Why not lower the barrier to entry for pro/rel alternative to MLS?

A lot of folks discount the viability of promotion/relegation in soccer in the U.S. on feeling.

“I just don’t see it working here.” “Americans doesn’t support losing teams.”

Fine. But, what’s wrong with trying it?

Alexi Lalas might say, well there’s nothing stopping a competing league system to the MLS from cropping up, if they think they have a better mousetrap.

Well, nothing except a very high barrier to entry set by US Soccer with its Professional League Standards.

To meet those standards to get sanctioned by US Soccer as a legit league, you need to find some folks willing to bet between $500 million to a billion with something that has so far proven to be a low chance of paying off on that scale. That’s an incredibly high barrier to entry and US Soccer knows and so does Alexi Lalas.

It’s by design, to protect MLS from competition. It’d be similar to McDonald’s dictating that any competitor to enter the market must about as big as McDonald’s is now. That’s dumb. Even McDonald’s started small and only grew after hitting upon a winning formula. The PLS assumes the winning formula for a soccer league is known in advance.

I’m going to try asking this question of folks who hold the view that “nothing is stopping a competitor from trying it”:

Are you for mandating that other soccer leagues meet the PLS in order to be sanctioned by US Soccer? Why or why not?

I’ve heard these responses, so far.

“US Soccer has every right to set those standards as they govern the sport in the U.S.”

True. But, that doesn’t answer the question nor does it make it right. The question is, why do you support the PLS?

“So, just start an unsanctioned league.”

That shows a lack of understanding of what an unsanctioned league means. It means players can not participate in international FIFA competitions, like the World Cup, or their contracts be sold to other clubs that participate in FIFA-sanctioned competitiongs. So, essentially, you are basically creating a separate sport that happens to just look like soccer but cannot receive benefits that lower division soccer teams elsewhere can. Namely, you won’t convince many top players to come to your league if they can’t play in the World Cup for their country or have a chance of moving on to better clubs. Also, selling contracts of up and coming players is a big source of revenue for some of these clubs.

“The PLS makes sense to create a more financially viable and stable situation for players.”

At the cost of a much diminished opportunity for these players. I’d rather have more opportunities for players, even if it might be a bit more financially unstable until the full system emerges, than cut those opportunities off at the knees proclaiming they aren’t good enough.

Assuming that you can skip the unstable stage of small experiments that lead discovering winning formulas that replicate is simply not understanding how things work. To get to the stable stage of lots of opportunities, you need to let the small experiments happen.

For anyone that doesn’t understand that concept, I recommend watching the movie The Founder, about the origin story of McDonald’s with this lens: at no point in the early days of McDonald’s was the winning formula known and at any time, the business could have folded. What would have happened at some point had some governing restaurant body come along and said, we disagree with how you are running this restaurant, so you are not allowed to continue?

In hindsight, the success seems obvious and basic. But, hindsight tricks you into thinking this.

It wasn’t obvious early on how that the McDonald’s brother approach would work. Just the simple bet that people would be willing to get out of their car and walk up to the window for a burger was a risk.

And, while the brothers happened upon a winning formula for a quick service burger restaurant, they were unsuccessful in replicating in multiple locations. So was Ray Kroc, early on. But, then he made his big contribution to the franchise world: owner-operator. He realized people who owned and operated their restaurant, hands-on, would be more motivated to keep the food good, the service speedy and the restaurants clean. He was right.

In hindsight, the owner-operator model seems obvious. But, it wasn’t at the time and may have never been discovered if Kroc wasn’t allowed to experiment.

I would love for that type of experimentation to take place in American soccer. We look at European soccer and can’t imagine how or why their fans support teams at so many levels and, rather than trying to understand it, they write it off: “That won’t work here.”

What they’re missing is the 100+ years for small, club-level experiments that have led to a relatively stable and deep soccer system that is unimaginable to Americans (even though it does indeed exist in multiple places).

Yes, failure does happen, just like it does in the American restaurant business, or the real estate or any business. Failure even happens in the soccer business. Local clubs, MASL teams, leagues, kid soccer clubs and, even MLS teams, fail all the time.

So, I struggle to understand the logic supporting the PLS.


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