Monday, May 25, 2009

The Relegation System: A Great Way to Run A Pro Sport

For those of you who don't like the sport of soccer or don't care to follow it, I apologize in advance. But I do like professional soccer and I wanted to pay homage to the way they run things in the European leagues. Outside of the fantastic skill, electrifying stadiums, and die hard fans, European soccer leagues have even more to be proud of. What I'm referring to is the structure of their leagues. I think it is referred to this way anyway, but even if it's not, I'm going to call it the "Relegation System." I'll explain it in a second.

England, Italy, Spain, France, Scotland, Germany, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands are probably what I would consider to be the top 9 European soccer leagues. The last two may be debatable, but oh well. The point is that, in these countries, soccer (futbol, calcio, foosball, football, etc.) is the main attraction in terms of sports. In fact, these countries have so many teams that most of them house anywhere from 2-4 professional soccer leagues. So to promote competition and parity, the relegation system comes into play. So here's how it works. The top league is usually called the Premier League. If you finish better than the bottom 3 spots, you're safe. However, the bottom 3 teams in the standings are "relegated" to the league below. If you're in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th tier leagues, then the top 3 teams are "promoted" to the next league up and the bottom three teams are again relegated to the league below. The cycle occurs after every year. It's rewarding, yet punishing. It always keeps teams hard at work and humble because with one bad season, any team could be the next one down.

I love it. It is the best way to run things. The problem is that American sports don't exactly have enough teams or competitive bottom leagues to implement such a system. It's a shame because you have a lot of franchises that are so sorry and atrocious, that it might be a kick in the ass for them to realize that you actually have to earn respect, success, and fan loyalty. And it's not just about teams getting demoted. There are a lot of great stories that come out of this system. Today, Burnley, an English soccer team that was in the second highest league, earned a trip to the top by beating Sheffield United. The system allowed this small club the chance to make something of themselves against the likes of Manchester United or Chelsea. The moves don't come without a price either. Burnley will experience an estimated 60 million pound boost in revenue for the move to the Premiership. And the relegated teams will potentially lose millions of pounds or euros because of ticket prices, media contracts, etc.

These factors have key implications for teams, not just on the field, but from a business standpoint as well. That is why it's a smart system. By making these consequences (positive and negative) well known, the leagues maximize the effort, competition and overall quality of their teams from top to bottom. Hypothetically, the system would work in a similar manner in the U.S....say if there was a secondary professional football league. The Rams and Chiefs would have been out of luck last year and maybe a 2nd tier team from Orlando or Los Angeles or Columbus would be promoted to compete amongst the big boys. But that type of thinking would be a long way away.

You may be saying, "okay well a team from Orlando or Columbus from a bottom league wouldn't have enough talent to compete." But the fact is that these European teams have a deep pool of talent in their own country and they pull just as much talent onto their team from elsewhere in the world. The players with the will and the talent are out there, but the complexity of a plan to build a league structure as such is very high. I think that if soccer continues to grow in America, the MLS could eventually get to the point of a relegation system with multiple leagues. I mean, they keep adding teams every year. And as of a few years ago, the league is finally starting to amass some serious revenue. Evidence of that is seen in the large number of "soccer only" stadiums being constructed. I really think the MLS is well on its way. It would be incredible if they could develop a relegation system because I think they are one of the only American leagues that would be able to pull it off.

The relegation system is the model system for professional athletics in my opinion. There is no better way of promoting effort, passion, and hard work than this system. The threat of being sent down to the "minors" so to speak is always looming and the prospect of being able to play with the big guns is always in sight. It's awesome! So, to european professional soccer, I commend you. It's no wonder that the passion among your players and your fans is the most celebrated in the world.


  1. The lions would be a viable start for a minor league football league and possibly the raiders.

  2. I would love any system that would cause the Natinals to cease to exist as a Major League Baseball team.