Deloitte has an American branch of its Sports Business Group. So I wonder why DeloitteUK took the lead in this report. An outside view of American sports, like outside views of American society, can be illuminating and refreshing - but not when that view simply substitutes one set of prejudices for another.
The DeloitteUK report combined all of the disadvantages of British perspective, with none of the advantages. A DeloitteUS report, for example, might not have simply assumed that promotion and relegation is the natural, or even a particularly sensible, form of standings structure. A DeloitteUS report might have examined why American sports leagues have been so successful without promotion and relegation, or addressed how the incredible monetization of youth and amateur sports has warped the American landscape in ways barely comprehensible even to those who work in youth and amateur sports. A DeloitteUS report would have realized that the question is not whether a soccer league should adopt promotion or relegation, but whether an American league should.
Probably not, though. Nobody involved with this was particularly interested in seriously examining the issue, since the whole point was to put a Big Four brand name on a random pile of discredited Internet arguments. Now when Silva and Crowley go to Switzerland, they can say “Deloitte” instead of “Reddit.”
There might be plenty of good reasons why promotion and relegation would be a good idea in the United States. It’s a shame DeloitteUK didn’t make the effort to find any. Instead, DeloitteUK made the following assumptions:
1. Promotion and relegation battles are more popular and more interesting than anything else;
2. Promotion and relegation makes money; and
3. Promotion and relegation develops talent.
The case for promotion and relegation is compelling indeed - so long as you assume what you’re supposed to be proving.
Take, for example, the idea that promotion and relegation provides “compelling content.” Promotion and relegation makes games “mean something.” I think this sort of rhetoric is an unhealthy way to think of the game. (The fact that some of this rhetoric comes directly from the highest levels of FIFA is, to me, the opposite of refutation.) Soccer is the only sport that tells the fans that they are wasting their time watching the game for its own sake. I did hear somebody calling it “the beautiful game,” but I think we’ve given up on that marketing campaign.
I’m not being disingenuous, at least not as much as DeloitteUK is being. The motivation is to make a game between bad teams more interesting for a neutral or partially invested observer. DeloitteUK is leading off its key section with the importance of “creating narratives.” Iowa and Illinois can play for no better reason than to see who wins - they’ll probably even have the nerve to charge admission - but that won’t work for professional soccer. There has to be a gimmick.
Fine. But the question is, does the gimmick work?
DeloitteUK says it does. And their word is going to have to be good enough, because Silva apparently didn’t pay for the report that comes with evidence.
Here, look at this.
If bad charts were hit singles, this report would be “Thriller.”
But never mind the technical incompetence - just consider the premise:
“Title secured (assumed same point for both leagues).”
This is one of the times having an American in the room would have helped. The final matchday weekend in MLS is not the end of the season, any more than it is in the NFL, NBA or NHL. An American would have pointed out that after the regular season, those leagues keep playing games, and the blue dotted line goes all the way back to 100%, and stays there for a month or more.
Come to think of it, a Mexican fan might also have pointed that out, too.
You know, it’s almost as if it’s the sort of thing that professional accountants in an international firm wouldn’t even need to be told. But why would they leave out something like that on purpose?
DeloitteUK’s methodology is problematic from start to finish, but their disinterest in making a coherent case in this section is particularly noticeable. Is the Case for Promotion and Relegation really so thin as to resort to Argumentum ad Unnamed Player in Anonymous ESPNFC poll?
Maybe, when the actual numbers aren’t so friendly to the case. If DeloitteUK had dug a little, they would have found that the Chicago Fire has had 50% roster turnover since last October. That’s an actual number, and not “some guys just ride out the last couple months”. But, again, DeloitteUK wasn’t hired to do math.
They did give math a cursory stab - they helpfully compared the final weekend of the 2015/16 season among MLS, France’s Ligue 1, and the Anglo-Welsh Premier League.
….Ligue 1? That’s an interesting cherry to pick.
….one season? That’s an interesting cherry harvesting limit.
