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Promotion/Relegation Not Coming to U.S. Soon

MLS commissioner Don Garber spoke about how the U.S. top-flight league didn’t need a system of promotion and relegation today at the Soccerex Global Convention in Manchester, England. According to ESPN FC, Garber denied that MLS needed promotion/relegation to be considered a “proper league.” Now, just last week here at Salute, we ran one of our “What If” pieces centered on promotion/relegation. In closing that piece, I pointed out that Don Garber is huge opponent of promotion/relegation. Garber cites the lack of promotion/relegation in other professional sports in America as his main reason.

“We play in a country where the major leagues are really successful. There is no promotion and relegation in hockey and basketball and they work really well. It is not happening in MLS any time soon,” Garber said according to ESPN FC.

“How does America benefit? Massive investment in bricks and a league that will be around in 100 years from now. It has become more of a seller’s market. There is more interest in investing in MLS than there are teams available. When I got into the league 16 years ago, we couldn’t give a team away. That is a short time to go from zero to the last sale of more than $100m,” Garber continued in the ESPN FC report.

Reporting on the same story, British newspaper The Guardian reports that Garber denies that not having a promotion/relegation system damages the credibility of the MLS.

“I don’t believe that is true. We are a real league now, with real business, our games are live on TV and live around the world.” Garber said according to The Guardian.

Something else that Garber and other MLS owners and investors might have to worry about is the changing presidency of FIFA. Current FIFA President Sepp Blatter has taken a hands off approach, as far as MLS is concerned, according to Euronews.

“We are certainly hopeful that they will continue to allow us to do what we have done pretty effectively which is grow the game in our country in ways which have probably exceeded most people’s expectations,” Garber said according to Euronews.

“Part and parcel to that is that we are new to this, we don’t have 100 years of professional football history and we are competing against four other major (North American sports) leagues that have been around for 100 years and we are trying to do that in a way in which will ensure that the league will be around for a long period of time. That involves a commitment to things which are core equities of ours which may or may not be part of other leagues. Competitive balance ensures some level of financial stability, it also allows you to create a fan base. In England you don’t have to worry about creating a fan base,” Garber continued in the Euronews report.

“Promotion-relegation would create a level of instability in our league in an immature market that could crater the very existence of our league – who is that good for,” Garber told Euronews.

It could happen though with FIFA set to elect a new president in February, and things could change for the MLS before or after that election. MLS doesn’t make the rules that govern it, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) does, and they answer to FIFA. FIFA could mandate that promotion/relegation be instituted in all leagues, D3 and up in the U.S., and MLS would have to comply or lose their D1 status. But this is all speculation and we won’t know anything until just before, or after, the February 26, 2016 elections.

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