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Promotion, Relegation Could Come To U.S., But It’s Complicated

  • USL poised to make historic step toward new competitive structure
  • Cultural norms in U.S. sports likely prevent broader rollout
Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

A system of team promotion and relegation — critical to how many global leagues operate, particularly in soccer — could finally be headed to the U.S.

The United Soccer League is reportedly set to vote next month on a season format in which teams would move between the USL Championship and League One depending on the final standings. The two leagues are the respective second and third divisions of the American soccer pyramid below MLS.

If approved, the move would be a first in major U.S. sports, one designed to boost interest and visibility for the USL — which has grown steadily but still faces challenges in a crowded sports market. 

The vote isn’t slated to implement the new system straight away, but rather certify sufficient owner interest to proceed.

Cultural Obstacles

While promotion and relegation remains a fixture in European soccer — even to damaging financial effect — massive obstacles remain before any such system could take broader hold in the U.S.

Most U.S. pro stadium development and projects involve at least some element of public money or infrastructure aid, contributions often joined by legal covenants mandating the teams in question remain in their respective cities and leagues.

MLS commissioner Don Garber has been lukewarm at best about promotion and relegation for that league, saying earlier this year, “I don’t see how that works today, but I can’t look far enough in the future to say never.”

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