Even with the books cooking at 350F until golden brown, DeloitteUK still couldn’t get a satisfactory result without sleight-of-hand:
Five of the ten Premier League matches have “something at stake”, with two games having UEFA Champions League places at stake, and three with UEFA Europa League places at stake; Five of the ten Ligue 1 matches having something at stake, even though Paris Saint-Germain had won the league with eight games to spare, with two matches having UEFA Europa League places at stake and three games of the final round dictating two of the relegation places. Across the final day of Major League Soccer, only two of the games had anything at stake for teams looking to gain a play-off berth.
I’m not complaining that DeloitteUK doesn’t care about home field advantage - the last two MLS Cup winners did it on the road, after all. But I have to giggle at the Europa League counting as “something at stake.” If promotion and relegation is that wonderful at creating compelling content, why are we using the Consolation Cup as a crutch to get people interested in the middle-class teams?
DeloitteUK seems offended at the idea of playoffs, for some reason:
“Equally, promotion and relegation is by no means the only issue impacting interest, with competition format also potentially negatively affecting the competiveness of matches. For example, with 60% of MLS teams qualifying for the playoff (MLS Cup) this again reduces the number of regular season games with something at stake. Promotion and relegation would therefore make a higher percentage of games in a season of more importance to the final outcome and allow the league to sustain the appeal for spectators longer than is currently the case.”
Again, would have been helpful to have an American fan, or a Mexican fan, or someone whose line of work involves compiling and calculating numbers.
….”competiveness”? This report is supposed to redefine the structure of American soccer, and it isn’t worth running through a spell-checker?
Liga MX puts 8 out of 18 into its playoffs, and DeloitteUK doesn't even mention Mexico as a boring abomination, so it seems 44% is okay. The NHL will send 50% of its teams to the playoffs this season, and Deloitte doesn't bring that up. The NBA sends 53% of its teams to the playoffs. I think we can all agree that if MLS was genuinely doing as well as the NBA, the league would be doing JUST FINE.
But 60% is too much...and, according to Deloitte, can best be solved by promotion and relegation. Instead of, to pick an example completely at random, expanding to 36 teams, which would give MLS the exact playoff percentage that Liga MX has.
Ah, but Liga MX has relegation! Yes, let’s absolutely give serious consideration to the fairness and integrity of the Mexican promotion and relegation system. DeloitteUK avoids Liga MX like a pothole with a dead body in it, and you can probably come up with several reasons why.
The cynicism in this report is breathtaking. DeloitteUK is willing to list its data, then pretend it says the opposite. The carefully selected example here is West Brom.
The chart explicitly tells you that WBA had not managed to equal the attendance it had before its 2003 relegation, despite six consecutive years in the Premiership. DeloitteUK, however, wants us to take away the fact that WBA has not entirely squandered the fan base increase from its 2002 promotion.
DeloitteUK concludes “Therefore promotion and relegation can be considered to be a driver of matchday attendances, and by extension matchday revenues.” Hold the phone, or as the say in the UK, the lorry. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have more than one club’s worth of data before we jump to this conclusion? Has being in relegation races done much for Aston Villa? When will Birmingham City start to feel the positive effect on attendance? Think Wolves look fondly on the boost their relegation races gave them? Doesn’t it seem like Walsall has a Championship hangover that’s lasted a while?
That’s four counter-examples to WBA, and I didn’t even have to leave the god-damned West Midlands.
Oh, and West Brom's attendance went down again last year, to 23,876. Sounds like they could use a relegation battle to spike attendance!
It’s no surprise that Deloitte’s analysis quickly devolves into fanfiction. They start in an interesting, and familiar, place.
That’s data from Kenn Tomasch, by the way. Kenn was not credited in the bibliography. You might be wondering why Deloitte is using data from expansion teams, as opposed to promoted teams.
Well, to be totally honest with you, I think Deloitte might have lost the thread a little at this point.
The illustrative total attendance movement presented above assumes: Loss of 366,000 attendees due to relegation of one MLS club, generating an average gate of c.21,500 across 17 regular season home fixtures; Gain of 102,000 attendees due to promotion of one NASL/USL club, generating an average gate of c.6,000 across 17 regular season home fixtures; and Additional 102,000 attendees for promoted NASL/USL clubs, representing a doubling of total attendance achieved in the previous league. This is considered to represent the introduction of additional excitement for the promoted club’s local community, with the chance to participate in the top tier - as evidenced by the earlier analysis of the Seattle Sounders, Montreal Impact and Portland Timbers.
