Those who believe pro/rel cannot work in the U.S. have a zero sum view of soccer.
They believe that soccer has to be grown to a certain point before pro/rel can take place and that point is undefined and never quite within reach.
They don’t understand that pro/rel creates positive sum soccer that causes growth in the game. By blocking pro/rel, they are restricting soccer’s growth to the point that they will never feel like pro/rel would work.
It’s a bit like saying that I’m not going to let my toddler eat as much as an adult until he’s as big as adult, otherwise he’s just not ready. What would that do? Starve him of the very energy and nourishment he needs to become as big as an adult.
Near the beginning of organized soccer in England, which later spread around the world via FIFA, a way to organize soccer accidentally emerged that created positive sum soccer, which promotion/relegation is a big part, but not the only part.
I don’t believe there was a lot of intention for that. At the beginning, there weren’t vested interests and there was much less resistance to doing what seemed to make common sense and was fair.
As lots of clubs popped up and formed into leagues, pro/rel emerged as a common sense and fair way to smerge the leagues together so that the clubs could find their way to an appropriate level of competition.
It’s common sense because it sees the competition as between clubs or teams, where it should be.
It’s fair, because it lets teams earn their spot in the league structure by how well they play.
Pro/rel is common to youth and amateur soccer leagues across the U.S., including at the indoor facility where I play twice weekly.
The folks stuck in the zero sum box of soccer is they don’t understand that their mindset is the very thing holding the growth of the game back by keeping out the very thing that has proven around the world to grow it.
Fair question: How does it do that?
It opens up positive feedback loops that incentivizes more soccer from the top to the bottom, even at the grassroots.
Let’s start at the top. Pro/rel shifts the business unit from a league to a club, which lowers the barrier of entry by a factor of 10. Many more clubs will pop up if they don’t also have to immediately have another 10 – 12 clubs that they have to organize with to form a league.
With many more clubs popping up, US Soccer would do the job that its counterparts in other countries do, put together leagues that make sense for the clubs that want to enter, keep score and standings in a way so players, coaches, teams and clubs actually know how good they are.
Fight now, it’s really, really difficult to tell the difference between good and bad teams because there are so many disconnected leagues, tournaments and competitions.
A team from the Midwest can be division and tournament champs in their hometown and think they are tops, but would be routed by a mid-level team from Southern California.
That’s no good because it takes players and coaches in this disjointed model much too long to figure out what good is because the feedback is mostly noise.
It would be much better for the sport if that Midwest team knew that, loudly and clearly.
Having a better feel for where you rank as a player, coach and team, across the country, not just your insulated bubble, would help align everyone involved to pushing toward the right standard.
There’s more feedbacks that are important, but I will leave this post with the one that I think is most important at the grassroots.
The full positive sum soccer package includes pro/rel, transfer payments, training compensation and solidarity payments. The last three change grassroots soccer.
Grassroots soccer currently feeds off parent wallets. This results quantity over quality and little helpful feedback for the player. They will tell you how great your kid is because you write a check, don’t want to lose your check to the competing and clubs and they want to fill all their rosters to maximize their revenue.
They recruit the best players in the club to their academy teams, and use those as marketing tools to help fill the rest of their rosters. They know that by the time the parents discover that it’s 10x more about the internal motivation and interests of the kid than anything the club can do, they will have drained several years of fees from them.
Transfer payments, training comp and solidarity payments changes it to quality over quantity. These payments reward clubs for discovering and training talent. So, instead of relying solely on parents, clubs can make money by finding good players, training them, getting them under contract on a first team and trading them.
This results in more club owners sponsoring free house leagues, so the area kids have a place to play and the club has a place to see if they have any diamonds in the rough. When they find one, that kid doesn’t have to pay $2,000 a year to play, so there are more opportunities for kids of all incomes to play more soccer.
For some kids, hopping from the house league to the club’s competitive team will seem like a pretty cool goal. Those kids will become more interested in learning what it takes to hop from the house league to the competitive team that competes in US Soccer’s league and it will be in the club’s best interests to let the kids clearly know.
These are just some of the feedbacks that the FIFA positive sum soccer package creates to grow the game, but these are the biggies.