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.

Now before we get too far into this, let’s be up front about the audience we got our data from in the first place.

While we had a statistically sizable sample with 757 responses, it’s important to remember there’s some built-in bias in the survey based on the sources from which most respondents came. Our two biggest drivers were Twitter and Reddit. And while that’s not that big of a deal on the surface, responses coming from those place might not be the most accurate representation of the general populace. My 63-year-old father is a soccer fan, but he certainly isn’t using either of those services. So there are going to be segments of the overall North American soccer population that probably aren’t properly represented here.

Also, most of the Reddit hits came from the /r/MLS community — a forum largely sympathetic to a league some of the pro/rel movement’s supporters see as a roadblock to their eventual success. That said, some of pro/rel’s biggest supporters pumped the survey on their social media feeds, too. This caused sizable traffic from those sympathetic to their cause as well.

Knowing all that ahead of time, I wanted to collect as much data as possible — 27 data points in all — so we could at last paint the most accurate picture possible of people’s desires.

Admittedly, I did get a few questioning why the survey collected as much demographic data as it did. Some even expressed how they felt it was a bit invasive. To be clear, we didn’t mean to offend anyone or invade anyone’s privacy. I was just curious to see if there were any correlations between certainly population types. There weren’t.

But it’s fun to paint the picture anyway. So, who were the respondents that provided us feedback? (Click to zoom)

WSOTP - Blog - Promotion & Relegation Fan Demographics

Thanks to the wide reach of social media, the overall geographic distribution spanned nearly the entirety of the continent. We had responses from all but six US states and six Canadian provinces — though I doubt the validity of the Yukon and Nunavut submissions due to some trolling I experienced on Twitter after releasing the survey.

Hot spots in the major states (CA, FL, NY, TX) were predictable due to population sizes, but others like Washington and Minnesota gained considerable submissions due to the survey being shared by some local blogs. And as we’ve seen with other surveys we’ve run, our home state of Ohio provided quite a few responses once again.

While things were rather spread out geographically, other elements of the survey were far more homogeneous. A sizable 63% of respondents were what we could class as “post college adults” between the ages of 23 and 40, which is further reinforced when we saw that a whopping 92.3% of the overall survey results came from fans who also hold a collegiate degree of some sort. And like they always say about the internet, it’s nothing but men: our survey results were overwhelmingly the same.

When it came to interest in soccer, four out of every ten submissions came from “newer” fans who started following the game closely around the time of the 2010 World Cup. Most are supporters of MLS — as we would expect based on the bias mentioned above — with the fall off to those passionate about the other US leagues being pretty drastic. It’s also worthy to note that I did not ask whether respondents followed foreign leagues like the Premier League or La Liga, as I wanted to remain focused on the football on this side of the pond. Though I’d wager those that do follow other leagues account for a far larger number than the 3.8% who said they don’t follow a US league at all.

Finally we get to what everyone’s here for in the first place: the actual promotion and relegation opinions.

But before we do, let’s talk a little bit about why I wanted to do this survey. Obviously, this isn’t the first survey to pose the question of promotion and relegation in the US and Canada. Some have even been conducted by far more well-known sites than WSOTP. Yet they always felt too basic, breaking down an extremely complex topic into a simple “Yes/No” type question. Do you or do you not support the implementation of promotion and relegation in the US?

In my opinion, that’s way too black and white. It leaves too much room for ambiguity in interpreting the results, and those on both sides of the fence have tried their bests to twist that limited, one-dimensional response to suit their needs.

Think about it this way: you could want promotion and relegation, but also think it will never happen here. You could also hate the idea, but still think it’s a necessity to get American soccer on equal footing as the rest of the world. Or you could believe something else entirely. There are just too many ways of looking at it for a simple “Yes/No” to suffice.

Taking that line of thinking into consideration, I think there are actually three questions within the overall argument at hand:

  • How strong is your desire to see promotion and relegation implemented in the North American soccer pyramid?
  • Is promotion and relegation a necessity for professional soccer to succeed in the US and Canada?
  • Do you believe we will ever see a system of promotion and relegation in the US and Canada?

What did we find when we asked those questions?

Promotion and relegation’s supporters often claim that the European model is desired by the masses, and as it turns out, the majority would prefer a promotion and relegation system in the US and Canada. On a scale of 1-5 — with 1 being “no desire” and 5 being “intense desire” — 55% said they would be inclined to have pro/rel adopted in the US and Canada (4’s and 5’s). That number jumps to 69.5% when you include the 3’s, who could be argued aren’t against it either.

But it’s when you ask the second and third questions that some of the revolutionaries’ arguments fall apart a little bit.

Only 31.8% of respondents felt pro/rel is a prerequisite for success to be found in the North American soccer market, and just 40.3% think we’ll ever see it implemented here in the first place. So while it’s clear most fans might want promotion and relegation, few think we’ll actually get it and even fewer think we need it.

You can see the full break down below (Click to zoom).

WSOTP - Blog - Promotion & Relegation Fan Desire Graphs

What I found most interesting was that when you look at the 417 people who want the system here the most (4’s and 5’s), even their numbers on the necessity and reality fronts aren’t universal. Only 55% think it’s really needed, and 52% think we’ll see pro/rel in the US and Canada at some point in the future. If the 3’s are again rounded in, those numbers dip off even further.

And of 241 respondents who think promotion and relegation is absolutely necessity for North American professional soccer to be a success, slightly more than a third of them don’t think we’ll ever actually ever see that necessity installed. So there are doubters even among the hardcore ranks, too.

