The Antitrust Argument that Will Open USA Soccer

What would it take to defeat the Major League Soccer (MLS)/U.S. Soccer monopoly with an antitrust  lawsuit? It is important to remember that the USA soccer closed system has something that the isolated U.S. sport closed systems do not: a globally recognized divisional sanction that provides a clear pathway to individual club profit beyond internal league competition. Hinging an antitrust lawsuit on the lucrative nature of FIFA’s divisional sanction standard is the key to toppling the unjust MLS/U.S. Soccer monopoly.

There is a strong antitrust lawsuit case to be made against MLS/U.S. Soccer monopoly because a nation’s division 1 sanction is directly linked to profit via international club competitions. Qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup are the profit pathways in USA’s case. USA clubs directly benefit from participation in these competitions through shared TV and ticket revenue from the tournament itself. The other side of this same coin is that division 1 sanctions are seen as the standard indicator of club quality around the world, and that achieving this status indirectly leads clubs to profit through global prestige and notoriety. International shirt sales and TV rights for the D1 league are indirect profit examples in this case. 

When stake the antitrust argument on the factors of domestic competition only – as the case example of the Fraser vs. MLS did around the turn of the millennium – it is a much more difficult case to win. For example, isolated U.S. sports like American football or baseball can make a decent case that they are competing fairly because there are no extracurricular profits to be had outside of the confines of their own competition. Sure, teams and owners can make profits within a U.S. sports league, but the direct and indirect profits they generate are not assisted by the outside interference of a global governing body for their sport. Being in their U.S. sport league does not assure them of entry into any international competitions that provide externally generated profit opportunities as FIFA does for domestic soccer clubs around the world. These U.S. sports leagues could also make the case that anyone is free to start a competing league since there is no globally recognized D1 standard to adhere to in these isolated sports.

The winning legal case can be distilled down to this: Access to the USA soccer division 1 sanction allows clubs in the USA soccer ecosystem to attain profits through access to FIFA-sanctioned competition. Allowing one company or club to hold exclusive ownership of this D1 sanction is violation of U.S. antitrust law and principles. MLS should be given the choice to either align with an open-access, promotion/relegation USA system, or it should be forced to give up the U.S. Soccer Federation division 1 sanction an operate sanction-free like all of the other closed USA sports leagues.

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USA Soccer’s Closed System Is Immoral

In the midst of the battle to bring open, promotion/relegation soccer to America (#ProRelforUSA), it is important to not lose sight of the very heart and soul of the cause: USA soccer must be opened because it is the just and moral thing to do. Upholding a closed domestic system in global soccer is flat-out immoral and evil. There is no need to rest all hope and debate on utilitarian arguments such as, “open systems produce better soccer and more money so therefore USA should adopt it as well.” Never forget that the clinching argument in the promotion/relegation USA debate is the question of right versus wrong.

There are many great illustrations and aspects in the trimmings of the promotion/relegation USA soccer argument, such as the nuts and bolts of the format, success stories from open systems around the world, and observations and experiences in the U.S. closed system. By all means, paint the world with these talking points, but always remember:

The onus is not on open USA soccer advocates to prove the utility or benefit of open soccer systems. Closed USA soccer system apologists should be put on the spot to explain why blatant discrimination and disenfranchisement is right and tolerable. 

Why is closed-league soccer immoral? Global soccer operates in a FIFA-governed ecosystem. Each country has a promotion/relegation ladder capped by a division 1 which is used to filter the best of the best into regional and international club competition (think UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup). Besides the revenue and prestige that entry into international competition generates for clubs, the fact that a club is “division 1” carries with it implied legitimacy and recognition in global soccer. It is not just a label attached arbitrarily. If a club is D1, they must be pretty good. This leads even more of the revenue and prestige mentioned above.

How would these same principles apply in a hypothetical U.S. Soccer open system? As a USA soccer club moves up and down the ladder via wins and losses, corresponding revenue and prestige increases and decreases. There are variables and outliers, but the general rule remains constant. The rise and fall of independent clubs should be looked at just the same as individual businesses rising and falling within any industry. Soccer, and sport in general, is not “just a game.” There are economic and social consequences beyond the grass field. Real lives, jobs, and pocketbooks are part of soccer competition as well. Most agree that economic and social equality are human rights, so it would then follow that the U.S. Soccer closed system of today is immoral and unjust.

