Should Major League Soccer Adopt A Promotion-Relegation System?

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On April 18, 2019, Major League Soccer announced a strategic plan to expand to 30 teams by 2021. MLS currently comprises 24 teams – 3 in Canada, and the rest in the United States. Expanding to 30 teams would make it the biggest professional league in world football in terms of number of clubs and players. With 4 teams arriving to the league in the past 3 years and 4 more on their way by 2021, things are really becoming a bit crazy in the North American soccer scene. Ultimately, the decision from an economic standpoint is a wise one for the league. More clubs = more money, greater outreach and greater attention. But it would throw certain things into chaos, such as scheduling, fairness of scheduling, and the disparities in between the caliber of teams and players.

Atlanta United Miguel Almiron lifting MLS Cup trophy

It is clear that soccer is bigger than ever in both the United States and Canada. Canada’s first ever top flight league – The Canadian Premier League – is set to launch this week. With the recent expansion to 27 teams that would include Miami FC, Nashville SC and Austin FC, Major League Soccer is already in need of a plan for how they are going to manage an influx of teams. But an expansion to 30 teams might mean that the league needs to look to other options of operating. Although it is very unlikely that they will take this approach, perhaps, they should look to adopting a promotion/relegation system just like you would find in any other football/soccer league in the world.

The promotion/relegation system keeps things interesting from a fan perspective, but it also provides motivation for clubs and raises the stakes. Under-performing teams are pushed to their limits in order to survive, while in the tiers below the top flight, teams who achieve something special are rewarded. There is already a disparity between teams like Seattle Sounders, L.A.F.C., DC United and Toronto FC at the top and clubs like Colorado Rapids or the New York Red Bulls, who can’t win a game to save their life right now. Major League Soccer is just about the only league in the world not to have a system like this. They are certainly the biggest league to not have a promotion/relegation system and as they keep on growing and keep on expanding, it’s becoming more and more confusing why they have not discussed it as an option yet.

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In a 30-team league, scheduling would become a nightmare. If teams play each other twice like in other leagues, then each team would play 60 league games, which is a bit outrageous. In fact, it’s almost double that of some leagues in Europe like Germany, Netherlands and Portugal where each team plays a total of 34 games. Right now the current method of scheduling for the MLS divides the league into two conferences – East and West. Teams play each of the others in their conference twice and then each of the teams in the other conference once. If they maintain this similar method, clubs can expect to play 45 league games a season. Don’t forget that this is in combination with the MLS Playoffs, CONCACAF Champions League and other various cup competitions that clubs might be participating in. There simply isn’t enough warm weather to handle that. If they were to manage the league in this manner, it would require them to start earlier and end later, playing in months where weather is less than ideal and field conditions are nearly unplayable. Meanwhile, as is already the case, if one conference is stronger than the other, some teams have an advantage, while others are disadvantaged. When it comes to the Playoffs, sure it might even out, but it’s still a very strange…North American…way of conducting a league.

The only way that a 30-team league might work is in adopting a promotion/relegation system. It would also raise the stakes and allow for much more competition between teams in the league, rather than everyone always feeling safe. Promotion/relegation systems also create a lot more drama and excitement for fans and players alike. Obviously no one wants their MLS franchise to cease to be an MLS franchise. Relegation would be devastating! So clubs would do everything in their power to stop their team from being relegated. This would only be great for the league and what they are trying to produce.

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But the problem, which league officials are very much going to be aware of, or even a part of, is that people are resistant to change. Although promotion/relegation is virtually everywhere else in the world, other North American leagues like MLB, NBA and NHL conduct themselves in the same manner – through conferences, drafts, playoff systems and All Star Games. These things don’t exist anywhere else in the world, but they do in North America to create more excitement for viewers and opportunities for players and teams. North American soccer fans who are only used to doing things one way may react negatively to a promotion/relegation system in Major League Soccer. However, for the sake of the league and what they are trying to accomplish with all of their expansions, it might be the next best step to take. If they want to keep expanding perhaps the best approach would be to keep it at 27 teams for 2021, relegate the three teams with the worst records, and then go into the 2022 season with 24 teams. The brand new second tier or MLS 2 if you will, could then start in 2022, with however many clubs they can get + the three relegated MLS clubs from the 2021 season. Not only would this create excitement and drama for fans and viewers, it would also save the league from descending into chaos and a scheduling nightmare.


So there it is! Do you think MLS should adopt a promotion/relegation system? Comment below to share your thoughts. Thanks for reading and follow @mastermindsite on Twitter for more articles like this.

 

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2 thoughts on “Should Major League Soccer Adopt A Promotion-Relegation System?

  1. Who is going to pay the salaries of the 3 relegated MLS teams plus whatever second division teams you can find? Also, where is the revenue going to come from for 2nd division clubs to finance the stadiums and academies they built in D1?

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    1. The clubs finance themselves. If a league were to finance 30 clubs and the salaries of 30 players per team that would be a disaster. The USL sides already have stadiums and academies built into their structures and systems. If they get promoted, more money to finance things like that. If they get relegated, less money. This only raises the stakes to compete at the highest level rather than never feeling in danger.

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