Promotion and Relegation – the Lower Divisions Speak

Posted on September 16, 2013 8:11 am

I thought it was about time to hear from people who would actually have a stake in whether promotion and relegation were established in American soccer.  I’d like to thank, once again, all the men and women who responded to me – I’ll save my reactions for a later post, and (for a change) give the people who live and work soccer every day the floor.

Sonny Dalesandro – Chairman, Tulsa Athletics (NPSL)

Big question. Solidifying the infrastructure of the teams currently competing is far more important than moving teams up and down a division….to answer briefly. Moving to the FIFA calendar would be paramount as well. That’s the brief version…

Joe Ferrara – Owner, New England Mutiny (WPSL)

100% in favor of it

Bill Fetke – Founder, Pensacola City FC (NPSL)

I wish there was a way to do it in the USA, but I feel that the country is too big and the travel costs would be too high for small market teams like myself to compete financially against a Chicago Fire, the way the MLS is currently set up.  I have had many conversations about this and these are the problems that have very tough answers.
1) the USSF needs to set specific divisions.  I do not think that will happen, because of the egos of each league.  There would need to be a lot of compensation to tell a PDL or NPSL that you are not as good as the other.
2) the entry level cost.  If you move PDL above the NPSL in the soccer pyramid and a PDL team pays $75k entry fee, while a NPSL team pays a $12k entry fee; can you convince the regulated PDL team to stay functional?  Same goes for a MLS team who pays $110 million.  They get regulated to a NASL, why would the team even play that season.  They would lose so much.  Even though, I wish Chivas would get regulated, for numerous reasons.
3) How could someone like me, here in Pensacola, where there isn’t a stadium outside a high school football stadium over 10k be able to play in the MLS?  In theory, if things went my way, under a promotion setting, I could be in the MLS in 4 years.  There would be no way I could get MLS approved facilities built that quick.  What happens then?   I would never be able to bring in enough fans to cover costs if I had to use a high school football field.  I think VSI Tampa is feeling it now, and if things do not change, I expect them to fold or move.  I draw close to what they draw and I do not have their payroll.
Solutions:
1) promotion only.  Once a team proves they have the ability to stay in the higher division, then they can join, (i.e. Orlando)
2)  all teams start at the bottom.  Doesn’t matter how much money the team has, they start in Division 5 (explain that in a moment) This will prevent from the one and done teams.
3)  USSF controls all leagues and all entry fees are the same.  This will make the PDL and NPSL more stable and bring in more financially able owners.  There is a big gap in the NPSL from teams like Mississippi who only uses local players and total expenses were $4k, vs Chattanooga who spent over $30k this past season.
4) set divisions with set rules (international players, substitution rules, age requirements, etc…)  There really is no direction for USA soccer right now.  We are supposed to be building up USA soccer.  There should be an international rule at each level.  Some will argue that with no international players, the level will drop.  I say, if we have the right owners, who can afford to pay players decent salaries, then these American college kids will choose a soccer career over going into the workforce.  Players in other countries choose to play in division 2 or 3 in their country because it pays more or the same as working a desk job in their country.  That is why the NBA, MLB and NFL has the best possible players.  You never hear about a kid passing up the NBA for graduate school.
5) divisions:
    a) MLS
    b) NASL
    c) USL Pro (MLS reserve teams included in this league-mandatory)
    d) NPSL
    e) USL PDL (MLS U-23 teams mandatory)
    f) Developmental Academies (all, not just MLS)
    g) Official Adult Leagues
I like what the MLS and Pro have started with “farm teams”, but it needs to be all the way down.  I think it has worked greatly with MLB and needs to be enforced in soccer.  I think the PDL should be all under 25 (like the Cape Cod, Appalachian, or Arizona league in baseball).  NPSL could Single A.  I picked NASL as the “AAA” only because of their organization.  I actually think they can compete against the MLS, if a major sports TV station would be willing to give them a chance.  I also believe that developmental academies need to have only licensed “A” coaches or hire in their program.  For all age groups.
6) I love what Fox and NBC is doing with their broadcasts of soccer.  I said 5 years ago that soccer will never take off in the USA unless ESPN starts broadcasting games regularly.  Well NBC and Fox is, and it is showing up in attendance in the MLS and youth soccer is by far the most popular sport for kids.  I have also seen triple the soccer jerseys, in public, that I saw three years ago.  We need to figure out a way to start showing college soccer and the NASL and USL Pro on TV a lot more than once a week on Friday night at 8pm when everyone is not watching TV.  I think it is too much to ask for fans to go online to watch.  There should be some sort of TV requirements for each league.  San Antonio being on the local ABC station is awesome and gave me the idea that all should be on their local TV stations.
Sorry for the long winded answer, but I have a lot to say about this subject and about the direction of US soccer as a whole right now.  But to answer your question, as it stands now, only promotion, no regulation.  I am calling for a complete overhaul of the system, but soccer is about money and not improvement in the USA, so I think I am just wasting my breath.