The effect of promotion and relegation is a net reduction in the league’s total attendance of 162,000 attendees, arising from the loss of a MLS club with a higher average attendance relative to a promoted USL/NASL club.
As near as I can tell, the crux of this argument is that a promoted NASL team would double its attendance, just because. And MLS would still lose fans.
Credit, I guess, to Deloitte - since they’re conjuring numbers out of the ether, at least they conjured numbers that admitted relegating MLS teams would come at a cost. But those costs would be tiny, and quickly remedied. Why, you ask?
Even if one accepts that promotion and relegation may struggle to have an immediate beneficial impact on total top division club attendances if introduced in the United States, there are some important factors to consider: The promotion chase and the inclusion of bigger relegated teams would likely raise the average in the league below, as excitement attracts fans, above the levels currently being seen and therefore the gap to the top division would decrease.
Now, in fairness, Deloitte didn’t know that Chiapas FC was going to fold rather than field a team in the Mexican second division. But they certainly should have known that one possible remedy for relegation is simply buying the promoted club and rebranding it. Queretaro isn't a famous club, but it should be famous to those who study promotion and relegation. You won't hear about them from Deloitte, though.
For example the average attendance for those clubs in the top six of the Championship in 2015/16 was 29% higher than the league average, whereas the top two teams on the 2015 NASL season were actually on average 12% below the league average in match attendance;
Sorry - just wanted to pop in and say that the attendance leaders for NASL in 2015 were Minnesota United, whose MLS announcement came in 2015, and Indy Eleven, one of the teams vying for an MLS expansion spot despite not winning anything.
Relegation battles could also sustain or increase attendance at the bottom of a league, for example the three clubs relegated from the English Premier League in 2015/16 had an average attendance slightly above the league average as a whole (with between 79% and 100% occupancy across the season);
The three teams sent down that year were Norwich, Aston Villa, and Newcastle. Usually relegated teams aren’t in the top two or three in attendance. And as we saw in a previous link, relegation battles did not sustain or increase attendance for Aston Villa.
Those clubs likely to be relegated may well be those that are struggling in terms of attendance anyway. For example the two teams that finished bottom of MLS in 2015 were ranked 18th and 20th in terms of attendance in that season.
That’s a strange thing to say, since literally the sentence before we read about how relegation matches are supposed to bolster attendance.
In any case, the teams in question here are Colorado and Chicago. Using real world examples sort of puts a damper on fantasies like this - it’s not very easy to picture how Chicago would be better off in USL or NASL this year than in MLS. Amusingly enough, Colorado is still well within a theoretical relegation picture - but so are DC United, whose new stadium plans sort of depended on them not ever being relegated, Minnesota United, whose relegation would defeat the whole point of expansion, and my beloved LA Galaxy. Next year, let’s face it, LAFC will be a strong contender to hold up the table. It would be amusing if Silva went to all this trouble to force promotion to MLS, only to have the Los Angeles teams end up in the NASL.
The added dynamism from promotion and relegation in both the MLS and other levels of the pyramid, could be expected to increase interest and drive attendance growth across the game.
Sounds like the sort of thing that could be measured and charted. Shame nobody seems interested in doing so.
To recap - Deloitte used one club's attendance to wrongly assert that promotion and relegation helped more than it hurt the average team. They then chose to use the success of Major League Soccer expansion as an argument in favor of promoting teams that don’t draw well and relegating those that do. All based on numbers and assumptions that Deloitte frankly made up.
I can think of several reasons Deloitte would advance an argument like this. I just can’t think of any honest ones.
Next chapter: we consider why in the conclusion to Section 5.2.2, Deloitte cites broadcast television ratings and merchandising efforts that won’t be brought up until Section 5.2.3, 5.2.4 and 5.3, and make some value judgments about how many revisions this thing went through.
We also address the question of why MLS has to be involved in promotion and relegation at all - because DeloitteUK doesn’t, and really, somebody should.