Make sure to always approach the promotion/relegation USA soccer question from its primary standpoint of morality. The sporting quality details are great, but remember where the true high ground is. A promotion/relegation USA soccer system has tremendous potential to make a giant economic and social impact in America. For those who oppose an open system, the onus is on you to explain why keeping the USA soccer system closed is more just and moral than opening it.

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The USA Soccer “Unique Market” Myth

Every so often, an investor-operator or media apologist affiliated with the MLS/U.S. soccer closed-system status quo declares that the American soccer market is somehow “unique” and drastically different from the rest of the soccer world. These unique differences exist, but every country in the world possesses its own set of them. These characteristics should be folded into the standard open, promotion/relegation soccer system, not used as an excuse to run a perverse and immoral closed system.

The latent purpose of this “unique soccer country” claim is to provide the grounds of justification for the discrimination and disenfranchisement brought about by USA soccer’s closed system. “You see, the USA soccer market has unique challenges and needs special considerations and protections in order for the game to survive and grow,” they exclaim. Year after year, USA doubles down on the failing MLS closed system and sees little to no progress. The nation is reluctant to break the cycle and change course because it is stuck in a flat-earth mindset that makes it believe that a closed system is required for soccer’s very existence in America.

If you take stock of USA’s cultural and sporting attributes, it is difficult to conclude that the USA is missing required soccer-nation ingredients:

  • 24 million soccer players (still a gigantic number even if off by multiple million)
  • 330 million total population (with 24 million players, it is clear that there must be at least 30-50 million soccer fans in America)
  • #1 national wealth and infrastructure
  • 100+ years of professional soccer history
  • High U.S. TV ratings for foreign, open-system club soccer and the World Cup.

USA clearly has strong soccer culture and history. Some say that competition from other sports (NFL, NBA etc.) is an insurmountable barrier, but with a population of 330 million, the 24+ million soccer players and fans mentioned above are more than enough to build a top-notch soccer nation. There is enough room for both “big American sports” and “big USA soccer” to exist.

Every nation has its unique cultural mixture and identity, but these differences simply provide the backdrop for the open soccer competition that must ensue. The entire soccer world and all of soccer history proves that the sport’s open-system essence is never the cause of instability. The 0% open system collapse rate speaks for itself. The only way that things can go wrong is through government mismanagement, and this is exactly what is happening with the overreach and corruption of today’s U.S. Soccer governing federation.

The only thing “unique and challenging” about American soccer is the fact that its governing soccer federation refuses to align with the open-system essence of global soccer, and FIFA’s corresponding promotion/relegation mandate. Division 1 sanction exclusivity should not be granted to one single constituent (company or club) in the ecosystem, as has happened with club MLS and its control over U.S. Soccer D1. The current U.S. Soccer governing federation is completely compromised. It is acting as a proxy federation working for the business interests of the MLS company.

USA soccer does not struggle because of bad ingredients, it struggles because of a bad chef (U.S. Soccer). It is time to start holding leadership accountable. If this federation will not lead USA soccer into alignment with FIFA’s mandate on promotion/relegation, it is time to start a new governing federation that will. Until then, keep speaking up for change and keep educating people on the myths and realities of the USA soccer ecosystem.

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Busting Promotion/Relegation USA Soccer Myths

The case for opening USA soccer is airtight. Yes, there are challenges with transitioning to an open system, but none that truly constitute show-stopping sticking points. All that is required is a little bit of planning and determination from USA soccer’s governing body (currently USSF). Let’s set up and knock down a few of the most prevalent anti-open soccer myths.

“MLS would never agree to promotion/relegation.” 

The decision to open USA soccer is not up to MLS since the organization is only one constituent in American soccer. It is one single club that’s divided into franchise outlets that play against each other. It is ludicrous to let one constituent determine the freedom and opportunity of all other parties in the ecosystem. Would the English FA be dim enough to give Manchester United or Arsenal supreme policy power over the English football ecosystem? It is time to stop giving MLS unwarranted power.

“Soccer is new in USA – we need to give it more time.”

False. Soccer has existed in America for over a century. Not just pick-up ball or amateur teams mind you, but also pro soccer and one of the oldest domestic cup competitions in the world. What’s the one common denominator behind USA soccer collapses and failure? The country has never tried a fully open, promotion/relegation ecosystem. A century ago, travel and communication difficulty were valid excuses for not implementing an open system, but there are no such barriers in 2018. Follow this Twitter feed for daily doses of American soccer history content.

“Open systems are unstable.”

