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Why promotion & relegation reigns supreme: World Soccer Talk Podcast

Why promotion and relegation reigns supreme

In the NEW episode, number 1419, Christopher Harris is joined by co-hosts Kartik Krishnaiyer and Kyle Fansler to discuss several topics:

• What pitch invasions mean to soccer fans and why we don’t see them in MLS,
• The Nottingham Forest story, and what the club means to us,
• Why MLS is arguably at its least meaningful point in its history,
• The uncomfortable truth about promotion/relegation that silences critics,
• An incredible week of soccer from Europe and South America,
• The impossible dream for Leeds United this weekend,
• Our hopes for Clint Dempsey’s analysis after he joins FOX Sports’ World Cup coverage,
• And we answer the questions from you, the listeners.

Listen to the show via the player above or via this link.

Launched in 2006, the World Soccer Talk Podcast is the longest running podcast on the planet. Every week, we share the latest news about watching soccer on television and streaming, in addition to discussing what we like and dislike, and featuring your questions and feedback in our Listener Mailbag segment.

HEAR MORE: Listen to our archive featuring hundreds of soccer interviews

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  1. Mercator

    May 26, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    US Professional Sports do not allow fans to invade the field. You will be arrested, quickly and probably quite violently, so you will never see that in MLS unless its some contrived organized thing. Professional sports are also so expensive, the only people who can afford to go are usually older, more put together types, often with kids. These people do not bring a good atmosphere, you need lower brow people to get something good going. For my MLS club, the atmosphere is 100% different on cheap nights when tickets and beers are under $10. It’s usually much better attended, full of college kids, and significantly louder. But the grass is always greener – in Europe people complain about the rowdy fans and things like rushing the field. Viera had to fight off some scrub after the Everton match. It looks emotional and authentic when NBC presents it at bird-eye view with music playing – in fact its a bunch of drunk hooligans causing a stampede trying to get a selfie with a player or a piece of the net.

    I am also the Hulu guy and I will say again – HULU gets around the ESPN+ blackouts. I checked again last week, ensuring VPN was off, and it still works. I’ve watched every local MLS game this way for almost a year now. Hulu is actually better than ESPN (no blackouts, watchlist) unless you need to use the multicast.

  2. disco george

    May 26, 2022 at 12:58 am

    The closest thing I’ve ever seen to a pitch invasion IRL is the time a bunch of us got on the field somehow in Colorado after RSL won the Rocky Mountain Cup there a long time ago. I got yelled at for doing gymnastics on the pitch.

    The 80s/90s-era leagues in the US were… ummm, interesting. At least we’re past the days when teams were coached by the head of the state youth soccer organization with his kid and his high school buddies as the ‘professional players’, playing in crumbling minor-league baseball stadiums.

  3. Ra

    May 23, 2022 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks for the tip on BBC5! It was great on MD38. You also mentioned Sky Sports. Do you watch or listen to it? Do you need VPN?

  4. Ra

    May 23, 2022 at 5:15 pm

    The pro/rel was the most interesting battle on MD38. To me, the scene of the season is not City, but the Everton and Leeds final relegation matches. It was really special to see the Everton and Leeds celebration, especially Raphinha knee crawling the full length of the pitch after FT, in front of Brentford supporters.

  5. jstrummer

    May 23, 2022 at 10:56 am

    Watched several MLS matches over the weekend. Players were fighting for every ball, no sitting on a lead, fans atmosphere was great with loud cheering and flag waving throughout, most stadiums at least 80% full. MLS has been growing at a brisk pace for years and is unrecognizable from the league of 10 to 15 years ago. Instead of embracing it, you guys continue to peddle the same ol’ dribble on how to improve it.

    • JP

      May 23, 2022 at 11:16 am

      I watched some of the Revs match at Cincinnati on Saturday night before the NHL playoff game started. Was very impressed with Cincy’s stadium, looked to be on par with something you’d see in one of the big Euro leagues despite seating only 25K or so.

      That is something those of us who follow the Revs want to see. Preferably in the Boston area and reachable by the one of red, orange, or green line trains. Not way way way out in the suburbs in a football stadium.

      There was once space just outside the city that sat between two train stations (and just off the highway)….was long rumored as a potential site for a stadium. Has since been developed within every usable inch into mixed use condo buildings and hotels….and they also added a new stop on that train line. What could have been!

      • JP

        June 1, 2022 at 2:05 pm

        Another thing related to RSN’s. Just announced today the RSN for my local hockey and baseball team now has a stand alone streaming option for $29.99 a month. So, moving in the right direction, but double the price I see as reasonable. Can also test Hulu this fall for a month to see if that gets around the ESPN+ blackout for me….and less than one third the cost of this!

