There has much been much criticism as to if Major League Soccer should implement a promotion/relegation system or not. With top soccer leagues such as the Premier League using it, and them being the most prestigious soccer league in the world, the MLS might as well take a high risk for a possible high reward. The United Soccer League would be the perfect league for the the MLS to partner with to create this system. The USL would be the division 2 of US soccer league with MLS being division 1, similar to how the Championship League is division 2 compared to the Premier League being division 1 in England. There are owners who already own MLS and USL teams together, with ten MLS teams that own their own USL team, and there are twelve USL-MLS affiliations. One way this system could not just benefit the MLS but the USL as well is that the MLS teams that get relegated to the USL, brings that former MLS team’s audience with them to the USL and could therefore result in more fans for the USL. Besides revenue and viewership, US Soccer needs to be more competitive and this system will push teams along with its players to want to stay away from getting relegated or to aim to get promoted.
The Chinese Football Association can be used as a model. According to The Sun, the Chinese Super League is the top Chinese football league, where China League One is division II and China League Two is division III soccer. There is a relegation/promotion system where the two worst teams from Chinese Super League move down to China League One, then the bottom two teams move down to China League Two, while the top two teams from China League One and Two get promoted to their respected league. There’s also a fourth Chinese soccer league which is the Chinese Champions League which is an amateur football league but teams can get moved up if they meet the criteria to enter China League Two. With the Chinese Football Association’s success, they were able to increase the sale of their broadcasting rights from 7 million euros in 2015 to 1 billion euros in 2017. The MLS can have similar success with a promotion/relegation system of their own.
The MLS’s current broadcasting deal with ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision expires in 2022 according to Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly News. The deal began in 2015 and will bring in a total of $720 million over eight years, for a total of $90 million a year. Riccardo Silva, a founding partner of MP & Silva Media Rights Company, had discussed a deal with the MLS before, worth $4 billion in exchange for 10 years worth of global media rights from 2023 to 2033, nearly four times higher than the value of its current contract, according to John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal. However, MLS turned down the deal stating that it was ‘not in a position’ to engage with any possible deals due to stipulations to its current broadcast deal. The conditions of the deal included that the MLS would have to commit to a promotion and relegation system with the North American Soccer League and the USL. The NASL was recently cancelled, but in 2023, the MLS should consider looking for deals with Silva or similar deals with others, because it seems people want to see a relegation system involving the MLS and USL and they’re wiling to pay the money to see it. The five years until 2023 also gives the MLS enough time to prepare to switch from its closed system, to an open system with a relegation and promotion format. The system is worth a shot.