MLS Promotion Relegation – Can It Exist?

Soccer in America. A statement that probably puts a smirk on the faces of those from across the pond. Mostly because America’s soccer history is still in its infancy compared the rest of world. While Major League Soccer expansion has grown throughout the years, there’s one other controversial factor that’s up for debate. MLS Promotion Relegation. Lets take a look at this idea in more detail.

Promotion Relegation – How It Works

So the rest of the world’s soccer leagues use a system called Promotion Relegation, sometimes referred as Pro-Rel. The idea is that it gives the teams of the lower leagues the opportunity to advance to the top tiered league. In England for example the top five tiers look as follows:

The idea is that at the end of each league’s season, the top two team get promoted to the next tier league and the bottom two teams get relegated down to the tier below them. Make sense? Good! Great! Wonderful!!

Now what are the advantages of a Pro-Rel system?

All About the Benjamins Baby!

Typically, in Pro-Rel system, there are a lot money at stake by winning promotion to a higher tiered league. For example, in at the end of the 2016-17 EPL season, Middlesbrough was handed a check for over $125 million for finishing 19th in the EPL. $125 million for finishing 19th!!!!!!? In a nutshell, that includes chunk of television deals (both domestic and overseas), commercials and money for their final placing in the EPL standings.

So can you see now the incentive for making to the top tiered league. Pretty motivating if you’re a team owner.

A close second is the competitiveness created by having a Pro-Rel system. I’m sure you can imagine the motivation players having when faced with being one victory away from being promoted or one loss away from being relegated. In my opinion, creating this type of atmosphere would not only yield fan support, it would also facilitate player development. So it would make sense that the US Soccer Federation would want to support a Pro-Rel system in their home country.

But they have yet to do so……

How Would MLS Promotion Relegation Look?

So how could the American soccer leagues implement promotion relegation? Currently, there are three legit professional soccer leagues in the United States; Major League Soccer (MLS), USL Championship and USL League One. MLS being the top tiered league and to be honest, the most stable league. We’ve seen the lower tiered leagues fold with due to little financial support.

Major League Soccer expansion will have to continue if a Pro-Rel system is going to exist in The States. There are 24 teams in the MLS, with three new teams set to start. In 2020, Inter Miami and Nashville SC will join the MLS and then Austin FC in 2021.

But there’s more!! The MLS announced that they plan now to expand to 30 teams. Two cities in particular have been mentioned to be front runners for the next round of expansion. St. Louis and Sacramento.

If expansion continues at this pace I think eventually we will see two leagues form. MLS I and MLS II. This is when we could see Pro-Rel implemented. These clubs would already have the stadiums and infrastructure in place as well as established fan bases.

Will It Happen?

Simply, yes. In my opinion, some sort of hybrid promotion relegation system will be in place for the MLS. I don’t think we will see the small club in rural North Carolina have a shot at making it all the way to the MLS. The MLS owners will have none of that!  Those small clubs will have to settle for competitions like the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

The professional sports in America are driven by the franchise owners. They hold too much power to allow such things. However, once there are enough MLS franchises, we could definitely see a hierarchical system in place

Final Thoughts

Remember, the MLS is a baby when compared to the other soccer leagues across the globe. I mean La Liga in Italy started in 1929!! The MLS is growing. There’s no denying that. Attendance is strong for the majority of clubs and money is being spent on players, facilities and stadiums. Pro-Rel could be that next step of maturity for the MLS.




  1. Really interesting post Brian! I’ve always wondered how a promotion/relegation system would be received here, whether in soccer or other sports. It would certainly clear up who the bandwagon fans of a team are, right?
    I’m curious if you think teams that get promoted would be able to stick at the higher level? I would think that the first year would be the hardest because the team budget would still be based on their previous existence at the lower level, but once they’re sharing in the top-tier revenues, they’d be able to attract better players. Do you know how relegated and promoted teams typically do in England, for example?
    Anyway, thanks for this, it’s great stuff!

  2. What a nice post you wrote! I really enjoyed reading it and I could not be silent about your post so I decided to leave my comment here and say Thank You! For sharing this quality post with others.
    Actually this is exactly the information that I was looking for information about the MLS Promotion relegation and when I landed on your website and read this post, it answered all my questions in details.
    So I’m happy that you decided to write about this topic and share it with people. It’s very useful and can definitely be used as a great source for everyone who is interested in this topic.
    I will come back to your website again for sure and I’m looking forward to reading your new posts.)


  3. Wow, I have never understood much about soccer, but my son is looking into it, so I decided, I should maybe get educated haha. This site is great. I never knew so much went into ranking teams!

    But this Pro-Rel way of doing it makes sense. I actually like this method because it groups them together in a fair way.

    Everything you’ve laid out here was so informative and broken down that even I could understand it. Thanks for the great post!

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