promotion & relegation survey: personal reflections

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This is the third and final article in a three part series based on the results from a survey that ran on the site in December and January that looked to gauge the actual fan and owner interest in the implementation of Promotion & Relegation in the US and Canadian professional soccer pyramids. 

Read part one: Supporter Results  |  Read part two: Owner Results

I have to admit that making the decision on whether or not to write these series of articles was not any easy one. The debate I’ve held with myself on covering the subject of promotion and relegation stretches back for the better part of a year.

Deep down, I knew that doing so would bring me a windfall of grief. My words would be twisted, my intentions distorted and my mind numbed by the incessant drumming of some of the debate’s largest figureheads. All that happened well before I’d ever written a word on the topic in this space, so it was destined to be worse once I voluntarily jumped in with the sharks.

It has been.

But if I could imagine a world in a vacuum where one could talk about pro/rel in the US and Canada without igniting a firestorm and one’s name being dragged through the mud, it’s a fascinating topic to discuss.

Why?

Set aside the incendiary nature of the debate as it currently stands. A comparison of the positives and the negatives of promotion and relegation’s implementation against the pros and cons of the current system requires so many different layers of thought. Logistics, finances, structure, migration path, legalities, desires — all of these are key elements in the conversation. And when one system appears to be beneficial for one of those factors, it could be a huge detriment to one of the others.

I love reasonable, level-headed and cordial debates like these. And it’s for that reason that I considered writing about promotion and relegation long before I ever knew of anyone named Ted — I just never got around to it, other than stringing together the occasional set of 140 character opinions on Twitter.

But it’s probably for the best that I didn’t. Because the reality is, it’s morphed into a ridiculously combustible topic here.

It’s a conversation that features extremely passionate group(s) of supporters and opponents. Both sets seem to be growing, but so too are those that have grown annoyed with the discussion and its tone. The mere mention of the phrase “pro/rel” on Twitter can literally set off a never-ending stream of notifications on your cell phone for the rest of the night. It’s hard to not get caught up in it — particularly for someone like me whose passion for the game pretty much defines their existence.

Unfortunately, in all of the mudslinging that goes down, there’s lots of hyperbole and opinion that’s tossed in alongside it like they’re undisputed facts.

That drives me bonkers.

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But if you’re going to broadcast yours and attack others unsolicited for theirs, you damn well better have more than a “belief” to back it up. To be honest, soccer is too important to me as a human being to allow potentially incredibly influential popular opinion to be established without it having some solid data to lean against.

That’s the reason I ran these surveys in the first place: to establish the most comprehensive data set on the opinions and desires of two of North American soccer’s biggest constituents. I didn’t care where the numbers fell one way or another — I just want something to refer back to other than hunches and speculation.

So with all that said, what is my opinion on the topic of promotion and relegation here in the US and Canada? What are my reasons for those thoughts? And did my thoughts change after seeing the results of the surveys?

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promotion & relegation survey: owner results

WSOTP - Blog - Promotion & Relegation Owner Resultsfw.fw

This is the second article in a three-part series based on the results from a survey that ran on the site in December and January that looked to gauge the actual fan and owner interest in the implementation of Promotion & Relegation in the US and Canadian professional soccer pyramids.

Read part one: Supporter Results  |  Read part three: Personal Reflections

When I first devised the idea of running the promotion and relegation survey, like many that had come before it, it was nothing more than a supporters poll.

In itself, it wasn’t that bad that the survey would wind up similar to other polls that had been run. But pondering it over, it felt limiting to go down that path again.

Ultimately, to truly gain a deeper understanding on the subject, we would need to broaden the perspective the subject. Since we’ve already heard from the largest constituent base of the North American soccer market already surveyed and analyzed — the fans — I wondered: who else should have a say in this debate?

As mentioned in the last article, we the fans are the end consumer in football. And so far, the promotion and relegation movement’s primary goal has been try to influence the demand for the game we drive enough to force US Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association’s hands. But for any of us that have taken a simple course in economics, you’ll recall that in order for there to be consumers, there must also be producers.

And what we’ve not heard to this point is what the producers of football want.

