Soccer Nation USA logo

Arguments against Pro-Rel

In the rest of the world, promotion and relegation system has been a fundamental aspect of soccer since its inception.

Although an open pyramid has been successful in determining which teams compete at a higher level, it is not without its challenges. The benefits of a closed league model, such as the National Football League (NFL), creates a certain type predictability for owners and fans.  Below are some arguments AGAINST  Promotion & Relegation based mostly on the English Leagues. 

10 Arguments Against Promotion & Relegation

  1. Potential Financial Loss if relegated: 

    Relegation can result in a significant loss of revenue for teams since they get a much lower amount (maybe 10x less) of television revenue and sponsorships in the 2nd-tier Championship League as they do in the Premier League.  For example, at the end of the 2022/23 season, financial packages of more than $3 billion was divided up between the 20 Premier League teams.  Every team splits base payments of the broadcasting rights, which is more than $100 million for each team. Additional revenue is then added to each club based on how often their matches are selected for live TV. Even the relegated sides of Leicester, Leeds, and Southampton were set to receive more than $150 million each as a parting gift.  Although this revenue, and parachute payments for the next three years will help relegated teams deal expenses,  they will earn significantly less money in the second-tiered Championship league.

    An even greater divide happens for the top four Premier League teams that qualify for Europe’s Champion’s League.  According to the Mirror, just qualifying for Champions League could bring an additional $124 million to each English club.  Winning the Champions League trophy could bring in close to another $100 million. (See European 2023-24 winnings)  In reality, at least financially, making the top four is almost as important as winning the Premier league. Teams that do not quality do not get to benefit from these rewards. 

    Overall, relegation can definitely hurt a team financially, as they still have large salaries, facilities, and other club expenses.  This often leads to a lot of player transfers and certainty in the club.  The dreams of Champions league sometimes results in owners spending way beyond their means to try to keep up with the top teams. And if relegated, some clubs who have not tended their finances well can be in dire straights and spiral out of control, most English clubs do not disappear as usually happens in the US closed system.

  2. Owners won’t buy into an Open System

    The owners of Major League Soccer would never agree to an open system for they would not want to take on the risk of being relegated which could result in a huge loss of revenue. The owners argue they have invested millions, if not billions in the league, and it is not fair to change the rules after they have invested so much already. They  also like the stability of a closed system knowing they would stay in the top (and only) league whether the team came in 1st or last place.  This argument is probably the main reason why an open pyramid does not currently exist and definitely benefits the current owners. This privilege disregards others who may want to invest on American soccer. 

    The sad irony is that may Americans millionaires invest in lower level soccer clubs in other countries knowing that they at least an opportunity to rise top the top. Currently, with the US Soccer rules, a team like Luton FC, with a substandard facility,  would not be able to play in our top level in Major League Soccer. In contrast, in England, Luton has promoted four tiers since 2015, and gets to play against the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea, in one of the smallest stadiums in the Premier Leagues. Unfortunately, this is not allowed in the United States in our existing system.  An argument can easily be made that many entrepreneurs in the US would love that opportunity. In fact, across the country, there are already hundreds of small owners putting all their heart and soul, and money, into lower level clubs. Imagine what could happen if there was an opportunity to move up the pyramid.

  3.  Inconsistent Competition:
    The competitiveness of leagues can be reduced because of weaker sides participating, which can affect the viewership of less exciting games. When relegated, may top level players want to transfer back to higher quality play of the Premier League. This would appear to leave a lesser product on the field. At least in England, the quality of play may drop a little, but the competition is just as strong as teams battle week in and week out to try to get promoted or fight like mad to stay out of the relegation zone.  Each year, you can witness the intense emotions in lower leagues, even in the lowest tiers,  when promoted or relegated. Just take a look at the Wrexham or Luton FC story in the last few years,  or the documentary of storied Leeds United in their fight to get back to the Premier League, after falling to the English 3rd division.

  4. Player Exodus:
    Promotion and relegation can result in top players leaving to join richer teams (domestic or overseas) that compete in popular leagues. The wage structure, long-term contracts, transfer deals, and nerve-wracking negotiations for players, owners and fans that relegated teams need to deal with makes for a very stressful few months in the off-season with possibly long-term consequences for a club.   

  5. Expense of  Travel
    With less revenue in a lower league, frequent travel to play against teams in different cities can be much more expensive as teams may not have the luxurious accommodations or travel they were used to in a higher league. This can put a toll on the team in terms of rest and practice.

  6. Disgruntled Fan Base
    Although not so much in the European leagues, where even smaller teams have a huge tradition, it is natural that teams that get relegated several times can lose some fans who may get discouraged from following a team that constantly fluctuates between leagues. Especially with the ability to watch top teams on television from across the globe, many fans have taken on a second favorite team. It is difficult to know what would happen in the United States without that same tradition. We have never tested an open system  in the US,  but it is clear that in the last twenty years, there are many lower level teams that have a passionate fan base and it would be interesting to see what would happen with Promotion & Relegation.

  7. Youth Development
    Relegation can hinder the growth and development of up-and-coming footballers who would rather play in a top division, rather than join a lower division team. However, without am open system, there a less teams for young players to develop.

  8. Quality of Football
    Lower league teams often have limited resources that can result in them not being in a position to implement new technology or methodologies that make for a better quality of football. With the loss of revenue, this would be true as player salaries would most likely be the primary focus before any new advances could be implemented.  However, as long as there is an opportunity for promotion, a community and owners will likely make investments and sacrifices to move to that next level.

  9. Stability
    Smaller clubs can find it difficult to progress towards promotion, which can lead to limited investment in the players, short-lived success, and overall instability. In fact, some team may actually fear the faster pace and cost of a higher tier and be content where they are, leading to a lack of real investment in their club.

  10. Unfamiliarity:
    Teams can struggle to get to grips with playing against clubs from unfamiliar leagues with different tactics, playing styles, and physical approaches.

Can an Open Pyramid happen in the US?

These reasons above and more have all been used to deny the United States from experimenting with an open system with Promotion & Relegation between tiers.

The challenges are deep and complicated, and the ownership model within the current state of US Soccer, as well as the history of closed sports leagues in the US would appear to make an open soccer league an impossible dream.  

The changes in the sport of US soccer in the last 15 years has made the dream attainable.  Soccer fans are so much more knowledgeable than1996 when Major League Soccer was born. The ability to see the best soccer around the world every day on television has made US soccer fan question our own country’s sports league model.  Even MLS owners must question why many soccer fans care more about Real Madrid, Arsenal, or Manchester City than Atlanta United or San Jose. Soccer has grown so much in the last 20 years that, in an open system with an opportunity to rise to the top, there would most likely be hundreds of owners ready to invest in communities all across the country.  

A true soccer nation cannot happen unless the US Soccer federation allow it to happen.  Whether MLS joins an open league or not,  our goal is to push for an open pyramid with Promotion & Relegation and let the free market decide what it wants.