Why open competition works

The U.S. has about 26,000 high schools. I presume a high portion of those have soccer teams.

The U.S. also has about 1,400 colleges with soccer teams.

These are invisible to most folks when they wonder if there’s enough support for an open soccer pyramid.

In an open pyramid, my guess is that the teams from these schools would eventually migrate to the first teams of clubs at various levels of the pyramid. Or, they would become clubs, themselves.

Near my home there’s 15 high schools and 4 college teams.

I’ve only been to a few of these games. I have no real reason to go, unless my kid was on one of these teams.

The folks who wonder where support for soccer will come from expect that my love of soccer alone should cause me to want to attend these matches.

They miss that there’s something deeper in the support, a connection beyond just the sport itself.

For example, what if those 19 school teams were replaced with 7 clubs with a few on the 6th tier of the country’s pyramid and a couple on the 5th tier? What if my kids started playing soccer with those clubs as age 5 or 6? What if I volunteered and helped out at the club? What if I played Sunday adult pickup or league at the club, maybe sometimes against some of the first teamers?

What if, over time, I knew kids that moved up through the club to our first team, then onto higher first teams and eventually to top level? I’m be more interested in watching.

Then I would have more connections. I would be part of the club, not just a spectator. In Europe, that’s called being a ‘supporter’. In the U.S., we confuse the term ‘supporter’ with season ticket holder. We want people just to show up for the superficial entertainment aspect without understanding the connections that go with it.

We have a lot of the elements. I play Sunday soccer at one place. I coached kids at another. They then played at school, which was a whole other thing. An open system can connect all these things into one.

Opponents to pro/rel demand there be more support for soccer before moving to the very model that causes there be support and don’t realize it.

So, talk of simply adding pro/rel to the USL or the MLS, while it might make things slightly more interesting, misses the true magic elixir of how an open system builds support from the grassroots up.

An open system has pro/rel. It has the ability for any club to join in somewhere on the pyramid. It has a pyramid that is connected, so comparing results across competitions and levels is more meaningful. It has competitions across those levels, to help level set on the differences.

An open system has incentives for clubs to invite players in that can’t afford pay and incentives for clubs to get these players recognized so they can move up the pyramid, even if the club does not. Heck, it has the incentives for coaches to scout the playgrounds and streets for promising players.

It also has incentives for supporters to pay attention, because rather than just being a spectator of the sport that buys merch and hot dogs, they are a participant, a true member.

At least that’s what I see when I dive in to what makes open systems in other countries tick.


Fun with soccer numbers

London and LA have similar sized populations in their respective metro areas (~13-14 million).

London has 6 professional football teams in the Premier League.

LA has 2 soccer teams in the MLS.

What if an open pyramid helps grow support for a sport? Could LA have 6 D1 teams?

What if we are waiting for support to grow, while at the same time preventing the very thing that grows support?

Soccer starts at home, exhibit 321

I saw something similar, except it was those who played on their own are still playing. Those who didn’t, aren’t. Even those with who had seemingly ‘natural ability’ and played and practiced as much club ball as they could, aren’t.

Sports-entertainment spectrum

Where does your favorite sport fall on the sports-entertainment spectrum?

In my view, the sports-entertainment spectrum on one side is sports that is based on merit of play or performance. On the other side, merit takes a back seat to entertainment.

For example, track is pretty close to sports based on merit. Ultimately, the fastest runners tend to win. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t have a big enough following to make it a lucrative sport to cover.

The WWE is a good example of sports entertainment. While the participants are good athletes, there’s no doubt that it is fake and purely for entertainment purposes.

I get involved in a lot of discussions that compare American pro sports leagues to European soccer. One mistake I see folks make is to see them as the same thing.

That is, they see leagues, teams, managers, coaches, uniforms, standings and a sport being played and assume they are roughly the same types of things.

But, I see American sports more on the sports entertainment side of the spectrum, while European soccer is more on the sports side.

Why? In European soccer, hundreds, if not thousands, of independent clubs compete for their spot on the ‘pyramid’ of leagues and their place is determined by their performance on the field.

In the U.S., competition is limited to the teams within the franchise, which means it’s open for manipulation to do what the owners believe will be good for ratings (whether they are right or not). To get a franchise, you have to buy your way in. Your team can suck balls, but if you have the money and connections, you’re good to go.

Some of what they do for the ratings is right out in the open and sports nuts even like to get into the weeds of it. Two examples are salary caps and the draft. These exist purely because there is a belief that more people will watch games that are more evenly matched, i.e. ratings.

It seems fair to folks. Otherwise, how could a small market team ever hope to compete against larger market teams that can afford to pay for better players?

The NFL draft has become a huge event. They are making money on one of the key ways they rig their sport for ratings. I find it pretty fascinating.

I have no qualms with it. It seems to work for those leagues. Enough folks watch to keep companies buying ads in their time slots and keep the sport entertainment going.

I just don’t kid myself that that it is actually sport. It’s sports entertainment, maybe slightly less fake than the WWE, but still fake enough to not get too worked up about.

‘Pro/rel doesn’t grow support for soccer’

This underpins a common belief that more support is needed for soccer before we can move to pro/rel.

For all the folks who believe this, I have a question:

Did you notice the extreme repulsion European soccer fans had to the idea of a Super League that would not have included pro/rel for the top clubs?

For me, that was a huge signal how pro/rel causes support. It was clear that a big part of what makes football great for them is the idea of ‘sporting merit’, that the teams earn their spot based on their play.