  6. Ra

    May 23, 2022 at 9:41 am

    Another point that is missing is that Pro/rel results in teams with long grassroots traditions. What I see in MLS is a bunch of bastard teams. What is the weight of the jersey of a club like Charlotte FC? It has no history, yet their are playing in the “premiere” league in the US.
    I would be ashamed to wear the jersey with a team with no history. I would rather wear a jersey from NY Cosmos than any MLS team.

    • Roberto

      May 23, 2022 at 9:49 am

      For one I can care less for what you think!

      • Roberto

        May 23, 2022 at 10:04 am

        It would be better for me to say like my mother said in the last century, “if you do not have anything nice (read useful) to say it is best not to say anything”).
        As far as history goes, I believe you may be a Real Madrid fan. They were the favorite of the late Fascist dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco and are still the favorite of Spain’s Fascists. Their stadium is named for a Fascists. So, history can be a negative.

        • Ra

          May 23, 2022 at 10:19 am

          Did I hit a nerve? No, it is the glorious SPFC.

    • Yespage

      May 24, 2022 at 12:09 pm

      It’d matter based on the fan base. If there is a dedicated fan base, then wearing the kit would matter more.

  7. JP

    May 22, 2022 at 11:54 pm

    I share Kyle’s frustration with RSN’s. He already knows all the out of market NHL is available on ESPN+….if the Hulu method to get by the local blackouts is true (others have commented on it), he could go that route for his Tampa Bay Lightning.

    I went into the season planning to VPN for that problem, but only watching the out of market and following my team through highlights and radio stream (while watching other games on ESPN+) proved to be just fine. Sling Orange for the playoffs and all set.

    As for the Tampa Bay Rays, my only advice is to stop following MLB 😉

  8. Cpcva

    May 22, 2022 at 11:27 pm

    Pitch invasions in the USA are fueled primarily by alcohol. Prime example the 10-cent beer night incident in 1974 in Cleveland between the Indians and the rangers

    • Yespage

      May 23, 2022 at 8:48 am

      Pitch invasions in the US are generally limited to college football.

      • Ra

        May 23, 2022 at 9:25 am

        I.e., it is limited to the sports that people care in their respective countries. Seems pretty obvious to me.

  9. jason

    May 22, 2022 at 10:06 pm

    I wonder if ESPN Plus soccer quality is about to dip. They already lost UEFA Internationals, Scottsh Premiership, and Serie A. Will they lose MLS and EFL now? I wonder that they may have bid so high on La Liga (which I personally have no interest in) that they have no funds to preserve the other competitions they had rights to up until now.

    • Michael

      May 24, 2022 at 4:38 pm

      Disney has plenty of funds, and you are in the bidding for part of the $8 Billion dollar Big Ten conference college bidding. ESPN+ is doing just fine with La Liga. It is much easier to monetize and get their money back on streaming. They accounts numbers are steadily going up and it doesn’t matter how many “have no interest in it.” From the start, ESPN+ has been making a goal to bring the by far the largest and fastest growing group of soccer fans in this country…young and Hispanic. That is why they bought the rights away from beIN before it went on open market. It would have cost them a lot more then they paid for it then. They don’t have to worry about it for 7 more years. They didn’t “lose” Serie A, they allowed CBS to over bid for them and weren’t willing to pay that much for them. They wouldn’t be able to make their money back as easy on Serie A as they will be for La Liga. Instead they choose Bundesliga. I like both the Bundesliga, and Serie A, but I am not going to pay $5 extra just for Serie A. It(Bundesliga) was half the price that CBS paid for Serie A. The Scottish league is a very small niche crowd and they were were only able to show the matches that the League would release. It wasn’t much of a loss. The EURO’s have been going back and forth from Fox to ESPN for years. 8 years from now it will switch again. EFL once again, that would be no loss because it is not a full coverage of the league you can only get the games that they release. Once again not worth it. If they lose those few EFL games, there is the Eredivisie and Jupiler leagues that are great and in my opinion better than EFL. That’s just my opinion. As for the MLS, I will bet my mortgage, car, and favorite motorbike that MLS is still on ESPN+ in some format or another. I am no insider, but I guarantee that is why that MLS hasn’t made an announcement yet, is because they aren’t getting anyone to outbid the offer that ESPN already has on the table. As the Existing rights holders, ESPN, FOX, and Univision have already put their offers on the table MSL knows what they are offering. If someone was going to outbid them, they would have announced it by now. If I am wrong I will admit it but I think that MLS will be OTA on Univision, and it will steam on ESPN+. I can see Apple+ picking up a game of the week…but they won’t buy the whole thing. ESPN is waiting them out.

