Because it is bitter, and because it is my league
Posted on April 20, 2012 5:16 pm
And yet, here I am, reliably as one of Pavlov’s dogs, murdering valuable electrons mocking the idea that promotion and relegation is feasible for MLS.
No, that’s not a mixed metaphor. The correct response to an article or blog post about promotion and relegation is to bark with animal rage, then drool all over it.
I mean, intellectually, I know the Internet isn’t a gigantic conspiracy to piss me off personally. Emotionally, though, is a different story.
And I’m not saying every soccer writer in America should have committed my works to memory, but, every time I’ve pointed out in tedious, ponderous, masochistic detail why promotion/relegation advocates have smeared lamb’s blood on their doors to ward off the Angel of Reality – it’s like I’m talking to walls.
Well, no, walls don’t come up with horrible ideas. Maybe a wall that has “There should be promotion and relegation in MLS” scribbled on it in crayon. I don’t know. I’ve even lost confidence in my metaphors.
So why am I here once again gamboling about in the wilds of promotion and relegation – the soccer blogger child’s garden of easy victories (as Tom Stoppard said about Dada)?
Anyway, here’s the golden passage:
Relegation can mean the wilderness. Some teams never return from the depths.
And not just because I now feel a little better about my metaphors (are we talking about some underground or oceanic forest here?). Typing out “some teams never return from the depths” should have triggered some thought process along the lines of “oh, right, so that’s why MLS doesn’t want to banish any of its hard-won markets for all time. Never mind” or something to that effect.
Why is it so hard to understand that the only people punished by promotion and relegation are fans and owners? The idea that MLS coaches who miss the playoffs are any more secure than Premiership coaches who embroil themselves in relegation battles is silly enough that I wish there was a shorter way to convey that the concept causes me to laugh audibly.
And the idea that MLS players are complacent because their team will be around next year is insulting enough I’m always shocked that any current or former player suggest promotion and relegation. The number of truly secure MLS players can be counted on the fingers of one of Nightcrawler’s hands. (Claremont-era X-men reference.) The rest either dream of the halfway decent salaries one can command abroad, or are furiously defending their roster spot against some up-and-coming hotshot or some iron-jawed USL stalwart. All this within an average career length just this side of Major League Russian Roulette.
Keep in mind the perks and lifetime security that an above-average MLS career offers – which is to say, practically none. The number of NFL (or Premiership) fans who make as much in a year as their heroes is trivially small. The average MLS salary these days pokes above six figures…just in the same way that the average salary of the people in your elevator is north of a billion a year if you share a car with Carlos Slim. The median has held steady around $80,000 for a couple of years now, which sounds pretty groovy until you remember that a ten year career in MLS is downright Methuselahesque.
I must have misread this chart, because it implies that over 40% of MLS fans have a household income above $75,000. But in no other “major” sport do even a tiny minority of the fans make anywhere near as much per capita as the players. This is why the Players Union thinks about striking so often, and tends to resent we fans when we don’t support them.
That bumper sticker that asks why we don’t pay teachers as much as athletes? Well, we still pay MLS players more than teachers – they wouldn’t be able to eat otherwise – but if we judge the difficulty and importance of jobs by salary, MLS players are by far the most replaceable and vulnerable performers in American sports. (As a point of reference, in 1970, under an antiquated and exploitative labor system in baseball, Curt Flood’s salary under the reserve clause was nine times the national median household income.)
I’m not saying MLS players never puppy-dog it. A national team player not wanting to miss the World Cup, or a player in the last year of his contract (preferably fresh off a failed transfer bid) – their motivation can take a dip. Relegation, however, would solve neither problem.
But the whole premise that there’s something wrong with MLS because we don’t annually fold a team fundamentally misunderstands what the average person gets out of sports in the first place – the diversion of competitive entertainment, or, put more simply, to see who wins. This is why they don’t cancel baseball and football games once division races are decided. This is why other drivers continue to show up to races even though they’re no longer in contention for the Piston Cup or whatever the hell it is. This is why Stanford and Cal keep playing each other, even though the outcome usually weighs on the Pac-12 race about as heavily as sunspots.
And this is why tickets are sold to individual games, and games are broadcast. There’s plenty of self-contained drama in each match. So you don’t care who wins a Portland-Philadelphia game in March. I didn’t care who won the Iran-Iraq War, but a bunch of other people did.
For once, this isn’t about casual part-time fans and hardcore supporters. You, dear reader, since you’re here, probably place yourself in Category B. What do you want, when you go to a game?
Right. Not to be attacked by zombie rape-weasels. Also, to have a good time. You can have happy, boisterous, noisy fun, like in Portland or Seattle or Kansas City. Or you can have the New York Red Bulls experience – where the abyss no longer stares back, but just nods and pours you the usual.
If the week-to-week atmosphere at the stadium is worth the effort, then promotion and relegation isn’t necessary. And if the week-to-week atmosphere at the stadium is a chore, then promotion and relegation won’t help.
The Premiership doesn’t need promotion and relegation any more than MLS does. Unless the premise is that Arsenal and Manchester United fans will give up the sport if they have to face the prospect of watching them play WBA forever. Which, I don’t know, maybe. But let’s say the Premiership commits a monstrous injustice, and closes their league at twenty as of next year. How many Arsenal or Manchester United fans would boycott their teams in solidarity with Leeds fans?
Actually, why not simply have promotion and relegation based on attendance? The twenty best-supported teams compete in the Premiership, the next twenty-four in the Championship, the next twenty-four in the Ultimate Supreme, and the next twenty-four in the Maximum Superb Imperial Global Just Call It The Fourth Division Already. By definition, it would be better for fans, and it would take the awful prospect of relegation out of the hands of indifferent, mercenary coaches and players. That’s assuming England doesn’t want to adopt my conference idea from a couple of years back – but I don’t think I included Crawley Town in that model. I don’t think I had heard of Crawley Town two years ago.