The Kingston Stockade, a lower league soccer team based in Kingston, have been making waves in the world of soccer after writing a letter to the United States Soccer Federation regarding the implementation of promotion and relegation into the US Soccer pyramid. If the request is denied by US Soccer, owner and chairman Dennis Crowley says that he will file a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation.
The United States of America’s soccer league system is one of the few in the world that do not use the system of promotion and relegation. The concept is simple. The worst three teams in the top division are dropped down a step on the league pyramid, and the best three teams from the league underneath on the pyramid. Take England for example. In the English Premier League last season, the three worst teams were Sunderland, Hull, and Middlesbrough. These three teams were sent down to the second division (Football League Championship) and replaced by the three best teams from the second division last year, in this case being Huddersfield, Brighton, and Newcastle. Every year, the Premier League has three new teams replacing the ones relegated the year before, while all other lower leagues have six new ones, as three teams are promoted to the league above and three are relegated to the league below in every other league.
Setting up promotion and relegation allows players to showcase their talents at a higher level. In the current setup in the United States, players can be stuck in the lower divisions for their entire careers, never getting the chance to play at a more elite level, and some truly talented players have fallen through the cracks. Others believe that promotion and relegation would allow more teams to get more money to pump into youth soccer academies, which would raise the future talent level in the USA. This would likely raise the credibility of U.S. soccer in the eyes of the rest of the world, which view the American National Team as underachievers after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Promotion and relegation also allows teams to participate at a higher level, giving them a better chance to make money. In every country, including the US, the top league gets the lion’s share of the revenue from ticket sales, media rights, and publicity. What Crowley argues is that the teams in Major League Soccer are using the league and its exclusivity as a form of monopoly over the market of soccer in the United States. He argues that promotion and relegation create more of a meritocracy, which is one of the fundamental aspects of capitalism. Most teams in the United States’ second division, the North American Soccer League, most likely wouldn’t beat the big guns in the MLS, but they might be. For instance, Leicester City was promoted to the English Premier League in 2014 after winning the second division. After a middle of the road 2014-15 season that saw them narrowly escape relegation, they would go on to win the league title at 5,000 to 1 odds in 2015-16. They were also able to build elite level youth training programs with the revenue that they brought in from the Premier League.
However, promotion and relegation in the United States doesn’t come without problems, and it has been met by critics both on and off the field. “I think promotion and relegation is a strong solution to bringing more attention to the game in this county, but I don’t think it’s the best solution to developing into a bigger soccer nation” said Ernest Mitchell, a defender on the Kingston Stockade last season.
One of the major problems of promoting smaller teams into bigger leagues is the problem with finances. While rich owners like Crowley can afford to move his team up to a higher league, many other teams cannot. “There are not enough teams, and there’s not enough money in US Soccer,” said Enzo Petrocelli, a midfielder who has spent time playing soccer in both the United States and Italy. Lower leagues on the soccer pyramid are broken up into regional conference so that the travel costs for the teams is kept to as low as possible. If a team from a regionalized league, like the Stockade, gets promoted to the NASL, which is a nationwide league, the team’s travel costs would increase exponentially. Rather than Kingston traveling by bus to close locations like Brooklyn or Portsmouth, N.H., they would instead be traveling cross-country to Phoenix and Las Vegas, which would require airfare. Not many teams would be able to afford that, especially in the first season in the new league.
Whether or not promotion and relegation should be implemented in the United States soccer leagues is one of the most hot-button issues in soccer. Supporters of promotion and relegation will often cite the Leicester City story, while detractors echo the sentiments of Petrocelli and Mitchell. Either way, a good majority of diehard fans of US soccer have a strong opinion on the matter.