We’re talking about the owners, the chairmen, the CEO’s, the big wig types. Do they favor promotion and relegation, are they fine with the current system, or do they want something entirely different?

So why exactly do we want to know what they think?

Ownership opinions obviously matter for a multitude of reasons. They have the most to gain from a promotion and relegation system, but also stand to have the most to lose. They’re almost always fans of soccer themselves, too. But perhaps at its most basic level, without owners opening up their check books to take a large financial risk on a still niche sport, successful and viable professional soccer in this country becomes a much more difficult task to achieve. As such, they speak for the clubs themselves. And or that reason alone, their input matters just as much as the fans’.

Too, supporters of pro/rel often claim that the lower league clubs — like those in the NASL, USL, PDL and NPSL — want promotion and relegation themselves. But as alluded to above, I don’t recall an owner of a North American soccer club publicly supporting the system. Though maybe I haven’t been looking hard enough, either.

So, with that in mind, I set out to find out what the clubs want.

While lower league clubs get to mingle with and occasionally topple the big boys of Major League Soccer in the US Open Cup, does their leadership feel they could do that consistently? Do they feel they should get to move up the ladder if they prove themselves on the field? Are they feeling held down by “the man” — erm, USSF/CSA?

Now when it comes to actually gathering the answers to those questions from the decision makers in US and Canadian soccer? Significantly easier said than done.

Read on to find out more about who we talked to, and what they actually said.

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promotion & relegation survey: supporter results

WSOTP - Blog - Promotion & Relegation Fan Resultsfw.fw

This is the first article in a three-part series based on the results from a survey that ran on the site in December and January that looked to gauge the actual fan and owner interest in the implementation of Promotion & Relegation in the US and Canadian professional soccer pyramids.

Read part two: Owner Results  |  Read part three: Personal Reflections

Supporters — as I’ve written before — are the lifeblood of the beautiful game.

In the most basic of senses, the professional version of the game couldn’t even exist without us. Every dollar that is pumped into the machine that is modern professional soccer comes from you and I. We pour our money directly in by way of purchasing tickets, gear and other club paraphernalia. And we also indirectly fund the billions that broadcast providers are willing to pay to air games, both through the subscriptions we pay to use their services and via advertisers willing to pay ungodly amounts of money to have their names in our faces while we’re watching.

So as the primary client for football — or ultimate end product that the soccer entertainment companies sell, depending on how you want to look at it — it would be natural to assume we are entitled to have a say in how the game is run and delivered to us. You see it all the time. Fans calling for a manager’s head. Demands for new players. Cries about the limited access to watching games on television. Calls for lower ticket prices. It’s so common place that you probably don’t even notice it.

Yet most of the time, our requests and demands fall on the intentionally deaf ears of those that run the game. Even when the powers that be do decide to bow to the demands of the supporters, their concessions are often small and/or ancillary. But just because we don’t often have the desired power to make the changes we would like to see in the game, that doesn’t stop the debate from raging on amongst us.

The amount of whining and whingeing within American soccer circles right now is at an all-time high, both in diversity and in volume. Hot button topics range from how Klinsmann runs the national team to hemming and hawing over a particular team’s new kits. More fans, more opinions, more debates: growth is good right?

But if I had to single out just one topic that’s caught the most attention over the last year? That would have to be promotion and relegation in the American and Canadian professional soccer systems. Or more specifically, the lack thereof.

I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating when I say the fires fueling the “pro/rel” debate are burning out of control right now. No matter your stance on the issue, it’s practically impossible to have not yet been dragged into the mire at least once in some forum or another. Heated arguments unfold on message boards, Twitter, Facebook and occasionally even in your local soccer pub. It’s unavoidable. The rhetoric is thick, the instigators aggressive and the sides entrenched.

Should we use it or should we not use it? I’m not particularly concerned with that in this post — I’ll do my best to leave my own opinions on the debate for Part III of this series.

Instead, I want to know not only what people actually want, but also how much people actually want Promotion and Relegation. No more generalized statements, no more inferences, no more room for interpretation. Cold, hard data.

