Promotion & Relegation Create Passion & Possibility

Every four years the greatest tournament in sports is held, and countries from all over the world are under its spell… including the United States.  For soccer fans like myself who follow the world of futbol every year, the World Cup is an exciting time.  Not only do we get to passionately cheer for a team playing the beautiful game, we get to do it with other people!  For three years my thoughts and ideas on my favorite soccer teams are limited to a small group of friends who continue to follow the game AFTER the World Cup has come and gone.  It’s a lonely time for us soccer fanatics, but I can understand why the game hasn’t become what football and baseball are in the America.  To me, it has nothing to do with scoreless draws, added time, or even the phony flopping of an “injured” player.  The reason soccer is the world’s game, but continues to be an inferior sport in the US is because the average fan has no incentive, beyond their national pride, to develop a passion for it.

Deep down, I believe the thing that makes sports so popular is the passion fans can feel for a team.  This passion derives from the human nature to belong, compete, and to succeed.  For example, I am a Tennessee Volunteers fan because 1.) the team is a part of my culture; and 2.) I think my culture is better than your culture, so me and the rest of the Vol Nation are going to prove it by kicking your culture’s team’s ass! (talking to you Georgia/Florida/Alabama fans!) The way to make something popular is to give people a reason to be passionate about it.  The excitement surrounding the World Cup in homes and bars around the US proves that Americans can be soccer fans, they just need a better reason than what our current system has to offer.

So what does our current system offer?  There are numerous soccer leagues throughout the United States, including the United Soccer League, the National Premier Soccer League, and the top dog of them all, Major League Soccer.  While these leagues make professional soccer available to many cities throughout the nation, each team’s fan base remains relatively stagnant, as their success is only meaningful to the die-hard soccer fans in the area.  Even the MLS teams have trouble gaining support from those who see soccer as a second-tier sport.  This is due to unfortunate fact that, although the MLS is home to the top soccer players in United States, it is not home to the best soccer players in the world.  Americans know this, and in their opinion, winning the MLS Cup (let alone the USL or NPSL championship) is the equivalent of winning the Canadian Football League (called the Grey Cup, fyi).  Therefore, soccer’s benefits are not compelling enough for the average person to invest their time, money, and emotional well-being in a sport where even the champions aren’t considered true champions.

The fact of the matter is, the top soccer players in the world will always want to showcase their talents for European clubs, such as Manchester United and Real Madrid, whose top players are treated like gods.  In my opinion, the only way to increase the game of soccer’s fan base throughout the nation is to give every team and every fan a greater incentive.  This incentive should be provided by two words:   promotion and relegation.

For those who are unfamiliar with these two words and how they relate to soccer, I will explain using England’s soccer system as an example (those who are can skip to the next paragraph).  The Premier League (best teams), the Championship, League 1, and League 2 (worst teams) make up the four major leagues that house the majority of professional soccer clubs in England.  Each year the teams from each league play two matches against the other clubs in their league.  At the end of the season, the bottom three teams are relegated to the lesser league, and the top three teams are promoted to the superior league, and reap the rewards of addition revenue from sponsors, television, etc.  This system gives clubs from smaller markets the opportunity to play against top teams, as well as the ability to grow financially, despite having smaller budgets.  For this reason, entire communities show loyalty and support for their local club, in hopes that one day they will be promoted to the Premier League, earn extra revenue, purchase top players, and succeed on a larger scale.

Now, imagine implementing this system in the United States.  For those of you in (input your city here), imagine (insert your local club here) being promoted to the MLS, and competing against teams like DC United, and players like Landon Donovan.  Imagine seeing your city’s team on national television, signing the next superstar, or developing the next national hero.  Every game, every injury, every goal would matter because it might be the difference between promotion or relegation… pride or humiliation.  The incentives would be much greater, and therefore, a passion would arise in every member of the community.  People would begin to love soccer because 1.) their soccer club was a part of their culture; and 2.) their culture is better than your culture, so they and the rest of their hooligan nation are going to prove it to you…and possibly the rest of the country.

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    • Joan
    • July 5th, 2010

    Hey Andy. Good job! Just wondering if you meant to say “to” you in the last sentence and “passionately cheer FOR a team playing the beautiful game” in paragraph one.

    I think you make a good suggestion regarding the creation of team pride and passion. Will look forward to you next blog!

  1. Andy: Great idea! But could it really happen? The problem with your relagation and promotion scenario is I am not sure it could happen in American culture, a culture where the ego’s of the people providing the funds would not allow them to form mediocre teams. The folks with the most money would always have the best team. A baseball analogy come to mind. It would be like the triple A team from Buffalo hoping one day to be promoted to playing in the same league as the Yankees. Never happen as that triple A team could never afford the players necessary to reach that caliber of play.

    Perhaps that same culture exists in England. If so, how is it managed so that a smaller community team, with a smaller budget, actually has a chance to be promoted?

  2. There are definitely the “Yankee’s” of soccer teams in England. Clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea, and Manchester United have billionaire owners who spend obscene amounts of money on players. These clubs are few and far between, however. No club has the same budget, but as we’ve seen in baseball, money doesn’t guarantee success. Smaller clubs tend to rely on developing players in their youth academies. Generally, the great players that are developed play a few years for the smaller club, contribute to their success, and are later sold for large sums of money. These youth academies are a big reason why other countries, especially in Europe, dominate the World Cup.

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