I am all for setting up a promotion/regulation system.  I believe it is the only way for US soccer to succeed long term.  There needs to be an organized effort from beginning to end.  Too many “free agents” every year.  The fans cannot get behind a team when there is 25 different players each year.  As I said below, it would be extremely hard to do it now, since many clubs have invested lots of money to be in the league that they are in now.

Daniele Fortunato – Miami United (NPSL)

Our thoughts are positive to promotions and relegation like in Europe.  That’s the real Football.

J. William Gronau – President/Coach, Mississippi Storm (NPSL)

I think it would be great to do a promotion relegation set up within the US but it will never be done.  The Salary gap is way to far apart and the team budgets are not even close.  For an NPSL or PDL team you need around 50K at the most for a season. For the NASL or the USL Pro you need to have a 1.5 million dollar budget and then MLS is roughly 15 million at the bare minimum.  How is someone go to jump from one bracket to another.  That will just make the organization go bankrupt!!!

Kevin Hickling – President, Tampa Marauders (NPSL)

I believe that promotion and relegation are a tremendous part of English Leagues and believe that it could bring some fantastic opportunities to US Soccer. Obvious parameters and requirements would be necessary to put in place. I would like to see promotion and relegation in the top 4 levels of the pyramid however the number of teams at each level and having two leagues at division 4 would create initial challenges. I would think relegating/promoting 1 team from division 1 to 2 and vice versa would be sufficient and given the limited teams in division 2 an initial promotion of two teams from 3 to 2 and relegation of only one would help to build division 2. Moving 1 team from each the USL PDL and NPSL to division 3 and relegating one from division 3 and alternating which league they would enter each year could help to even out the teams for the first couple of years.
Hope I am in the majority.

Trym Hogner – President, Myrtle Beach Mutiny (NPSL)

That’s a difficult question to answer. Born and raised in Norway I had never experienced anything but the relegation system before coming to USA. I believe the travel distances in the US would make such a system very difficult on the “smaller” clubs from a financial perspective. Our club is already traveling an average of more than 5 hours (each way) within in our NPSL conference. It’s also a cultural thing, even though the promotion/relegation system is common in Europe, it would be a new experience for American sports fans, and a team going up or down could end up playing oppositions that are unknown to the fans. We all know how important rivalries are to American sports fans. I know there a lots of pros from a competition standpoint with a relegation/promotion system, but I personally doubt it’s one that US Soccer is ready for right now.

Matt Homonoff – General Manager, Des Moines Menace (USL PDL)

While the fan in me would love to see this instituted in at least the top three tiers of the US/Canadian game, I have come to understand through my time in the front offices of MLS (D.C. United), NASL (FC Edmonton) and now as a GM in the USL/PDL (Des Moines Menace), that the vast majority of team owners are not inclined to accept the (additional) financial risk inherent to Relegation.   It is ultimately up to US Soccer, MLS, the NASL and the USL – all independent business operations – to convince their various owners and stakeholders that the rewards outweigh the risks.  Until then, I believe we’ll continue to see teams only moving up and down Leagues when their respective owners make the conscious decision to do so.

