Relegation and Promotion: Could it Work in America?

May 10, 2012


This Saturday the 2011-2012 English Premier League will come to an end. While the EPL does not have a playoff system to crown it’s champion like the United States does, every game on the last day has meaning, unlike in the United States where the playoff system ends any regular season excitement about 2 weeks prior to the end of the regular season.

This means that whether it is Manchester City and Manchester United battling for the title or Queens Park Rangers and Bolton Wanderers attempting to stay in the EPL, the league is exciting from day one to the last day.

The EPL like many sports league in Europe uses the relegation and promotion system. The system is based on points much like hockey is; 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, and 0 points for a loss. The team with the highest point total at the end of the season wins the league title, and the 3 teams with the lowest point totals are relegated to a lower league.

To give you an example the Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros who all had the lowest records in baseball last season would be sent down to triple-A and the top 3 teams from triple-A would be brought up to the MLB, same for the NHL and the NBA.

The NFL does not have an official minor league system, so it would be nearly impossible to implement this system for Football, so for arguments sake we will exclude from this discussion.

Now I do understand the farm system and the affiliation that the minor leagues teams have with the major leagues, as well as similar systems in the NBA and NHL; meaning for this to happen would mean a complete overhaul of what we have come to know in love in American Sport.

But what I don’t love and I am sure many others don’t is watching a sports team that is doing terrible all year, knowing that all they are playing for is a draft spot.

So here are some arguments for and against the relegation system for the good ol’ USA.

1. Every team would have something to play for:

As stated before there is nothing worse than the last months of the NBA, MLB, and NHL when your team is playing absolutely terrible and there literally is no hope for a postseason birth.

With the relegation system the three bottom teams in each league would be fighting for elite status as a franchise. This would draw fans in the seats who would be anxiously watching as their team fought for survival instead of empty stands, and televisions set to other channels to avoid watching your teams lame-duck status. In the abstract of “Economics of Promotion and Relegation in Sports Leagues” they found that the system has a positive effect on net attendance for games.

There would also be more motivation for players to continue playing tough throughout the season, so that they can play amongst the top level of competition in America.

Now the minor leagues would have to become lower leagues, and lose their affiliation with professional teams. But with that would come the chance to play professionally, no longer would players be playing to be called up, but instead they would be playing for their team and the hopes that they would be able to play as a top-level franchise.

2. Chances for small-markets to become big-markets:

Imagine living in Grand Rapids, or Plymouth Michigan and having your minor league hockey team play in the NHL. The amount of exposure along with the increased revenue from playing in the big leagues would potentially be a welcoming surprise for the native towns.

Now in opposition this means that potentially big cities like New York and Chicago, could find their cities playing in smaller leagues and losing money. But if we look at Europe, the big city clubs with a ton of money rarely find themselves being relegated. Such as Inter Milan, a soccer team in Italy’s Serie A which has never been relegated to Serie B the lower league of Italy.

However we live in a capitalist society where sometimes the little guy makes it to the big stage, and what would be more American than rewarding a team that paid their dues and worked to get to the top? As well punishing those teams who failed to succeed and relegating them for their inferior play and business.

Now it is time to look at the opposing arguments…

3. Investment Risks:

Imagine buying a franchise and spending nearly a billion dollars on a stadium along with the other expenses that come with owning a sports franchise. Now imagine that investment going down the drain as the team you purchased sunk to the levels of the lower-tier leagues. It would mean less television exposure, the inability to sign big name players, and consequently lower attendance until your team neared promotion again.

In fact according to the abstract above the teams would spend more money trying to be promoted, which would lead them to spend less money when they were actually promoted. Meaning that no matter how hard they worked to be promoted, their run in the bigger leagues would be potentially short-lived due to lack of funding.

We see this a lot currently in the EPL where teams are lucky to spend more than one season in the league after being promoted to the EPL from the lower NPower League Championship. Especially if they do not have big money backers, such as the case with many teams outside of the richest clubs in Europe.

This is one of the reasons why investors of English soccer teams have begged for a change in the system, but with the tradition that the system has it is unlikely that the EPL will change it’s ways any time soon.

4. Competitive balance:

Let’s be realistic here, if the Toledo Mudhens, or the Durham Bulls were ever to play in the Major Leagues they wouldn’t win a whole lot of games, and probably wouldn’t be competitive at all.

This problem already exists in the NBA where the talent pool is very shallow and the parity of the league is almost non-existant. So if a team from the NBDL were to ever be promoted to the NBA they would more than likely never win a game.

But as stated before the system would be completely changed so that the NBDL and all other minor leagues would no longer exist, and would instead be a lower league with the reward of winning the league being the chance to move up to the NBA.

It would take a few years for the system to allow the lower-tier teams to sign better talent, so in that meantime it could mean any team that was promoted would find themselves relegated again and any team relegated would respectively find themselves promoted again; resulting in a mundane cycle for the first 10 years.

If the system was allowed to work it’s way past that cycle however, it would find that competitive balance would hardly be effected by the promotion/relegation system. But those first 10 years would be brutally mundane for fans of the 3 sports.



In conclusion it is fairly unrealistic for the USA to ever change the system in currently operates with, but what if? What if we ran our sports the way Europe did, would you be more inclined to watch sports year-in and year-out? Give me your feed back on the comment section below!


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About Stefan Jagot

22-year-old Broadcasting and Cinematic Arts Major at Central Michigan University. The jack of all trades for

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5 Comments on “Relegation and Promotion: Could it Work in America?”

  1. Stefan Jagot Says:

    This is very true, I was going to put this into account, but for some reason didn’t.


  2. Mark Netzly Says:

    The thing no one ever thinks about is that the old players (TO, Chad Ochocinco, Allen Iverson etc..) would to be picked up by the teams promoted as they would love to have veteran talent. Also all the top tier players would have opt out contracts so if they were relegated they could leave the team (Kevin Love last year for Minnesota Timberwolves) and he would have made free agency that much more exciting. Just 2 things that would be interesting that no one thinks about usually with promotion/relegation


  3. Stefan Jagot Says:

    omit the *but haha sorry.


  4. jumpingpolarbear Says:

    Wouldn’t have to watch teams tanking games, but NY and LA markets would probably become too good for it to be competitive!


    • Stefan Jagot Says:

      I agree, but we already see this in Europe with the big clubs. However there are a few London teams in that haven’t been in the EPL for years. So it would really come down to the ability to acquire finances, and less on the market you are in.


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