Fully open systems are fail-proof.  Individual clubs fail drastically or even collapse in open systems, but the key statistic is that no *ecosystem* has collapsed in world soccer history. Individuals and clubs fail in a free market, but by definition, open systems replace any failing entity with the “next man” up via promotion. The new club formation rate far exceeds club collapse rate. There will never be a shortage of clubs.

“What about travel costs? Can lower-division clubs fly all over the country if they get promoted?”

There will be a 3-5 year preparation window before an open system commences. the “go-live date” can even be adjusted on the fly if needed. This window will provide clubs adequate time to prepare for life with consequences at the top and bottom. The most sensible procedure would be to not relegate from any division until 6-10 tiers are filled from the bottom via promotion and new clubs. It would also be smart to divide USA soccer into twin, east-west pyramids. The pyramid can then granulate into regional and state divisions as the ladder goes down.

Once promotion/relegation does start, teams will rise and fall incrementally – one division at a time. It is nonsense to panic over an 8th-division amateur “pub team” potentially being forced to travel throughout half the country under a 1st or 2nd-division club schedule. As teams work their way up the ladder, they only need to grow as needed for life in the next division up. If a team were to rise through six divisions, it would be a healthy, six-year growing process. As an extra precaution against club collapse, any club will be free to decline promotion to a higher division if they believe they cannot cope with the increased demands.

Here is a USA soccer open system plan that I fully endorse.

Shoot me some myths or questions in the comments below or at Twitter: @bwfast and I will turn this into a series.


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Is MLS the Trump of USA Soccer?

I have noticed that quite a few MLS apologists bash non left-wing characters and policies on the regular.

Are these apologists aware of where their support for “club MLS” is directed to?

It is quite the embarrassing conundrum.

MLS apologists bash USA President Donald Trump often, but the kicker is that they appear to be blissfully unaware that one of the chief shareholders of club MLS is famous Trump supporter Robert Kraft:

krafttrump.jpg

Another club MLS founding father, Phil Anschutz, is a noted supporter of “right-wing” anti-LGBTQ groups:

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music/coachella-co-owner-fire-supporting-anti-lgbtq-groups-article-1.3791811

This is very odd since club MLS and its fans try so hard to market an “equality” stance when it comes to LGBTQ demographics in USA soccer and the nation as a whole.

What is with all of the uppity, progressive speak? The MLS club that these folks support directly contradicts with those values.

Is it any surprise that the parody account @MLS_Trump fits club MLS like a glove?

trumpkraft22

Discriminatory, closed-system USA soccer policy (no promotion/relegation) jives well with these non-progressive values that MLS apologists claim to hate.


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USA Soccer Excuses in the Face of Croatia and Iceland Success

Surpise! MLS/USA soccer closed-system apologists have once again scored a perfect 10 in the mental gymnastics narrative spin competition.

On one hand, these closed-system apologists have always held that USA does not have enough soccer culture, fans, players, or infrastructure to be successful. Lately, small soccer nations such as Iceland, Belgium, and Croatia have been popping up and proving that the “little guys” can make serious noise in global soccer despite population and resource limitations. Small nations are now eclipsing USA soccer success on the regular.

Amazingly, these closed-system apologists are now claiming that USA soccer’s abundance of resources is a handicap and not an advantage. To review USA soccer ingredients:

  • 330 million total population
  • 24 million soccer players (probably 50+ million soccer fans in general)
  • #1 wealth and infrastructure on the planet
  • $11 billion projected profit for 2026 World Cup hosting honors.

Closed-system apologists want you to forget all of that noise. Apparently, these small nations have an advantage over USA because it is easier for them to organize into a cohesive unit. You simply cannot make it up:

Since USA soccer closed-system apologists cannot hold the U.S. Soccer governing federation (USSF) or MLS (the ones who appear to be pulling the strings for USSF’s decisions) accountable, they predictably must resort to a new spin on one of the two erroneous USA soccer failure scapegoats: blaming soccer fans/culture or soccer players.

You see, oh unenlightened ones, USA’s soccer landscape is so massive and diverse that it is hard to organize all of you good folks into a system of development that will produce top level USA soccer players for clubs and the national team. Leave it to the MLS closed-system to tackle this massive this challenge! Woe is USA for being so blessed with an abundance of soccer resources!

Why is the USA soccer national team player pool no better than the pre-MLS era in the mid-1990s? Why is MLS capturing a 6% (and shrinking) slice of the total USA soccer market?