Alfred “Hurricane” Hoviss – Head Coach, Las Vegas Stallions (NPSL)

It will give the leagues a push for a better competitive season and we will change the mentality of clubs and players for better.
Like when we were kids if you don have good grades you will be send back a year.

Brendan Keyes – Owner/President, Houston Hurricanes FC

Well as you may know I started TPSL Texas Premier Soccer League, it’s just a start but we have 6 top teams in from PDL and NPSL level along with two top teams from Houston and College station. We will have 10 teams next year with our goal to get four div of ten teams with promotion and relegation by 2017/18, of course it’s the way it should be.  It gives teams like mine the Hurricanes FC a chance to get to the highest level, in this case MLS. I grew up in Ireland watching the Premier league and European league’s, take Wigan for example only a league team for 40 years, when I say league I mean they got into the old 4th div around 40 years ago and made it all the way to play with the BIG guns of English football, wouldn’t it be  great for smaller clubs to have that opportunity here in the states.  I put this to NPSL, PDL and have shouted about it for years to anyone who would listen, nobody wants to know, that’s why I started my own league.

Emanuel “Manny” Martins – Director of Girls and Elite Programs, LA Premier FC (WPSL)

It would be great, but looking at the American culture (in major league sports) it will be many years before we see it.

Mike Mossel – Owner/President, Dutch Lions (USL)

….depends on what perspective you use. From a soccer perspective promotion/relegation is the best way to go but from a business perspective in the US it’s not since going up a division or down is linked to a large financial impact that most clubs are not equipped to handle and will avoid becoming champions if that means moving up and therefore more cost and possibly the end of the club based on amount of money needed.

Marissa Pena – General Manager, OC Blues Strikers (USL PDL)

I think that is correct and I’m all for it.

Jason Quintero – Former Head Coach, Spokane Shine (WPSL)

Many clubs at the lower levels are not financially able to make the jump should they get promoted, nor would it work for teams in that league to make the jump to say, the NWSL.  We primarily used collegiate players who are only eligible to play for a few months during the summer.

For instance, when I was with Spokane Shine and we won the WPSL Northwest Division in 2012, should there be some sort of promotion process into the NWSL we would have to turn it down.  I’m sure we could attract decent players but we’d have to revamp the whole roster, and then how would we pay them?  Then how would we pay to fly across the country to games?  The payroll for WPSL clubs is exactly $0 because we use amateur athletes, and even then it’s a struggle to make ends meet.  After I left the club as Head Coach the team went 0-0-10 in 2013 and was kicked out of the league, simply out of money and resources, and this was just for road trips within the Northwest.

Another issue with promotion/relegation in the women’s game is the vast geography of America.  If a team from the Northwest gets promoted, such as Spokane, then what happens if a team from the South gets relegated?  If you make the team in the South go into the Northwest Division of WPSL, its not going to work for them.  If you put them in the Southeast Division of WPSL, you’ve now diluted the pool of teams from the Northwest, and what happens if 3 teams in a row get promoted from a certain area?  Now they have no WPSL league in that area.  Also, combined with the fact that professional women’s soccer, at this point, is only financially viable in maybe 5 cities in America, and only with payroll help that the USSF, and Canadian and Mexican football associations are currently providing.

In summary, on the women’s side, having promotion and relegation is simply not going to work for the next couple generations of players.

RVA FC (NPSL)

It is a must!  It will rid the leagues of clubs not doing business properly and encourage and reward the lower league clubs that are doing football correctly.

It will also put more emphasis on players / coaches / organizations never having the comfort of saying “we can just try again next year” , with promotion / relegation, there might not be a “next year” if you’re not performing and getting results needed from professional level football players.