      • dave

        May 24, 2022 at 5:24 pm

        @Michael, your comment “Disney has plenty of funds” is historically true, but does it hold in the go-forward environment?
        1. ESPN is by far the most exposed as the cable bundle declines, and they may not have many more cycles where they can offset subscriber loss with fee increases
        2. Numbers for ESPN+ are not that encouraging (still sub-$5 ARPU, many subscriptions driven by bundling, etc.). Not likely to fully backfill linear ESPN losses
        3. Rights deals are exploding long-term costs – new NFL deal, B1G as you note, new SEC deal, NBA supposedly wants double or even triple, etc.
        I am intrigued by your thoughts that MLS will stay on ESPN+. Are you thinking ESPN made a lowball extension bid (like NBC for NHL) and nobody outbid them? My gut sense is the delay means it is not going well for MLS, though it is possible MLS are finalizing a multi-partner deal for a large increase. Fun to speculate and discuss

        • Edwin

          May 25, 2022 at 7:17 pm

          I think its the latter as you said. I do think they tried to lowball MLS but MLS likely held firm especially seeing the over play for La Liga, that delay in taking the low ball and instead opting to hunt and negotiate to bring in another rights partners like Turner/HBO Max Warner Bros Discovery and then announced Apple is likely the hold up.

          Likely a bit of truth in it all. Maybe at the time of the Athletic March reporting that now seems outdated it was true all MLS was being offered from existing partners ESPN/FOX/Univision was $150-200m But when MLS didn’t accept that going out to market and engaging Turner which as Chris has long reported had interest and now Apple has likely reigniting some sort of dialogue with the existing partners and their previous low ball offers. Hence the delay with news of Apple TV+ deal getting done and likely the Turner Deal.

          The only thing left to see is from ESPN and Univision as I feel FOX is likely mutually out. Andrew Marchand said he could possibly see a reduced ESPN MLS package quoted “instead of the 35 games you have now, may 25 games between ESPN and ABC” That would be exactly the ESPN/NHL playbook.

          I would be curious if the dropped those MLS games and replaced with a in theory higher rated Leagues Cup games for the month that tournament will take place each summer. Anyway that makes more sense than they are waiting MLS out theory, as MLS is making moves its not really a holding pattern of nothing happening besides we haven’t gotten a grand announcement yet.

  10. jason

    May 22, 2022 at 4:59 pm

    Question…where will online streaming of UEFA Nations League games next week going to be? I dont think it will be on ESPN Plus anymore which stinks.

    • jason

      May 22, 2022 at 5:45 pm

      Looks like the pod answered the question here…we just dont know yet. Ughh I hate Fox

      • Christopher Harris

        May 22, 2022 at 7:50 pm

        • dave

          May 22, 2022 at 8:10 pm

          Do you know who has the Spanish rights? fubo note on their site that their portion of UEFA Nations League rights include “all languages except Spanish and Portuguese”. Do you know if Spanish broadcasts will be FOX Deportes? TUDN and ViX? Nobody?

          • Ra

            May 22, 2022 at 9:07 pm

            Univision https//–where-to-watch-the-uefa-nations-league-tv-broadcast-partners-li/

  11. Leo

    May 21, 2022 at 7:42 pm

    I don’t think MLS needs Pro/Rel. Actually, it’s because Pro/Rel that a bunch of clubs in a league can create an aristocracy and never leave it, namely Big 6 in EPL or Bayern in Bundesliga or Top3 in La Liga, etc.
    EIGHT different MLS winners in the last 10 years can only happen because of NO Pro/Rel, and MLS like that and want to protect that kind of unpredictability feature.

    • Turfit

      May 21, 2022 at 9:51 pm

      And my team can never make it to the top league because there is no Pro/Rel and my town is too small for any mega rich club owner to move a team down here.

  12. Michael

    May 21, 2022 at 3:29 pm

    I have watched YouTube videos of Stockport County’s playoff to gain promotion back to the Football League from the National league after 11 years. I thought my heart was going to explode. I wish I could have been there and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen them play. I don’t think it will be my last.

  13. Edwin

    May 21, 2022 at 3:14 pm

    Interesting pod but just realized there is WHOLE perspective to this around perspectives about P/R and MLS popularity.

