Promotion/relegation is now the number one topic in USA soccer outside of the regular news cycle surrounding the men’s and women’s national teams. How exactly will an open USA soccer system become a reality? It will happen when enough common people unite their voices on the issue and bring American soccer authorities to the tipping point of public pressure. When the volume of demand for change is loud enough, either FIFA, the U.S. government, or the U.S. Soccer Federation itself will have no choice but to react accordance with the voice of the people.
The immediate goal for the #ProRelforUSA movement is to create a critical mass of education and awareness among USA’s 330 million people, and more specifically: the estimated 30-60 million soccer fan segment within the total population. The common USA soccer fan and constituent has an important role to play in this battle. There are two main reasons why the average USA soccer fan should get behind the promotion/relegation USA Soccer movement. An open system will increase the popularity and quality American soccer players and clubs, and it will leverage the power of the world’s game to do *megatons* of social and economic good for the people of America.
1. Increased soccer quality and popularity
Promotion/relegation in USA soccer will drive interest and investment at all levels of the game. From the powerhouse clubs in division 1, all the way down to the amateur sides in division 12, everyone has incentive to pour time, effort, and resources into their club in order to achieve the next step in excellence.
An open system would serve to leverage and increase existing popularity for the sport. The current MLS closed system is capturing a paltry 6% segment of all soccer TV viewers in America. There is nowhere to go but up when it comes to the proposition of promotion/relegation increasing interest in the U.S. domestic club soccer league system. Can you imagine the injection of interest and arms race of investment that would ensue when USA soccer switches over to a system that gives thousands of lower-division clubs a chance to win a place in the nation’s top division? There are 24+ million soccer players and 50+ soccer fans in America that are waiting for the chance to pour their efforts and passion into a USA club soccer competition that rewards and punishes based on true merit.
An open system will also serve increase the quality of players, clubs, and the national team. The stunning on-field quality of open soccer systems around leaves us with no doubt that the best talent filtration system is one based on sporting merit. Open systems eliminate the greatest amount of human error in the player scouting, selection, and development process. Open systems are also the best way to filter the best coaches, managers, administrators, scouts and fans to the top of the pile. The scoreboard next to the pitch is a much better talent identification tool than arbitrary selection. No matter what position, the good ones will be elevated and the poor ones will be found out and almost assuredly relegated.
2. Creating socioeconomic good
As outlined in this piece by Mehdi Manseur, open systems are a tremendous way to increase social mobility and economic prosperity. What’s more American than equality and opportunity?
Creating an open sports system for America would result in national and regional economic growth heretofore unforeseen and untapped, increased competition and resulting benefits to consumers, increased economic empowerment to minority communities, diversity of ownership of professional teams, the alleviation of the inequities of the NCAA and greatly benefit public finances.
American soccer is at a crossroads. It can choose to keep banging its head against the wall of mediocrity via the same old closed-system, or it can observe the wild success of open-system soccer around the world and align the American ecosystem accordingly. This current U.S. Soccer Federation is now merely a proxy federation for the business interests of one private company: MLS. We need to get it out of our heads that the current status quo leadership truly has the best interest of American soccer at heart. They do not.
What can you do to help?
It is up to common USA soccer fans to make true system reform happen in American soccer. Silence is compliance, and the tired, discriminatory status quo will keep rolling along if no one decides to speak up in opposition. The American soccer fan can push the nation closer to the promotion/relegation tipping point mentioned above. Each person has the opportunity to make a difference by using the power of the internet, social media, and in-person advocacy to push the needle ever closer to change. Use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, banners, signs, and your voice and keep waking people up to the realities of the USA soccer ecosystem. The failing status quo can only survive if American soccer fans believe that they do not have the power to make a difference.
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There are not 50+ million fans “waiting for the chance to pour their efforts and passion…” into pro/rel. MLS’s lack of pro/rel is NOT what drives Americans away from the league. In fact, we are not DRIVEN AWAY FROM the league at all. We are simply not DRAWN TO the league. And the cause for this is MLS’s complete inferiority, in terms of on-the-field quality, to several other leagues around the world, which are readily available on TV. Adopting pro/rel in the US will NOT change any of that.
There are not 24+ million soccer players “waiting for the chance to pour their efforts and passion…” into pro/rel. Millions of those kids are 5-12 years old and won’t be playing by age 13. Millions of others are kids who don’t have that level of interest/talent/commitment. And maybe(?) millions of others are adults who are past their prime and/or just playing rec ball. Adopting pro/rel in the US will NOT change any of that.
If pro/rel ever took hold, you would be shocked (I wouldn’t, but you would) to see how many fans deserted the loser relegated teams, how quickly those clubs folded and never came back, etc. America has a proven track record of NOT supporting local small clubs and leagues (in any sport), which have started and folded left and right repeatedly in my lifetime of 45 years. I have gone out to watch teams play such as the Phoenix Inferno, Arizona Condors, and Arizona Sandsharks. I really doubt the 200 other people at those games were thinking, “Man! If pro/rel existed, I’d keep coming to these lousy matches because maybe one day we’ll make it to the MLS.”
I know, I know: The MLS didn’t exist back then. And those teams, and their respective leagues, don’t exist anymore. Isn’t it odd that the only league that has been able to create a successful, sustainable soccer league in the history of the USA, is the league and model you constantly rail against? Why had no other league/leagues ever been able to make soccer successful here in America?
Pro/rel in other countries grew over time as a natural extension to the growth of soccer in those countries — growth that came pub team by pub team, school by school, town by town, city by city. Soccer gradually became so deeply rooted in their culture, and the love for the true local little pub or town team gradually became so embedded in the hearts of townspeople and families, that support for the little local teams existed to the extent that they were surviving without ever being promoted out of the 4th division, much less into the top division. Small teams, small leagues, small players, FAIL in America, because fans don’t support them. Adopting pro/rel in the US will NOT change any of that.
You have ZERO empirical evidence that pro/rel will increase the quality of US players, increase the US fan base, increase revenues, or anything else. You have ZERO empirical evidence that most (or even a significantly-sized minority) of American soccer fans are passionate about (or even want) pro/rel in the US. Personally, I think it would be cool to see, but it is not viable. But you want it so much, you act like it’s the solution to all (or many) of America’s big soccer woes. But you have no real evidence to support that assertion.