Ever since the launch of Major League Soccer in 1996, one common question we hear is when will MLS bring in promotion and relegation? After over 20 years in America, MLS has a clear answer for us all, promotion and relegation are not coming to MLS, at least not anytime soon.
For a casual observer of the sport, promotion and relegation are two unknown words. So allow us to explain how it works.
In the world of sports teams are moved between divisions based on their performance in their last completed season and they call the movement promotion and relegation. For example, let’s say you are an amateur team from your local college. You have a good coach and some great players. You have won the most points in the last season and are at the top of the ranking in your division.
By the virtue of your rankings, they may promote you to play in the higher division. This way, you can compete with a better team and improve your game. It is the positive side of the promotion and relegation system.
Conversely, if you are ranked at the bottom of the pile, they may regale you to the lower division. So you will play against teams which are likely to be worse off than you. This is the negative side of the equation.
The idea is to reward good teams and punish the worse off ones.
Many sports use the promotion and relegation method. Baseball in America, Football in Europe and South America have used it in the past and some are still using it.
So why is MLS not using promotion and relegation?
MLS is a closed league and has the blessing of the United States Soccer Federation for not implementing the promotion and relegation. FIFA has not imposed the ruling on the league.
MLS and its soccer pundits believe the system will force teams to make wild changes to its finances and management. In the past, many teams have fallen upon financial difficulties borrowing money to get the top league status and to play in the European competition. And the results have not been good. Clubs like Leeds United imploded trying hard to gain a promotion and finally collapsed.
In their fight to avoid relegations, some clubs management make risky changes and cause instability that in turn hurts the long-term viability of the club. This has already happened too many times in Europe for MLS to not pay attention to the problem.
The promotion and relegation system forces teams to make difficult choices and all too often we can see its results during the transfer window. They lose the long-term focus and pick up players who bring in short-term results at a premium.
The system also makes it easy for the richest teams to compete at the top.
Consider this, In the last 10 years, La Liga was won by either Real Madrid or Barcelona. In the same period, seven different teams have won MLS. Surely they are doing something right.