Why Every USA Soccer Fan Should Get Behind #ProRelforUSA

Promotion/relegation is now the number one topic in USA soccer outside of the regular news cycle of current men’s and women’s national team fixtures. How will an open USA soccer system become a reality? It will happen when enough common people unite their voices on the issue and surpass the requisite tipping point of public pressure. When the volume on the issue is loud enough, authorities with the power to force the change, whether that be FIFA, the U.S. government, or U.S. Soccer Federation itself, will have no choice but to react accordance to the voice of the people. The immediate goal for the promotion/relegation 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. There are two main reasons why the average USA soccer fan should get behind the promotion/relegation USA Soccer movement: It will create better American soccer players and clubs, and it will leverage USA soccer to do a ton of social and economic good for the people of America.

1. Increased soccer quality and popularity

First, it will increase and better consolidate popularity for the sport while also serving to develop better players, clubs, and national team talent pool. Second, and more importantly, an open system drives 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.

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.

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.

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What Causes USA Soccer’s Pay-to-Play Problem?

USA soccer has a massive “pay-to-play” or “rich sport” problem. Thousands upon thousands of eager and talented young soccer players are priced out of, cannot find, or are never scouted for high-quality playing and training opportunities.

But get this:

Pay-to-play itself does not need to be touched. It is NOT a bogeyman that needs to be destroyed.

“Wait, What?!”

There is an important distinction to remember in the effort to solve this problem:

It’s not about destroying the “pay-to-play” system itself, it’s about INCENTIVIZING the creation of a separate, free-to-play pipeline that is normally seen in other soccer nations around the world.

“Paying for soccer” has to exist at some level of any nation’s soccer ecosystem. Resources, infrastructure, and services cost money. Markets do not function on charity alone. The key difference is WHO is paying for the soccer opportunities.

In normal soccer nations around the world (98% of the free world), TWO youth player opportunity pipelines exist:

1) A free-to-play training and scouting pipeline established by professional soccer clubs striving for competition achievements and financial profit.

2) A pay-to-play pipeline where participants exchange money for organized soccer activity.

What on the surface looks like a “pay-to-play” or “rich sport” root problem is really just a symptom of one single bad governing policy: a closed USA soccer market.

In an open USA soccer market (read: promotion/relegation and an open division 1), America’s thousands of soccer clubs would have incentive to build and invest in free-to-play academies and scouting networks. This chance of a return on investment could come from the financial reward of winning promotion to a higher division (increases in merchandise sales, TV deal shares, attendance etc.), or the sale of “homegrown”, senior-level players to other clubs for financial profit (spend fifty-thousand dollars on a player “X’s” development from age 11-17, then sell him on at age 18 to another club for a fee of ten million dollars).

Imagine if 500 open system USA soccer clubs fielded academies with a rough average of 60 player slots each. This would result in 30,000 free-to-play, high-level player development opportunities (not to mention many job opportunities for coaches, scouts, and administrators). USA has an estimated 9,000 soccer clubs through the youth and pro levels under the current closed system, so the above projection is ultra conservative. There is potential for hundreds of thousands of club player and staff opportunities.

The pay-to-play soccer pipeline would simply fill the remaining vacuum in the ecosystem. There will still be a massive swath of players seeking a soccer recreational experience or a fallback competitive outlet just below the pro academy cut line. Americans have a huge appetite for youth sports entertainment and plenty of disposable income. Pay-to-play soccer is not going anywhere. It is very healthy for American soccer in this scenario.

American soccer has been forced to rely solely on its pay-to-play pipeline for the development of professional and national team players.

The lack of a free-to-play academy and scouting pipeline means that a multitude of players are never discovered or properly developed. Players in good economic or geographic situations have a leg up on the rest. Open systems serve just consequences for both success and failure. Closed systems simply cannot filter talent as efficiently as open systems. Basing promotion and relegation on the arbitrary decisions of coaches and scouts carries far greater potential for human error than the normal procedure of letting matches on the field serve as main driver of promotion and relegation.

The fact that USA – despite a crippling closed market policy – is able to salvage some success at the senior level is a testimony to its raw soccer potential. In a 2006 global soccer census, FIFA estimated that USA soccer had over 24 MILLION soccer players. That’s one soccer player for every 14 people you meet in its population of 325+ million. Even if that player estimate is off by multiple millions, it is still a number that matches the general population totals of many great soccer nations. Leave pay-to-play alone and give soccer clubs the opportunity to build the free-to-play opportunities that American soccer desperately needs.


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