    As long as you guys Chris/Kartik/Kyle realize this it’s ok but I feel Chris and Kyle you talk about your opinion as fact when its just a strong opinion.

    American Sports fan DO NOT care about Pro/Rel it’s not part of our sporting culture. Of soccer fans I’d say only half care about P/R. It’s just the fills that care so much about it feel really strongly and that believes you guys to feel your the is a overwhelming majority. People watch the Premier League because it’s less foreign and the talent.

    For every look at EPL “massive ratings” (Not really in US sporting sense) There is a last year Big 5 league with Promotion Serie A Fiorentina vs Atalanta pulling 225k on ABC yes ONLY 225k. But I thought promotion mattered more and MLS matches were less important.

    • Turfit

      May 21, 2022 at 9:48 pm

      But our youth soccer culture has Pro/Rel.

    • jason

      May 22, 2022 at 5:12 pm

      MLS can easily go to 32 teams and do some sort of modified MLS1, MLS2 structure
      1. 16 teams each tier
      2. Top 7 go to MLS Cup playoffs, with MLS2 winner going in as team 8. So MLS2 could still win MLS Cup..I know seems strange but you need some sort of modification to make this work.
      3. Relegate and promote 4 teams. Need a big 25 percent turnover to not make owners made. Maybe a 5th from botttom/5th place relegation play off in addition.

      • jason

        May 22, 2022 at 5:16 pm

        *Need a big 25 percent turnover to not make owners mad.

      • dave

        May 22, 2022 at 5:51 pm

        @jason, your proposal strikes me as a way pro-rel could work in the closed league model. It allows all 32 entities to be equal shareholders in an overarching entity called MLS. As such, MLS can maintain its single-entity corporate structure. It also lessens investment risk for shareholders by allowing equal distribution of major revenue streams (media, sponsorship, expansion fees, SUM, etc.) even if relegated
        There is likely a freeloader problem, but all US professional sports have franchises that do not put a premium on winning. This idea would keep teams like that in the MLS2 pool until such time as they change philosophy. An interesting idea given the constraints of the corporate structure and business model

      • Michael

        May 23, 2022 at 8:30 pm

        That will never happen in American professional sports culture. In this country we have Farm system that people can work their way up. It it not about the team going up or down…it is the players going up or down. You work your way up from A League, to B League, to C league, etc. The people that make the “Big Leagues” are the best. If the player can’t make it at the top then they go down. That is how it is is in Baseball (Minors), in Hockey (AHL), in Basketball (G-league) MLS2 etc. The 29 (soon to be 32) owners are partners that run a single entity. They have revenue sharing, and they have salary cap and they work as one. They have voted to contract before…but they will never vote to drop their team to MLS 2. In fact there is nothing to even drop it to. That would be the absolutely dumbest financial decision ever. American soccer culture will never be European soccer culture…so they should stop trying to be. It takes time for sports to catch on. MLS will develop and mold in it’s own way, it will develop it own rules, customers, and culture. This is a league that is less than 30 years old. Let’s see if the league makes 60, and then we can look back and see how it has evolved.

  14. Arthur

    May 21, 2022 at 9:24 am

    In American sporting culture, it is the end of season championship and the playoff tournament that matters. By design, the most meaningful games are not in the regular season and they are not at the bottom of the table. Every year the most important games in US sports, including MLS, are in the playoffs culminating in the most important game between the two (theoretically) best teams.

    That might explain why American writers aren’t especially interested in who will replace Norwich next year. Maybe their audience just doesn’t see why they should care.

    Also, from the perspective of a playoff culture, it does seem odd to have some of the biggest games of the year be games in which the stakes are only high for one of the teams. Everton was playing for their lives against Crystal Palace, who had nothing to lose or gain except their pride. Man City and Liverpool are competing for the EPL championship Sunday, but they don’t play each other.

    The two systems are rooted in different histories and distribute significant games differently.

  15. Harry Austin

    May 21, 2022 at 8:32 am

    Here is my problem with how you are painting the picture of pitch invasions. Kartik brought it up is how the top tier professional sports are here in the United States. When was the last time you saw a pitch invasion in the NFL, MLB or NBA? It just does not happen!! Christopher implying that the lack of pitch invasion is due to Pro/Rel for MLS, completely ignores what happens in the lower leagues. Kartik knows in USL/NISA and NASL that pitch invasions happen but are not covered. (Kind of like EFL Championship is with the media that you talked about the lack of coverage in the US)
    Look I want Pro/Rel, and not a huge fan of MLS. But pitch invasions have nothing to do with Pro/Rel. If an MLS team makes the playoffs or wins the title or advances to the next round, IF it was more accepted here in the United States, I think you would see it. Because the fan excitement is there among MLS fans.
    Also let’s talk about the danger pitch invasions could have and we are seeing some of it this week.
    But love the show you guys do , keep up the great work!