What did the breakdown look like by leagues?

Contradictory to what some would argue, it turns out you can actually be a supporter of Major League Soccer and also be for the implementation of the European model too: 47.6% of so-called “MLS Bots” would actually prefer a promotion and relegation system (4’s and 5’s). Conversely, not all supporters of “minor league” clubs want promotion either, with 27.8% saying they would not prefer it.

The discrepancy between “want” and “need” opinions was something I had anticipated, but I was unsure why that discrepancy existed. So in order to get to the bottom of those differences, I wanted to probe for more information that might reveal the cause for the split.

Proponents of pro/rel often can often be found shouting about the multitudes of reasons they feel the system will benefit US and Canadian soccer, and many of the reasons are pretty popular with our respondents too. Just over 60% agreed that it would both increase competition and reward clubs for their performances, and a majority do think that the threat of relegation and the promise of promotion would properly incentivize owners to invest in their teams.

However, there were plenty of reasons why supporters thought bringing pro/rel into the fold would be a bad idea too. Just a hair over 30% think that implementing pro/rel here could see levels of disparity between teams that we see in European leagues — think of the dominance of clubs like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, PSG, etc. And a sizable 51.9% think that the US and Canadian soccer markets just aren’t mature enough to support that type of system. A fifth of respondents even thought things were just fine the way that they are.

But to get even deeper, I thought it might be worth injecting some personal emotions into the conversation. And I thought the best way to do that would be to ask respondents to provide their thoughts on how they think promotion and relegation might affect the teams they supported.

Nearly 25% of respondents didn’t think their own favorite club could survive a relegation as things currently stand, while 7.5% wouldn’t even expect their club to financially survive a move up the table through promotion. Oddly, it seems like a sliver of our respondents have a death wish for their clubs — 48% of those who didn’t think their club would make it through a promotion and 29% of those who didn’t think their club could sustain a relegation still claim to want promotion and relegation (4’s and 5’s).

I also wanted to see if there were any trends about the concerns over one’s club moving up or down. It’s quite possible that even if you like promotion and relegation, you might still harbor some fears about what would happen after it was instituted. Why did I want to see this? I had suspected that most of the fears would be rooted to those who were against the system, but wanted to be sure.

If your club were to be PROMOTED, with what issue(s) would you be concerned?
Desire for Pro/Rel System (1-5)
Concern Total %     1 2 3 4 5
Ability to compete financially 213 28.1 16.0 21.1 16.9 20.2 25.8
Ability to compete on the field 156 20.6 17.3 21.2 17.3 18.6 25.6
Ability to pay league minimum salary 172 22.7 14.5 19.8 16.3 22.7 26.7
Need for additional investors 162 21.4 17.3 20.4 12.3 24.7 25.3

After running the numbers for concerns over if a respondent’s club were hypothetically promoted, I found that my assumption was pretty inaccurate. As the chart above illustrates, those most in favor of promotion and relegation consistently were more afraid of all four of the main concern areas than those who are most against it.

If your club were to be RELEGATED, with what issue(s) would you be concerned?
Desire for Pro/Rel System (1-5)
Concern Total %     1 2 3 4 5
Decrease in sponsorship 402 53.1 24.4 16.9 17.2 17.2 24.4
Loss of fans 450 59.4 23.3 16.0 17.1 18.2 25.3
Loss of investors 305 40.3 27.9 16.7 15.4 18.7 21.3
Loss of TV moey revenue 422 55.7 23.7 15.9 16.6 20.6 23.2
Player attrition 433 57.2 22.6 15.0 16.6 19.2 26.6
Reduction in local media interest 468 61.8 22.4 16.5 16.5 19.0 25.6

Respondents’ concerns over their sides being relegated were obviously more prominent, as we typically saw a doubling in the total amount of those sharing fears when compared against concerns over promotion. That’s predictable: nobody ever wants to go down. But again, we saw that even those favoring promotion and relegation’s adoption were just as afraid of those factors as those who are opposed to it, often times even more afraid.

Phew… that was a lot of data. And I do apologize for how long it took for me to actually get the results out to everyone.

As I mentioned already, I tried my best to keep my own individual opinions out of this particular piece. However, it’s darn near impossible that some of my own, pre-existing bias(es) probably bled through from time to time. In fact, some will probably accuse me of just that in the paragraphs to come.

Anyway, what kind of conclusions can we draw from all of those numbers?

It’s clear that the primary point the loudest members of the promotion and relegation movement have told us is indeed true: a majority of the responding population of soccer supporters in the US and Canada do want promotion and relegation.

But contradictory to those loudest proponents’ claims, just because you want something, that doesn’t necessarily mean you think you need that thing too.

Less than a third of our respondents think promotion and relegation is necessary here. It also seems  that more than half of them don’t think we’ll ever see it here either, including a healthy portion of those who want it. Why is that the case? As the concerns above illustrated, it’s clear that some aren’t as sold on the idea because they fear the consequences of its implementation.

Now, what about those who actually run the teams? If you recall we had a survey for them, too.

Problem is, owners are typically a tight-lipped crowd. They’re tricky to track down, and even harder to get responses from. But despite those obstacles, we did manage to get some data from those who are putting serious money on the line to provide us with the beautiful game to watch and argue about.

Check back next week, as our second installment will delve into their opinions, thoughts and feelings on the topic.

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1 Comment

  1. One of the surveys had a devious option: the ability to pay a minimum league salary if promoted. There isn’t a minimum salary in pro/rel systems. It’s all market dependant. That survey seemed to be fear mongering


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