You see, one of the oft utilized arguments put forth by the supporters of promotion and relegation’s implementation is that the “majority of soccer fans in this country want promotion and relegation”. Depending on how it’s being phrased, you might also hear that “they demand it”, too. And those arguments are often issued with such an air of infallibility that many just accept it as fact.

But is it really? That’s what I intended to get to the bottom of with the WSOTP Promotion & Relegation Survey.

Did we get that? Well, read on and find out.

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the WSOTP promotion & relegation survey

Promotion and Relegation Survey

If you’ve followed the American soccer scene on social media for anything longer than the last 25 minutes, the it’s entirely likely that you’ve been sucked into the metaphorical black hole that is the promotion/relegation debate.

It’s an unavoidable conversation at this point, even if you don’t want to be involved in it. You can blame that on a very persistent and often times abusive group of evangelists. They seem ready to pounce at nearly every opportunity, and apparently have no need to sleep. In fact, I’ve been in their cross hairs for quite some time: they’ve gone so far as to label me — incorrectly I might add — everything from a “Euro Snob” to an “MLS bot” apologist, which seems pretty contradictory if you ask me. But no matter how much Tinfoil Ted and his followers might be the annoying soccer equivalent to the Westboro Baptist Church, that doesn’t mean the topic that they’ve shoved down everyone’s throats isn’t relevant.

There’s clearly an audience in the North American soccer community that desires to have promotion and relegation as an integral portion of our professional leagues. But what we’ve been unable to ascertain to this point is if it’s a vocal minority or a steadily growing majority.

And that’s where you come in.

The link below takes you to a survey that we here at Wrong Side of the Pond have put together to help get a better idea of how much the masses actually want pro/rel. All we ask is that you take a few minutes to complete the survey and to share it with your friends. The bigger the sample size, the more reliable the data collected will be.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE WSOTP PROMOTION & RELEGATION SURVEY.

But we’re not stopping there either. In addition to the survey linked above, I’m sending out a very similar survey to all the owners/presidents/CEOs from the 190 professional and semiprofessional clubs in the United States and Canada playing in MLS, NASL, USL PRO, USL PDL and the NPSL. That way we can also attempt to get a feel for not only how the fans feel about pro/rel, but also how those who control the teams do too.

Once we’ve had a chance to collect input from as many people as possible, we’ll then publish the results on the blog — just like we have with the other survey’s we’ve run on the site. No doctoring, just cold hard data. Just do us the favor of only filling it out once, okay?

So do your part by hitting up the link above, and help us all get a definitive feel for just how important promotion and relegation is to American and Canadian soccer.

ten words or less #94

WSOTP - Matchday - BPL Opener 14-15

come watch the premier league with WSOTP in cincinnati.

Have you fully recovered from the World Cup yet? With the weekend marking the return of the Premier League, you better be.

Though I’ve not really had much of a break this summer thanks to the World Cup and MLS and working the TV broadcasts for the Cincinnati Saints, I’m surprisingly still amped up for the return of the world’s most popular club competition. No burnout for this guy. Yet anyway. If you need to get a preview of the season still, be sure to check out the Season 2 opening episode of the WSOTP Podcast — we’ll be sure to help get you in the mood.

As is normally the case, WSOTP will once again be helping to host an opening day watch party at Cincinnati’s Rhinehaus. Be sure to come and join us on Saturday morning, when we’ll be joined by the Lyric: Food that Rocks food truck for some delicious brunch to pair with your beer and footie.

And before I forget, here are ten of my favorite links from the last week.

Why exactly does nobody care about the US Open Cup? – topdrawersoccer.com

Ted Lasso is the best. – youtube.com

BVB throwing a tiny kitchen sink at Reus to stay. – transfermarkt.de

(WARNING: Link is in German)

The folks in Sacramento seem pretty damn confident. – recklesschallenge.net

Not sure why, but I really dig the new Bayern aways. – football-shirts.co.uk

The girls really don’t want to play on plastic. – washingtonpost.com

Whether wanted or not, third party ownership is football’s future. – espnfc.com

I’m sick of the promotion/relegation debate. – sportingnews.com

Bob Bradley lays it down on a Norwegian commentator. – facebook.com

Now a commentator myself, I’ll take this as dogma. – theoriginalwinger.com

the european playoff proposition

I love the promotional playoffs in English Championship. They add an additional layer of drama to an already drama-filled promotional race at the end of each season. Often times, the playoffs expose little known teams to the big-time spotlight, giving those sides a rare shot of a match at the fabled Wembley.

