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Promotion/Relegation In America

Updated on December 16, 2013

The idea of a promotion/relegation system is America had become one of the most hotly contested issues in American sports. Will fans watch a lower league team? Who will be in this second tier? Will it work?

America is one of the biggest nations in the world, making it a prime location for a promotion/relegation system. Here's a detailed analysis on how relegation/promotion can work in the USA.

How the Bundesliga works (See the bottom)
How the Bundesliga works (See the bottom)

How The System Will Work

My proposed system will be similar to the system that Germany uses between the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. In this system, the lowest two teams are relegated while the third lowest team will play a one game playoff vs the third highest team. Unlike the Bundesliga system, instead of having the third highest team in the second tier be promoted, a playoff between the top 3-6 will determine who plays in the one game promotion/relegation playoff. Below is an example:

MLS Bottom 3: (From lowest to highest): Chivas USA, DC United, Chicago Fire

2nd Tier Top 6: (From highest to lowest) Atlanta Silverbacks, Sacramento Republic, NY Cosmos, Indy Eleven, OKC Energy, Rochester Rhinos (You'll learn more about these teams later.)

In this system, Chivas and DC would automatically be relegated, while the Fire would have to play a relegation/promotion playoff. Atlanta and Sacramento would automatically be promoted, while the remaining teams would be seeded and put in a playoff. This would create a semifinals of NY vs Rochester and Indy vs OKC. Assume Rochester and Indy win, and then Indy beats Rochester in the final. This would set up a game vs Chicago that would have the winner in the MLS. The system ensures that only teams that deserve to be in the MLS stay/make it into in the MLS.


Who Will Be The Lower Tier?

Obviously, Major League Soccer will be the first tier in the USA, so the bigger debate is who will be the lower tier. Even that isn't too much of a debate either. The USL PRO, which looked like the probably lower tier for years has been in constant decline while the NASL has risen and now looks like the much stronger league. The NY Cosmos and San Antonio Scorpions has brought in attendances near 8K with the rest of the league having average attendances of 4.5K. Expansion team Indy Eleven who will join the league next season already have signed up Six Thousand season ticket holders without playing a single game. Just because the NASL will be the second tier doesn't mean that it will be restricted to NASL teams though...

You do consider The NASL or USL PRO to be a better league?

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Who Will Play In The Lower Tier?

With two established leagues in the NASL and USL PRO, it's tough to determine who should make it into this new league. It comes down to attendance and potential attendance. Teams will need to average in the high 3,000s to low 4,000 to be considered for the new league. Teams that don't meet this standard currently but show potential can also be included for consideration.

Just because the NASL will be the core of the new tier doesn't mean that it will only be NASL teams or even include all of the current NASL teams. NASL's Edmonton Fury average a lackluster 2,400 fans a game, and wouldn't make the cut into the new tier. This brings the remaining teams (Atlanta, Carolina, Fort Lauderdale, Indy, Minnesota, NY Cosmos, Ottawa, San Antonio and Tampa Bay) into the new league.

Only two of the current USL PRO teams currently meet the criteria for the new league, with Rochester and Charleston averaging 5,840 and 3,754 respectively. That being said, Pittsburg, who has little competition market-wise would have to be included too. This brings us to 11 teams, not nearly enough for a new league.

This is where new teams step in.



Here's a list of the teams that I refer to and their real names.

Virginia - Virginia Cavalry

Ottawa - Ottawa Fury FC

Jacksonville - No name decided

Oklahoma City - Energy FC

Colorado Springs - No name decided

Sacramento - Sacramento Republic FC

What's the best new expansion city?

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Expansion Teams

The NASL plans to have expansion teams in Indianapolis (See above about the Indy Eleven), Virginia, Ottawa and Jacksonville while the USL PRO plans to have expansion teams in Oklahoma City, Colorado Springs and Sacramento by 2015. This would bring the league to 18 teams. Out of these 7 expansion teams, only two currently look like they will make the cut if the two tier system happened today. For the most part, this is solely due to the lack of knowledge about these teams.

Only Indy and Sacramento have made the press, and that's due to their high numbers of season tickets. It's likely that the some of 5 remaining teams will end up like Phoenix FC, and only manage 1,000 people a game, and therefore, not make it into the second tier. Obviously, I cannot predict the future, but if I had to make a guess, I will assume that OKC and Ottawa will be successful enough to make it to the new league, while Virginia and Jacksonville are on the border. This brings the league to 15-17 new teams, with Indy, Sacramento, OKC, Ottawa and perhaps Virginia and Jacksonville in the league.

Once again, we still don't have enough teams for a successful league, especially if Virginia and Jacksonville fail to live up to expectations. Locations such as Austin, St. Louis, New Mexico and Detroit have been seeking a MLS team for quite a while, and a lower tier option makes perfect sense. Major League Soccer requires expansion teams to pay a fee of 70-100M and have a soccer specific stadium if they want to join the league. Joining the lower tier allows these markets to create a soccer team while avoiding the requirements of MLS that would cause unpopular taxes on the taxpayers. Adding these teams gives us a league of 19-21 teams, the perfect size for a league.

"There is no very strong professional league. They have just the MLS but they have no professional leagues which are recognized by the American society" - Sepp Blatter

Why US Soccer Needs Promotion/Relegation

America needs promotion/relegation for two reasons: Advancement and Respect. Soccer has advanced so much over the last ten years in America, and now it's time to take the next step by adding a second tier. Major League Soccer has been a growing, but more importantly, stable league for the last 4-5 years. Now that the league has consistently grown in TV ratings, attendance and media coverage, creating a second tier will only do good for the sport in America. Rather than over expanding Major League Soccer, creating a second tier is the best way to advance the sport.

The second reason is about respect. Major League Soccer and soccer in the USA is frequently bashed by Europeans and even FIFA officials. Sepp Blatter became a hated name in America when he told the media that the MLS isn't a true league. This statement is disgusting a untrue, and creating a second tier would force the rest of the world to pay attention to soccer in America and start to take it seriously.

How Close Is America To Promotion/Relegation?

The USA is closer to a promotion/relegation system than you may think. The demand for new soccer teams is becoming overwhelming, and there's no way that one league can accompany them all. If you told an average American 10 years ago that Major League Soccer would have the third highest average attendance in America with almost all of their teams playing in soccer-specific stadiums, they would first ask "What's Major League Soccer?" before calling you crazy. Today, that's a reality. Major League Soccer beats both the NHL and NBA in average attendance with an average of 18,807.

America is becoming a soccer nation, and in 10 years who knows where the sport will be. Where ever it is, it's likely that they'll be a second tier too.

Should America adopt a promotion/relegation system?

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© 2013 N. Lazar


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    • nlazar profile imageAUTHOR

      N. Lazar 

      5 years ago from USA

      Can't agree more. Hopefully we'll see one arrive soon in the USA.

    • CCahill profile image


      5 years ago from England

      just HAVE to have to a promotion/relegation system! that's where all the incentive lies! besides what's there left to fight for once your out of the title race


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