Soccer is the world’s favorite sport, and it is pretty much the most followed game in every country. One country where it is not number one is the USA, and although it is appreciated in the States, it doesn’t get close to football, basketball, or baseball in popularity. The MLS is the only FIFA-approved major soccer league in the world that doesn’t have a relegation or promotion system. Every other top league in the world does, but is there something the global soccer community could be learning from the American franchise system?
The franchise system, like the one in the NFL, allows teams to make risky decisions without jeopardizing their entire financial future. Teams in the NFL know that they are getting their chunk of money each year and won’t be losing any of that revenue in the coming years.
That gives the franchises security in knowing they can make risky decisions in the short term to benefit them in the long term. It’s something soccer teams can’t do as getting relegated means losing precious TV revenue. NFL franchises, other than maybe the Patriots, know that in a few years they will have a good chance of Super Bowl success.
The teams don’t own the players but do have to pay their wages through a salary allocation. That ensures further stability for the franchises as they are basically prevented from overspending on player wages. The cap also ensures that the playing field is leveled as best as possible, meaning that most teams have a chance at winning big with smart trading.
A big one that many soccer fans get stuck on accepting is the fact that there is no relegation in the NFL, or any of the major American sports leagues. Some argue that it would take away from the romance of soccer, where the underdog can come from the bottom and work their way to the top. That happens far less these days as the money the top teams get prevent smaller teams from getting close to competing with them.
Most of the teams who gain promotion to the top leagues tend to get relegated again the following season or struggle to stay up, and they often get beaten lots. Some teams do prove that theory wrong though, and if it weren’t for promotion, the Leicester City Premier League miracle in 2015-16 wouldn’t have happened.
For most soccer fans, the idea of a league that keeps the same teams is strange, but the NFL is one of the most successful competitions in the world. Plus, if teams or owners are willing to cough up plenty of cash, they can buy their way into the league as an expansion team.
The best of the best
An NFL style soccer league in Europe could be one of the most exciting sporting competitions in the world. Imagine the likes of Barcelona facing Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and Paris Saint Germain at least twice per season, every year. That puts a lot of talent on the same field a lot more often than the Champions League currently does, where super games are down to the luck of the draw.
The NFL pits the best players against each other, and the Champions League is seen as the best competition in soccer. There aren’t enough big European games for many soccer fans and creating a continental league based on the NFL could solve that problem.
It would allow for new rivalries to form as these teams get familiar with each other by playing at least twice per season. If the competition was broken up like the NFL, then there could easily be conferences and divisions to help keep local rivalries going.
Lack of a college system
Franchise leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB all rely on the constant stream of talent coming through the school systems. Soccer has its own version of this through scouting and youth academies, but it is not the same. There is no draft to help even the playing field, and this could be a stumbling block for the NFL-style soccer league.
Teams like Barcelona would have to abandon their world-famous youth academies in favor of the draft approach. Or, if they didn’t abandon them, they might have to agree to let other teams draft some of the players they nurtured from a young age.
Salary caps would also change the dynamics of the teams as some of the biggest soccer teams have huge wage bills compared to others. If the NFL-style soccer league wanted to promote competitiveness, it would have to find a way to get players to agree to salary caps.
That is something that they are unlikely to agree to because who wants to kiss goodbye to millions of dollars? Culturally it is something soccer players are not used to so it might be too big of a stumbling block for them to agree upon.
An NFL-style soccer league would be great in bringing the best teams and players together to face each other more regularly. That is something that fans of the biggest teams could get behind. With a lack of promotion and relegation, some argue it would take away from the spirit of the sport.