The play playoffs are also provide a unique solution to a problem that plagues the promotion-relegation system in England.

In recent years, the top flight Premier League has received increasingly lucrative broadcasting deals, with a majority of these profits distributed amongst the member clubs based on final ranking in the league table for that season. So the higher your team finishes, the larger slice of the profits it receives. The lower divisions have a substantially smaller broadcasting contract than the Premier League, a jaw-dropping £1 million per game versus £45 million. This often produces a large disparity in revenues for lower league clubs compared to their top-tier counterparts, thus making it more difficult for those sides to compete.

the playoff system has provided jubilation for teams like burnley. why couldn't playoffs do the same for fulham, man city or tottenham?

After a club is relegated from the Premiership, for the next two seasons they receive a parachute payment from the higher-tiered league’s television contract to help them cope with the loss of revenue. The complaint here is that these parachute payments to former Premiership sides has in-turn created another gulf in wealth between those clubs and clubs who have never reached such lofty heights.

Many believe, and rightfully so, that these parachute payments have created a “bounce back” effect that enables the richer sides to quickly regain promotion back to the higher league. And as the cycle repeats itself, an ever increasing gap in income eventually makes it impossible for new sides to ever be promoted… or so the paranoid will have you believe.

That’s where the playoff system comes in as a solution. By allowing the sixth through third place finishers in the league fight through a playoff tournament for the the third and final promotion place, you increase the chances of a side that hasn’t been promoted before (or at least in a while) to make the jump up. The final of the Championship playoff is often referred to as the richest game in football, due to the large financial boost the winning club will receive from the Premier League’s broadcasting revenue the next season.

Want proof that the playoff system serves this important purpose? Here are some examples from the last ten years:

  • Burnley finished 5th in the Championship last year, yet gained promotion to the Premier League for the first time since 1976. They earned this reward by first knocking off 4th place finisher Reading, and then by defeating third-placed Sheffield United in the final before a crowd of 80,500 at Wembley.
  • In 2005, West Ham finished 6th in the Championship before beating 5th place finishers Preston North End in the playoff final to earn promotion.
  • The 2004 final saw 6th place Crystal Palace knock-off 3rd place Sunderland in the semifinal, and then 4th place West Ham to go up.
  • In 2003, 5th placed Wolves beat 3rd placed Sheffield United to make the jump.
  • The 2002 playoffs had 5th place Birmingham City and 6th placed Norwich City advanced to the playoff final, with Birmingham city taking the spoils.

In fact in the last decade alone, only four 3rd place finishers (Bolton in 2001, Watford in 2006, Derby County in 2007 and Hull City in 2008) have won the playoffs to claim the promotion spot that would have been theirs had there been no playoffs.

And it’s this discussion and thought process that scares the living bejezus out of the Big Four clubs.

Why? Because some members of the Premier League are pushing for awarding the fourth and final Champions league spot to the winner of a similarly designed playoff. No set format has been discussed to this point, but they are debating allowing teams as low as 7th place to have a shot at the big show.

Man United’s Fergie isn’t a fan. Liverpool’s fat spanish waiter doesn’t want it, though admittedly that’s probably because his side is most likely to concede their spot. Arsene Wenger of arsenal thinks it’s a bad idea. And even Man City’s Roberto Mancini is against it, even though it’s his side who would currently benefit from the plan.

So the next question becomes, why would the Premier League do this?

One word: money.

Remember the 39th Game proposal that the clubs shot down a season ago? This plan was to serve two purposes. Firstly it was to give smaller sides (who typically don’t do foreign tours in the summer) more exposure in new markets, and consequently grow the fan base of those sides and the Premiership as a whole. Secondly and as a result of the first, by increasing the fan base and exposure of the Premier League, the demand for watching the entire season would go up in new markets and would likely grow foreign revenue streams (broadcasting rights, shirt sales, sponsorship opportunities, etc.). Oh yeah, and the league could continue to line it’s pockets by broadcasting these games on a pay-per-view basis.