With Croatia’s wild success in the 2018 World Cup, the credit must go to the Croatian soccer federation’s implementation of an open market (promotion/relegation) which enables excellent practitioners and organizations (clubs, fans, coaches, players, administrators) to rise to the top levels of the Croatian soccer ecosystem. Small, open-system nations are putting on a brilliant exhibition in the maximization of limited resources and potential.

Is USA soccer too rich or too poor? The conditions never seem to be right for MLS and USA soccer closed-system apologists. USA soccer must make the choice to align its soccer with American values of equality and opportunity for all. An open USA soccer market will incentivize hard work and excellence from players, coaches, administrators, and fans. USA is a world-class soccer nation, but it has to open its domestic ecosystem to all in order to produce a world-class domestic club soccer competition and national team.


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USSF Is Responsible for USA Soccer Instability

The common declarations on the state of USA soccer continue to be: “We need a stable system!” and “We need to grow the game!”

Wait a minute. Let me get this straight:

  • USA has had soccer for 100+ years (yes, even pro clubs and players that go back that far).
  • USA has 24 million soccer players (more than the entire populations of many great world soccer nations).
  • USA sets the attendance and profit standard for hosting World Cups (USA just promised an $11 BILLION 2026 World Cup profit to FIFA).

Despite all this, USA is still lamenting over how weak and unstable its soccer is?

The real story? America goes bonkers for the normal soccer seen around the world, but its domestic club soccer competition (led by a failing MLS closed division 1) is woefully unpopular (MLS has a paltry 6% share of soccer TV viewers in USA).

There is no soccer problem in USA. There is no soccer fan and player interest or passion problem in USA. Perhaps it is time to examine U.S. Soccer governing federation (USSF) leadership and policy?

“It’s the SYSTEM, stupid!” – me

A closed USA soccer system that only gives one company/club (MLS) access to division 1 is absolutely toxic to stability and growth. Why should millions of soccer-crazy Americans care and invest in USA domestic soccer when they are denied a fair opportunity to compete? Compare the world’s open systems with USA soccer’s closed system and there is no contest.

Open systems:

No open soccer system has collapsed in world history.

I repeat:

Open. Systems. Never. Ever. EVER. Collapse.

100% stability rate.

Most of the soccer world has seen wild success under open-system policy. The planet’s top national teams, club teams, and players all come from open systems. Off the pitch, the most profitable and popular domestic and international competitions are made up of open system clubs and national teams. The most profitable clubs come from open systems.

USA’s closed system:

USA’s domestic club competition sees an average club collapse rate of TEN clubs per year. This really is all the evidence we need in this debate. USA has the most unstable domestic soccer system – by far.

Many USA first-division (MLS) players make less than $100,000 per year. Many second-division players (currently USL) do not make a livable full-time wage. No paid playing opportunities exist with clubs below these two divisions.

USA soccer’s closed system encourages league versus league infighting. Leagues are able to poach clubs from competitor leagues (MLS D1 has poached multiple clubs from NASL D2 in the last 15 years) or place new clubs in close proximity to competitor-league clubs in order to drive them out of business.

Here is a snapshot of USA soccer closed-system chaos as of October 2017 (via @Flight_19):

stability123

The evidence is clear: open soccer systems are far superior to closed systems. Any argument that the current USA soccer closed system is more conducive to stability and growth than the open system alternative is just plain wrong. USA soccer’s closed-system policy is a self-fulfilling prophecy of instability.

Are open soccer systems utopia? No one is claiming perfection or that the harsh realities of open markets do not exist, but an open system that is 90% healthy is leaps and bounds ahead of USA soccer’s current stability standard.

Clubs can struggle or even collapse within open systems, however, these examples account for just a tiny percentage of the ranks of healthy clubs in open systems. Even with these outlier instability cases, clubs that have to shut their doors or file for bankruptcy (administration) usually have brands and supporter trusts that live on for “rebirth” in the future. Soccer clubs, when hosted in an open and unlimited soccer ecosystem, are practically inextinguishable.

Does the current U.S. soccer federation intentionally plot this instability, or is it just a result of clueless incompetency? Is this federation now just a front for MLS business interests and are the decisions made by this supposed “impartial” body meant to benefit MLS and kill of any outside competition? With the way the federation continues to double down on this toxic closed-system policy, questions like these must be asked. It is time to hold the USA soccer governing federation accountable.

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