  16. dave

    May 20, 2022 at 7:38 pm

    Interesting and enjoyable. A few reactions:
    1. Great discussion of fans on the field after big games. I watch a lot of college sports so I see it as normal. You make a strong point that fans celebrating on the field is not common in US professional sports. I am not sure why fan behavior is so different in those settings. Fun to think about
    2. I share your perspective that regular season games for US professional sports are often a fun experience without much meaning. Every team and league has loyal fans that live and die with each game. But if you just generally enjoy sports, why would you watch the MLB Sunday Noon game? I have no idea who is in it but if they are good I will see them in the playoffs. The NFL is clever with scarcity and creating an event out of each weekend – makes it more of a must watch. Similar with NCAA football
    3. A potential issue for MLS with promotion-relegation is that MLS finances are a bit like a Ponzi scheme. Sell a franchise, distribute the money, enjoy a windfall. But who will buy in for hundreds of millions of dollars if they might be relegated? How viable is today’s MLS business if franchise dollars are shut off? How will (and how soon) MLS generate enough steady-state operating profit to justify buy-in of hundreds of millions of dollars? These are not easy questions and promotion-relegation could make them harder to answer

    • Edwin

      May 21, 2022 at 2:59 pm

      Again MLS isn’t a ponzi-scheme its a 1.5b+ revenue league without even mentioning the one off expansion fees that aren’t counted toward revenue. You instantly throw away credibility when you claim stuff like that.

      You may have a opinion that MLS needs to grow revenue streams which they are but nothing with MLS is a ponzi scheme stating such shows a person’s lack of understanding of what a Ponzi Scheme is and leans toward people repeating a incorrectly often used phrase. Ponzi Schemes are illegal no US Leagues will ever be allowed by the US Justice Department to operate.

  17. Yespage

    May 20, 2022 at 3:20 pm

    Promotion relegation makes all games matter, a lot more than leagues in the US. I think one problem is with the new Champions League format which is stripping the importance of games for the top 3 or 4 where 2nd verses 3rd meant something, and now doesn’t. But at the bottom of the table? That matters. In the US, any league with the team tanking, they actually have emphasis for losing more to get better draft picks. In Europe, the emphasis is survival in the top level. Games for four or five of the lowest teams matter. In the US, not a darn thing.

    • Harry Austin

      May 21, 2022 at 8:38 am

      The counter to your point, is with the playoffs in MLS the mid table games matter a lot more in MLS than does in EPL or the EFL system.

      SO as you say the games for 4 or 5 poor teams matter in EPL/EFL, while 4-6 (or so) mid table teams have something to play for and those games matter.
      Bottom line not every game matters in EPL/EFL like the MLS, its just where those games matter.

      I would love to see Pro/Rel in the US, but it is not the answer to everything. It highlights the top and bottom of the league. But if your a mid table club, it really is a spot that is not highlighted since you are really just playing out the string of games!

  18. Roberto

    May 20, 2022 at 1:52 pm

    Wow, where do I start. A real mix of very interesting comments and information mixed with opinions that I disagree with.
    Lets start with promotion/relegation. So, much excitement over Everton staying up when their high payroll brought for about 90% of the season some totally crap games and then at the end they played well enough to avoid going down. Now Forest is a great story, I remember their glory years beating some of the top teams in Europe. It is good when a team that did not have the benefit of parachute payments manages to go up.
    Now, I will repeat something said over and over, ALL GAMES ARE RELEVANT! The comments made that most of the MLS games do not matter is opinion not fact. After many games the fans stay and applaud their team. With flags, banners, music and cheers, there is no need for pitch invasions.
    The league is getting stronger with new stadiums and attendance getting back to and above pre-pandemic levels. I do agree with Chris, the single entity system needs to change to promote growth.

    • Turfit

      May 20, 2022 at 3:17 pm

      What if we change the word “Irrelevant” to “Dead Rubber” as towards the end of the season there is a lot of matches that are being played that have no effect on the winners of the league or playoff qualification?
      I was listening to BBC sports a few weekend ago and they were covering a match of a League 3 team that won promotion to League 2 and had a pitch invasion. Even at the lower levels there is a lot of passion for their teams. Next time my local NPSL team actually win a game, I think I will start the pitch invasion!!!

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