Argument (from Australia): The same people who want pro/rel don’t show up to support the teams we have now. Would they show up to support a team that gets relegated?
My response: It makes sense to me that people who prefer pro/rel don’t support non-pro/rel soccer.
My longer response: I think the person who makes this argument falls into a couple a traps that they don’t realize they’re in.
The first trap is putting the cart before the horse by assuming support for soccer must come before pro/rel. My belief is that pro/rel helps increase support for soccer, so wanting the support to come first only prevents the support from developing by blocking the thing that helps cause more support.
I got into more detail on why I think pro/rel causes support for soccer to grow in this post. Hint: It’s more about what happens at the grassroots than whether the it’s more fun to watch two teams fight to keep from getting relegated.
The second trap is seeing soccer as a commodity. They think that,to a fan, it doesn’t matter whether soccer comes from a pro/rel league or a closed league, soccer is soccer. So, if you don’t support the soccer we have now, why would you support that soccer?
But, to someone who prefers the sporting merit that pro/rel brings, closed league soccer and pro/rel soccer are not the same.
To the person making the argument, the argument sounds like this: the same people who keep saying they want some alcoholic beverages, don’t drink the alcoholic beverages we have now. Why give them another alcoholic beverage if they don’t drink the alcoholic beverages we have now?
To the people who support pro/rel, that argument sounds like this: the same people who keep saying they like bourbon don’t drink the beer we have now. Why give them bourbon if they don’t drink the beer we have now?
Soccer based on sporting merit is different than closed league soccer, just like bourbon is different from beer. Both are soccer, just like bourbon and beer are both alcoholic beverages. While the category of ‘alcoholic beverages’ might be useful for some things, like how to arrange a grocery store, they are less useful for other things, like what individual people prefer.
It makes sense to me that folks who like bourbon, don’t drink beer, even if beer is the only alcoholic beverage the local grocer carries.
Luckily, for bourbon drinkers, there is competition and some stores carry their preferred alcoholic beverage. Similarly, with soccer there is plenty of competition around the world that offers what they want: sporting merit. Don’t be surprised when they choose not to drink the local beer, when they have plenty of imported bourbon to choose from.
Of course, the beer monopolist might hear this line of reasoning and think their path forward is to takeover those foreign bourbon makers and convert them to beer makers, to eliminate the competition, much like how Inbev seemingly took over the world makers of alcoholic beverages. Indeed, some think that the European Super League and the rumored merger of the MLS and Liga MX, are moves on that template.
That’s a shame. Why not simply try making bourbon?
I think I know why. Because the monopolist thinks the players have too much economic power in the sporting merit model and they don’t want the players to hold those cards. They want the owners to have the power. This is what drives most American sports from our top pro leagues to the NCAA, folks want to make money off the athletes while keeping the athletes as powerless as possible.
The next logical question is why do players in closed leagues put up with it? Don’t they see that the owners just want to have the power and not pay them what they are worth?
Well, I’ll give credit to the the players in the MLS. They aren’t dumb. They know that in pro/rel, many of them would not have roster spots in the top division because they aren’t good enough. If they were playing at all, they would be playing further down the pyramid likely making less*, while their division 1 roster spots were filled with higher caliber and higher priced talent.
So, the current players also benefit from from keeping the economic power in the owners’ hands. By limiting what owners can spend on payroll, they keep the payroll in their talent range. Nifty.
*I say likely here, because that is what I believe the the players think. However, I believe that if my trap #1 is correct (pro/rel causes support), then they may not make less by playing further down the pyramid. I think it’s possible that division 2 & 3 teams become as valuable as folks believe MLS teams are today (but aren’t really) and so their payrolls would be on par with current MLS teams, while the Division 1 would elevate.
But, it is tough for folks with zero sum mindsets to imagine how things can be different in positive sum worlds. And, who knows, I could be wrong. I’m just judging from the actual experiences of leagues with pro/rel who are far more successful than the MLS has proven to be.