FIFA was, unsurprisingly, against this idea. Sure, it would grow the Premier League’s popularity… but it would also cannibalize the local leagues’ exposure at the same time. I mean, who would you rather watch: a bunch of hacks locals that play for Selangor FA from the Malaysian Super League, or a mid-table Premiership side. No contest, right?

This European playoff is no different. The EPL will try to mask their new plan’s monetary ambitions by saying things like, “It will give the mid-table teams something to play for at the end of the season,” “The fans will love it,” or “It will provide more parity in the league.”

The fans will no doubt go crazy for it, especially for those that rarely — if ever — see their club compete for a Champions League spot suddenly getting a shot at the big time. That’s why it’s not really that surprising that mid-table clubs are obviously throwing their support at the proposal. And why not? Tottenham and Aston Villa have been trying to crack the top four for years now; this would give them an easier route to do so. And yes, by giving more teams a chance to pull in lucrative Champions League money, parity might be restored… if only a tiny, tiny bit.

But make no mistake, the playoff for the last Champions League spot would serve the exact same purpose as the 39th game plan. They want to find a new way to get a tsunami of cash pouring into the league coffers each season. And it’s that greedy ambition that makes me think that the Champions League playoff proposal is a terrible idea.

The first, and biggest reason why the playoffs shouldn’t happen is fixture congestion. The fixture calendar in England is already too crowded, with some teams taking part in up to five official competitions in a season (Ex: Manchester United in 2009-2010: the Premiership, FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League, and the FIFA Club World Cup). Asking a team to play potentially three more games would further expose the players to exhaustion and injury. In years that feature international tournaments, the playoffs would rob players of some of the crucial rest period between the end of the domestic season and the World Cup/European Championships.

The other thing that the Premier League may be taking for granted is that the fourth Champions League spot is hardly a guarantee. UEFA awards the number of Champions League places given to each country based on how that country’s teams have performed in European competitions over the previous seasons. If your league’s teams consistently perform poorly, then your coefficient will change and one of your spots could be awarded to another country (I hope you’re listening, Italy).

even league champions may not have the right pedigree for european competition. imagine how a 7th place team may fare in europe.

When Blackburn qualified for the Champions League by shockingly winning the title in 1995, the Rovers crashed out of the Champions League finishing bottom of their group with just four points to show. Though a talented side, their lack of European experience was the obvious reason for their failings on the continent.

If the Champions League playoffs had been in place last season, we could have potentially seen Fulham in the Champions League this season. And though Fulham are handling themselves just fine in the Europa League this season, would they be able to cut the mustard in the more competitive competition? Notice that European heavyweights Liverpool struggled this season in the Champions League, despite being very acclimated to the competition.

The point I’m trying to make is if the Premier League sends under qualified competitors to the Champions League, and they perform poorly, then there is a good chance that England could lose out on their fourth spot.

And there’s another huge kink in this design. How will the Premier League deal with doling out the Europa League qualification places if the playoff format is applied? Normally the qualification spots(s) is(are) given to the the fifth (and typically sixth) place finisher(s) in the league. Do they give the europa spots to runners up for the playoffs? Do they give it to the fifth place finisher as normal, and if so, what happens if that team wins the playoff?

If the the Premier League adopt this plan, there are just too many complications if you ask me.

Now don’t get me wrong: I would love to watch these playoffs regardless of what teams were involved. There would be just as much drama and excitement in them as the promotional playoffs. And as a Tottenham fan, the playoffs sound great since Spurs chances of reaching the Europe’s biggest stage will definitely go up.

But honestly, the system works just fine as it is now. Why throw in any more unnecessary layers in the process? Let’s leave Champions League qualification alone, and let everyone qualify based on season long-merit. Don’t let the thoughts of even more money skewer the judgment in this scenario.

And besides, knowing my luck, Tottenham will finally land fourth place the year that these rules are enacted… and you know they’ll just blow it in the playoffs anyway.