PICK YOUR POISON

New World soccer appears to have chosen to see out its current course to its ultimate conclusion. Whether or not soccer in nations like the US and Australia will succeed or fail is uncertain. It will either be nothing but gravy for New World soccer or there’ll be quite the mess to clean up. What is known, given enough time, it will do one or the other. As things stand, New World soccer’s future is a zero-sum game.

The prevalence of success indicators will be undeniable. The dissenters will be struck dumb by the abundance. Packed domestic soccer stadiums will litter the land, conveyor belts will spill out locally grown players of a world class caliber, truckloads of cash from an array of sources and sustained international success will be dumped at New World soccer’s feet. The tilt of the scales of soccer affluence in the New World’s favor will be blatant.

If the alternative should arise, and soccer in the US and Australia fails to deliver on the hype, the bubble will burst and take a huge swath of professional men’s soccer in the New World out with it. Soccer organizations will spend more than they can afford to build a brand unable to garner a level of interest profitable enough to keep the doors open and the lights on. The expectations will outweigh the reality and the rush for the door by club owners and investors will undermine New World soccer’s true value. Only the maddest and most devoted will go anywhere near the remnants with a barge pole.

Men’s soccer in the US and Australia is on the verge of a scenario where a choice will have to be made: red or black. Top flight men’s soccer competitions in both countries will have to draw a line in the sand or make allies out of enemies. Neither option will come without considerable cost to those organizations who already enjoy top of the heap status. However one does offer a greater degree of control over their destiny than the other. Both markets have been struck by a tsunami of domestic and foreign soccer offerings and more ride the tidal surge ashore each year.

Whether or not the impact of a promotion/relegation system on men’s domestic soccer in the US at the professional level will lead to the advancement of the sport to unheralded new heights or reduce it to a garbage fire of farcical proportions depends entirely on whose opinion is asked for. For the foreseeable future at least, for the MLS and the A League, the introduction of a pro/rel system of some sort does appear to be the lesser of two evils. It’s the fire they can control.

Pro/rel remains an incredibly risky proposition for soccer in general in both countries because of the litany of questions we don’t have answers to, in terms of its eventual impact, and won’t have until its released into the ecosystem. For example.

  • When has pro/rel ever been used to drive the growth of soccer within a multisport environment?
  • Has it ever been used as a growth vehicle for soccer anywhere, ever?

Promotion and relegation are well-established practices in well-established leagues and tend to be implemented as a solution to an abundance of interest in their version of soccer. Soccer in the US and Australia doesn’t struggle under the presence of sustained stability or an excess of consumer attention. Pro/rel will create a cutthroat environment for a sport in a couple of countries with more than enough competition on their plates from the get go. If all doesn’t pan out as predicted, it’s going to leave more than a lump. More fuel might make for a bigger fire, but it also becomes a much more unpredictable scenario in the process.

Unpleasant as it may turn out to be, pro/rel may be a far more agreeable bedfellow than the alternative: a rival league. The list of clubs and franchises with aspirations to take in the view from the top flight continues to grow. Some are more realistic than others, but those denied access by conventional means will seek out alternative routes to the summit. Once this occurs, soccer’s place in the New World becomes littered with complications and New World soccer is plenty complicated enough already. Complications would force compromises upon a soccer brand already forced to acquiesce to a myriad of critical components of superior adversaries within the sports entertainment industry. More clubs doesn’t amount to a healthier soccer environment in the US and Australia. It makes for a more competitive one.

It’s nigh impossible to confidently predict the direction of New World soccer ‘s future. The multitude of variables New World soccer has to contend with–not present in any other soccer market on the planet–renders expert opinion on the matter speculative at best. Whether or not any of this makes any sense whatsoever for the long term future of the sport in the New World is irrelevant. Soccer in the US and Australia has run out of places to hide. Both have a fight coming. The MLS and the A league might surface from this debacle stronger than before they were dragged into it but it’s tough to see how. Neither holds much of an advantage in strength, reach or size, nor can they afford the damage to their professional reputation. Beyond the spectacle of the confrontation, the presence of positive takeaways in terms of public prestige or financial rewards appear murky at best.

Eyes swollen shut, ears cauliflowered, flesh broken and endurance sapped, the repercussions of a moment of madness will linger as a memento of the toll taken when New Word soccer, once again, took leave of its senses and chose to believe these two elaborate lies were the only viable alternatives. The spectacle will serve as a brief distraction but the outcome, one way or the other, is unlikely to enhance New World soccer’s situation in the scheme of things. After the drama has dissipated and the excess energy has fled the scene, no profound change will have transpired. Soccer’s stature in the New World will remain the same as before. Except for an awkward sense of the futility of the whole episode in the wake of the aftermath.