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US Soccer Fans Desire For Promotion & Relegation

Mon 21st Nov 2016 | Football Governance

The introduction of promotion and relegation into the US soccer league system would have a range of long term benefits and enable the world’s most popular sport to reach its potential in the world’s biggest sports market, according to a new report released today from business advisory firm Deloitte.

The report draws on publicly available information as well as primary research in the form of a new poll of more than 1,000 US soccer fans, providing a preliminary assessment of factors for and against an open system of promotion and relegation across the nation’s professional soccer leagues.

In a clear sign of the maturing attitude to soccer in the US, more than half of fans polled said they’d like to see the introduction of promotion and relegation, with just 6% opposed to the move.

The MLS, along with NASL and the USL operate closed league structures whereby teams do not move up and down leagues based on sporting merit. The Deloitte report presents evidence explaining that the introduction of promotion and relegation would make for a more compelling spectacle for both match going fans and TV viewers.

The report cites the English Championship’s Play-Off Final as an example of a marquee occasion, where TV viewing figures can spike up to 216% higher than regular season fixtures.

50% of fan poll respondents say they would be more likely to watch club soccer games on TV if promotion and relegation were introduced (versus just 7% who were less likely), while 46% stated that they would be more likely to attend live matches. Only 8% said they would be less likely to attend live games.

Speaking of the report, Dan Jones, Head of the Sport Business Group at Deloitte, said: “The fundamental principle that is largely accepted throughout the world of football and even appears in the FIFA statutes states that the competition that a football team plays in should reflect sporting merit on the pitch rather than any other factors.

“We believe the introduction of promotion and relegation into the existing league system could have numerous long term benefits, including increased attendances, increased broadcast audiences, improved commercial revenue and a positive impact on both elite players and grassroots participants.

“The current closed system has served MLS well in its early years, but as it matures it is reaching member capacity, preventing further expansion.”

The report suggests that further growth, especially the registration of players with US Youth Soccer which has stagnated since 2000 despite increased rates of participation in high schools, could be achieved by implementing an open system of promotion and relegation.

However, the closed system is preferred across the major sporting leagues in the US. This risk averse mindset and fear of franchise owners losing money through relegation is one of the major obstacles to a switch to an open system.

“All of the challenges are capable of being managed, or overcome,” Dan added.

“The US has taken a lead in terms of cost control in professional sports through collective bargaining agreements, salary caps and so on. European soccer has been slow to catch up with that but has over the period of the last few years.

“We’ve [the Premier League] had 20 years of spectacular revenue growth and there was the feeling that there needed to be some sort of cost control to stop the pattern of increased revenue growth leading to the escalation in costs which leads to increased losses.

“So regulations have been tried and do exist and can be formulated again to ensure that clubs remain within control.”

The Deloitte report was commissioned by Silva International Investments (UK) Limited, to assist with a preliminary assessment of factors for and against the introduction of promotion and relegation in professional club soccer in the USA.

Posted by: Aaron Gourley 

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