime soon in MLS. Team owners pay a massive price to become members of MLS. In fact, the current rate for a new MLS expansion club is about $500 million. These owners are not going to pay this fee only to potentially drop down a tier in the soccer pyramid.

However, it would be nice if the U.S. Soccer Federation tried to get more involved in creating a true promotion/relegation pyramid. This is a more attractive option than allowing MLS, USL, NISA and other leagues to continue their soccer wars.