I’ve decided to write a clear and concise response to the seemingly endless conversations I have had on promotion – relegation. Rather than rehash the debate ad nauseum on each occasion, I will simply refer my interlocuters to this piece and refrain from engaging in a discussion until they address the question posed at this article’s conclusion.
The question regarding promotion – relegation is a philosophical question. Should the market be open with freedom of access to any interested clubs who agree to move up or down based on the merit of their performance? Or should the market be closed with access to top-flight soccer restricted to a small subset of clubs selected for participation based on the discretion of a handful of bureaucrats of questionable motivations and expertise?
Full stop. That is a straightforward conceptual question that requires an answer. You either support an open system or a closed system.
If you side with an open system, great. Let’s discuss next steps and begin formulating an action plan for executing an integrated soccer pyramid.
If you side with a closed system, then I challenge you to explain why. I have yet to see a cogent rebuttal to the promotion – relegation argument, but I’m open ears and invite any contrarians to make the case.
I have found that the closed system crowd generally sidesteps the philosophical question at the heart of the matter and instead jumps ahead to posit some excuse(s) about the difficulty of implementing promotion – relegation.
That line of thinking is completely backwards. That is akin to opposing climate change and efforts to mitigate its effects due to perceived, whether actual or imagined, difficulty in enacting effective policies to thwart its impact (i.e. achieve the desired objective of the original question).
We must first come to an answer of the initial question – open or closed system or to intervene or ignore climate change. Then, once that question is answered, we can delve into the practical ramifications of that answer, irrespective of their level of difficulty.
For as long as I’ve been following soccer, the discussion has been flipped on its head with proponents of our closed system demanding justification for a shift to an open system. I do not accept this premise.
The rest of the world adheres to an open system, and examples of success can be observed in dozens of countries spanning diverse cultures, backgrounds, and geographies. We have no reason to expect we would not experience similar success if we would elect to follow this approach.
We are the exception, not the rule. We are the outlier, and our track record shows that our approach is unsuccessful and offers no evidence to refute the proven model used by the rest of the world.
We must reframe this conversation. Why should advocates of an open system have to justify their position? Instead, proponents of a closed system should explain why they perpetually choose to not adopt the best practices used by the rest of the world when we have repeatedly failed using our alternative method. Defaulting to the preservation of the status quo without sensible rationale is fallacious and insufficient, particularly when the status quo involves a prolonged history of discriminatory conduct.
I challenge the closed system crowd to provide a convincing explanation for maintaining our closed system, despite evidence of its ineffectiveness, and electing to not adopt (or initiate plans to adopt) an open system. Until I hear a persuasive counterargument against promotion – relegation I’m going to immediately suspend the conversation because, until that question is satisfactorily answered, there is no productive dialogue to be had.
Closed system crowd, the ball is in your court. Please present your case (remember to limit your response to the philosophical question). Any replies related to the implementation of promotion – relegation are invalid and will be dismissed.
The replies have begun to roll in and I must say I’m thoroughly unimpressed. My prompt specifically requested responses to the philosophical question rather than excuses, but I have yet to see many follow that overture. Instead, I have seen all the typical stale excuses and have highlighted the most frequent offenders below.
- Dearth of Resources / Infrastructure
- Lack of Interest
- Insufficient Money / Investment
- Not the Right Timing
- Partial Promotion – Relegation for lower divisions
Each of these defenses has been effectively argued against so I will not spend any time regurgitating what has already been said.
There has been one argument that some have clung to which is worth debunking because it is particularly specious to the point of absurdity.
To those who argue that it’s unfair to open the market because MLS owners have invested money to buy into a closed market, I urge you to consider the flaws in that logic. The notion that MLS owners have a credible gripe about fairness is quite ironic since the primary basis of their investment was the artificial scarcity and anti-competitiveness permitted by USSF legislation, which marginalizes all but a select few communities.
I’ve yet to see an MLS owner advocate for an open system, which illustrates that they have no problem investing in and benefiting from a closed system (to the detriment of many others who are less fortunate), but are ready to cry foul when the rules shift to a more just and equitable structure. Oh, the hypocrisy. This is like a drug cartel complaining about the prospect of heighted competition and less favorable business dynamics when a new Chief of Police comes to power and terminates their pre-existing bribery arrangements.
Second, if the perceived “unfairness” related to the dilution of their investment (it must be stated that this is a practical ramification of the philosophical question) is the main impediment, then we can figure out a solution. The prospect of a difficult policy solution does not validate the persistence of a rigged system. I think a simple remedy is to offer a buy-out, to make whole at the cost of their investment, to any MLS owner(s) who desire to forego their investment in an open system.
I would expect few, if any, MLS owners would be interested in reneging on their investment because they understand the potential of an open system, which is incredibly telling in and of itself. In terms of the buy-out, I would suggest the remaining MLS owners pony up to reimburse their colleagues who desire to leave. They can use proceeds from the handsome profits they have accumulated over their years of monopolistic advantage. Seems like that problem is resolved.
Third, in terms of unfairness, these owners enjoy a massive structural advantage from their many years of participation in the first division. Every MLS franchise would have an enormous head start, some for more than two decades, over the rest of American soccer clubs. If they are so afraid of being dethroned by the existence of fair and open competition, that, again, reveals so much.
Ultimately, if you find that your sympathies lie with the plight of monopolists’ losing their institutionalized advantage over the empowerment and sanctioning of opportunity to the public at large, I urge you to reexamine your beliefs.
 Provided they comply with any established prerequisites and standards.
 I’m going to pre-empt a tired argument that some may be contemplating. None of the mainstream American sports are comparable to soccer because they are not sports that exist in a global, borderless ecosystem that involves regular international competition (for results, players, resources, tactics, strategies, etc…).
American sports are akin to the utilities industry, as they are largely uncompetitive (globally) and quasi-monopolistic, and they cannot be compared to truly open marketplaces as their underlying dynamics are different. The comparable for American soccer is not the NFL, MLB, or NBA whose competitive ecosystems are either entirely or largely confined to the U.S. The comparable is other domestic soccer systems in countries across the world who virtually all utilize promotion – relegation.
 Contrary to the myth that MLS peddles, I have, as have many others, disputed their notion of progress at length in the following pieces – here, here, here, and here.
 This violates the central tenet of the philosophical question. You either support an open system or not. There is no gray area.
 MLS owners may pretend this is not the case for the time-being because it is in their best interest (and conversely, the worst interest of US Soccer as a whole) to preserve their monopoly, but, if push came to shove and promotion-relegation was on the precipice of implementation, I challenge you to identify any owner who would willingly accept a buy-out at cost and relinquish their opportunity at massive capital appreciation in the open market. We cannot let the monopolists’ self-serving objections dictate policy for the entirety of our country.