I was just listening to today’s MLS Talk podcast and I had to say something about the relegation topic. This is going to be brief because I don’t have much time at the moment.
If the MLS is going to expand beyond relegation/promotion solves a lot of problems.
1) It gives teams at the bottom (and the top of the “2nd division”) something to play for at the end of the season. Now, I think these should both be “top divisions”. The NCAA has Division I for all sports except American football. the MLS could do something similar. MLS Premier could be the top or MLS Championship could be the 2nd or something. As far as TV rights go, MLS Championship would be under the same Fox Soccer/ESPN/Versus(!??!) contracts. Did Newcastle lose it’s history when they went to the English Championship last year? Is Leeds United still a name that carries a lot of weight in English football? YES! If the LA Galaxy gets relegated, they will still be the team of Beckham and Donovan.
2) True cup competition. The MLS Cup as it stands can go away. Allow the “minnows” play the big boys every year in a (Carling) League Cup each year.
3) This isn’t such a problem, as a bonus, but it allows the MLS to bump all the way up to 40 teams if they like. Let Cincinnati and Charlotte both have teams…or Charlotte and Raleigh if it makes more sense. There are plenty of markets out there that have a major sport (NHL in Raleigh) and then nothing else (NBA in San Antonio). ”Everyone” can get in on this. MLS’ market is local at the moment. Build the league around that. The national draw teams are going to rise out of that. Does the local nature of English football keep Chelsea and Manchester United from being hugely interesting teams on a national basis? No. Not at all.
4) This solves the scheduling issue. Everyone gets 38 regular season games. If there aren’t that many teams, you could go the German route with 18 teams. 16 teams is how the Allsvenskan does it and I quite liked the 30-game MLS season this year. Now, it’s a World Cup year, so that filled in the schedule a bit more, but keeping the schedule with fewer games would allow the US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League to at least maintain the minimal coverage they have now. I suspect those competitions would become even more irrelevant if the MLS had 8 more games in the season.
The problems and how to resolve them.
1) The main problem with relegation is that “owners will not stand for it.” First off, make the “minnows” pay the same entrance fee. Also, allow expansion teams in the top division and relegate 4 instead of 3 (if there is the standard relegation #) and if there is more than one expansion team, up the number of relegated teams. Perhaps expansion teams get a 3-year grace period of relegation or something. The MLS CBA would apply to this “2nd division” as would any other MLS rules. The MLS “2nd division” owners would have the same votes as the MLS Premier division.
2) Americans won’t understand. Who cares? “Americans” don’t like soccer. Stop trying to cater to a non-existent market. Maybe people like me would care a little more if I didn’t have to drive 3 hours to a game. Maybe I’d go to local Madison matches if one day Madison United could get promoted to the USL or to the MLS or something. I am *not* proposing the USL get involved in this, I’d just making a point about local football.
What this doesn’t address is the scheduling. Personally, I’m fine with the summer games. The World Cup* is difficult, but until the US consistently gets past the round of 16, playing through the latter changes isn’t that big of a deal. If it is a bigger deal, start the season earlier every 4 years. It’s not that big of a deal. I know personally I’d probably end up watching less MLS if it was always competing with Bundesliga, UCL, La Liga, EPL, SPL, NHL, NBA and NCAA hockey/basketball. Right now it fights those to a certain extent but during the summer it’s main competition for me is the Allsvenskan and for most Americans, it would be MLB (I’d watch more MLB – and MLS for that matter – if there weren’t so many blackouts on DirecTV).
*There’s also the Gold Cup, but my feeling is it could be played every four years the year before the Confederations Cup so that it “means something”.