The ‘USA Soccer is Not Ready for Promotion/Relegation’ Myth

One of the most common responses to the movement for an open, promotion/relegation system in USA soccer is that the nation’s soccer landscape is “not ready yet.” It is natural to look at the extremely unstable USA soccer closed system of today and falsely conclude that there is a lot of preparation work to do before an open system can be implemented, but the “not ready” brigade is looking at the equation completely backwards. Open systems are not a response to closed-system successes, but rather they are a response to closed-system failures (see USA soccer today). The assumption that a closed soccer system is the proving ground for the viability of an open system is just flat out wrong. There is no prerequisite for equal opportunity for all.

All risk with no reward

From a cost-benefit analysis perspective, investors and fans have very little incentive to contribute their time, money, and energy into “making USA soccer ready” for an open system. There is no tangible and realistic return on investment (ROI) opportunity for those contemplating investment into a lower-division soccer economy that is stuck beneath a glass ceiling. If you do well as an individual or club, why does it matter? There is no upward mobility and reward for success. If you win your league (AKA have the best product in the marketplace) you are simply resigned go back and do it all over again the next year. All risk, no upside.

It is absurd to ask people to place a bet when the odds are stacked 100% against them. A few outlier people and clubs are willing to take this sort of plunge in the closed USA soccer lower divisions of today, but we should not expect a majority of constituents to undertake this almost suicidal “sacrifice of love” in order to produce lower-division vibrancy at a larger scale. USA soccer must introduce open-market incentives that reward hard work and excellence, otherwise, the lower divisions of USA soccer will continue to tread water, with most clubs breaking even or sustaining losses, and dozens of clubs collapsing each year. By its very essence and definition, investment – the “readying” of USA soccer that people are calling for – cannot exist without the presence of potential return on investment.

Closed-system victim blaming

The onus is not on the captives to prove that they deserve freedom, nor is it the responsibility of the disenfranchised to earn the right to a fair chance in their particular ecosystem. USA soccer, and sport as a whole, is a real-world industry just like any other. Tangible consequences of jobs, social opportunity, and increased GDP are at stake. It is not right to dismiss sport as “just a game” or mere entertainment. USA soccer’s closed system is economic, social, and sporting discrimination. We cannot blame people for not being able or willing to participate in the USA soccer ecosystem when U.S. Soccer Federation policy rigs the entire system against them in the first place. Stop blaming victims and start blaming the perpetrators, namely, the USSF governing federation that is supposed to be fighting for all constituents in the USA soccer ecosystem.

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The fraud of the ever-moving “ready for promotion/relegation” goalposts 

What exactly does “ready” for an open USA soccer system look like and who decides it? The “not ready yet” claim is merely a delay tactic put forward by those who oppose an open USA soccer system. Every ten years, there is another declaration saying that USA soccer is ten years away from being able to establish an open system. The goalposts are vague and always moving. USSF, MLS, and open system opposition realizes that they would look like buffoons if they try to explicitly argue against the wild success of open soccer systems all over the world. Since these people have no factual and logical arguments to refute the idea of an open USA soccer system, they resort to disingenuous delay tactics like this in hopes that the rising tide for equality and opportunity in USA soccer will just go away.

In order to have reason to mobilize and invest in the USA soccer lower division marketplace, USA soccer constituents need U.S. Soccer governance to declare an open system start date. Even before the “go-live” date, people and clubs will then have incentive to start building and investing in their clubs, and the lead-up time will provide enough time to ensure a stable start to the open-system era. Until then, while the USSF avoids or vaguely addresses the potential of opening the USA soccer system, it is 100% understandable that investors and fans refuse to invest in, or even completely ignore the lower divisions of USA soccer.

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USA Women’s Soccer Equality for More Than Just 23 Players

With the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in full swing, the ongoing calls for gender equality in the game of soccer are taking center stage once more. The U.S. women’s national team, backed by their number one world ranking in women’s soccer, is at the forefront of equality discussions with their fight for equal pay alongside the U.S. men’s national team. They also happen to represent a nation which has lately been on the forefront in the battle for equality in all arenas.  In the USA soccer ecosystem, most people agree that providing merit-based compensation and fair opportunity to all genders in USA soccer is the right thing to do, but the real question is how to implement this culture and structure of equality. USA soccer much search for a solution that benefits women and girls all throughout the ecosystem, not just a select few. The market mechanism of promotion and relegation is the best place to start as it creates the most real, tangible opportunity for players, coaches, employees and fans in the women’s soccer ecosystem.

The USA women’s national team seems to be on track to gain victory in its fight for equal compensation from the U.S. Soccer Federation, but what comes next if and when the the U.S. women’s national team wins its fight for equal compensation? The resulting income gain for the 23 members of the national team would be great, but what about the millions of other women and girls in the USA soccer ecosystem? Nothing really changes for them besides being able to revel at a symbolic victory at the pinnacle of the women’s soccer ecosystem. If USA really wants to be about equality for women’s soccer, why not think of structures and mechanisms which could provide real, tangible opportunities and pathways for women and girls in the game? The national team does quite well, but what about the almost non-existent U.S. women’s pro soccer landscape? The MLS-backed NWSL is barely scratching and surviving. As recent as a few years ago, the league was fielding unpaid players. The nation that hosts the number one women’s national team in the world can barely afford to pay its first-division women’s club players? How ridiculous is that!

Open the USA soccer ecosystem so that all people and clubs can compete. Create REAL opportunity for female ownership. The below quote from this piece by Mehdi Manseur brilliantly outlines how an open USA soccer market with promotion and relegation is just what is needed to sustain and grow USA women’s soccer at all levels:

Women’s Pro Sports An open sports system would also have profound effects on women’s professional sports in America, which has failed to develop in comparison with our European counterparts. Many of America’s professional female athletes seek employment abroad because of the lack of opportunities within the major team sports in America. All notable attempts to start female sports leagues in the United States have been in the form of closed systems with similar obstacles placed upon new entrants to protect the already established entities and prevent open competition from any outside groups.

As such, there is no incentive for individuals or groups to invest in new female teams unless they are provided assurances they will be allowed to enter the closed system or unless they intend to invest sufficiently to establish an entire league themselves. Since the already established entities limit and control competition to protect their investments and since seeking out sufficient investment to form an entire league is an incredibly high burden, the current dynamic works to dissuade new investment into female sports and limits the potential growth of the overall industry in America.

An open system of female sports would provide a stable and reliable structure for which new entities can enter the market and compete against already established entities upon meeting certain objective standards and criteria. Doing so would promote new investment into female sports since new teams would never need permission from established entities to enter the marketplace and never need to seek out sufficient capital to form an entire league.

Rather than permit the development of women’s pro sports to be constrained by closed systems that serve only the interests of a select few, it would be supported by a stable overall structure that allows it to grow organically with the free market determining where in America teams could thrive.

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