J.P. Terrasi – General Manager & President, Cape Coral Hurricanes (NPSL)

I would be in favor of it as it’s more than “our” game, it’s the “World’s” game and most of the world uses promotion and relegation BUT, personally, I don’t think we will EVER have the prospect in American sport (let alone just soccer).  Being a Capitalistic society and our roots of every sport we play based upon that premise, in my humble opinion, there is no way that any of our team owners would ever consent to the idea.

Even though other countries may pay more (overall) for their franchises, our owner’s would never spend the kind of money that they do with the remote possibility of being relegated to a lower division.  On the same note, I don’t believe that the majority of our lower division teams can ever afford the expenses of a top division club (in general).  There are of course circumstances and cases in point, but overall, the economics just isn’t there and won’t be in the near future … if ever.

But, at the same time, FOREVER and EVER are big words and we all know that this country is capable of many things and many surprises and with the right conversations, perseverance, team work and cooperation… ANYTHING can happen.

James Tirabassi – Director of Operations, Baltimore Bohemians (USL PDL)

We would potentially be open to the idea of promotion and relegation, if it were to come into the conversation of US Soccer.

Jeff Varner – VP/General Manager, Quad City Eagles (NPSL/WPSL)

As an owner of a 4th division (NPSL) team and a huge fan of European Football, I would love nothing more than to see this happen.  Having grown up in England It’s something I’m comfortable with.  However far too many owners at the highest level in the US would not have the stomach for this.  Can you imagine AEG or Any other ownership group in the US accepting there team dropping into NASL or even further down the line.  However, the bigger issue is league alignment, the transfer market in the US, and impact of NCAA rules on athletes and their choices.  1st…USSF, MLS, NASL, USL and NPSL would all have to align; this being the first hurdle is the really where the whole discussion breaks down.  Organizationally USSF isn’t strong enough to make this happen.  The only way to make progress is for natural alliances to occur…eg MLS & USL or NASL & NPSL.  Once these alliances form there will be more strength in the common bond and common interest.  At least these bonds will encourage the bigger teams to work with smaller clubs.  Allowing an open transfer market is another aspect that needs to happen.  At the NPSL level we spend 10′s of thousands of dollars to run our squads and put a lot of effort into helping players get better and move up.  The problem is we aren’t rewarded for that effort.  At the very least we should receive developmental fees when a player moves on.  In our 3 years of existence we’ve had 1 player sign a pro contract in Australia and another was close to a USL PRO deal.  Finally, and likely the biggest hurdle, is the NCAA restrictions on players and their ability to pursue developmental opportunities.

As I said, I’d love nothing more than to see it happen…but I’m afraid the hurdles will require a lot of work to breakdown.

Robin Waite – Owner & Operator, Kitsap Pumas (USL PDL)

We would love the opportunity to be the Green Bay of MLS.  However it seems that there is a degree of self promotion or relegation already here.  We have the opportunity to go USL Pro if we want.
The biggest drawback would be MLS owners agreeing to it,  I don’t think soccer has a strong enough foothold to make it work.

Peter Wilt – President/General Manager, Indy Eleven (NASL)

I’ve long held the belief that the chances of promotion and relegation here are slim and limited to the potential of a closed two-tier system including MLS and the current Mexican top division.

It’s an evolving landscape however and you never say ‘never’.  In the last year, with my first hand experience in the NASL, I’ve begun to believe this League has the potential to have some or all of its teams meet US Soccer’s first division standards in the next decade. If that should happen, it potentially creates opportunities to change the structure of pro soccer in North America, which may or may not include promotion and relegation – as distant as that may now currently seem.

Anonymous Lower Division Soccer Official  - I know, but you’re going to have to trust me that this was a legitimate responder

Let’s see…. division two soccer in this country has several part time teams, several owned by Traffic, none of them drawing any fans to speak of and all of them losing millions of dollars.   What would make you even ask the question since it is impossible to do in this country with the structure we have now and will have for the foreseeable future…..

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