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CST Roundtable: PRO/REL, MLS Expansion

CST Roundtable

CST Roundtable
MLS Commissioner Don Garber recently gave his State of the League address and also made comments regarding promotion and relegation in this country. I recently detailed a FOOLPROOF PLAN (ok, I’m biased) that would expand the league to 32 teams and introduce promotion and relegation, all at the same time keeping playoffs involved so that those who enjoy playoffs still can.

We gathered the Cincinnati Soccer Talk staff for the first of what I’m sure will become many Roundtable discussions. This week we discuss our opinions on PRO/REL, MLS Expansion and FC Cincinnati’s chances of entering the league possibly sooner than we think.

Don Garber’s recent comments regarding promotion and relegation have pretty much made it clear it’s not happening anytime soon. How soon do you think it will happen?

Bryan Weigel
Promotion and relegation could happen when there are at least two developed leagues that can provide enough quality-run teams coast-to-coast. My biggest fear is that additional teams will sprout up in the lower division (s) in the major cities (NY, LA, Chicago, Dallas, etc) seeking promotion. I’m apprehensive to the chance that with the inclusion of pro/rel in the US, numerous more teams will sprout up in these major cities instead of thriving across the country severely limiting the growth of the game.

Boston Brazzell
Pro/rel will not happen in my lifetime. The only way I am wrong is if soccer becomes the #1 sport in America and starts pulling in massive cash and starts to rival the EPL. FIFA could at that point require pro/rel to level the playing field. So yeah, pro/rel isn’t happening in my life time.

Bill Wolf
I hope Boston is wrong. I really want this to happen in my lifetime and I’m the old guy in this conversation. I just feel that soccer in the US is not ready for it (yet). The infrastructure isn’t there. The investment to bring teams up to a level that we can start to attract decent players is huge. We need to invest heavily in facilities, training facilities, youth development, etc. US Soccer is being extremely careful about the expansion ensuring that the owners have the means and interest in taking soccer forward in this country. That said, these guys did not become wealthy by making bad investments. They want to see a possibility of getting return on investment. And how do you convince people to spend 100s of millions of dollars in taxes in cities for stadiums when their team might be relegated in a couple of years? Finally, look at the NASL. They look to go bankrupt for the second time in US history. They seem to be operating on the idea that they simply spend money on players and it all works out. The operate like a USL club but try to bring in MLS level players. It isn’t sustainable. If we had pro/rel today, the D2/3 leagues would be in a spending war to buy quality players to get the promotion. There would still be massive spending but into players instead of into infrastructure and development and in the end no more guarantee of promotion. We wouldn’t be developing stadiums, players or anything and we’d likely bankrupt the whole system. Coming back around to the question though, I think there is a path for this. When soccer has grown significantly so that the smaller markets also draw larger crowds and generate more money and the gap starts to close between D1 and D2 then it starts to happen naturally. When stadiums are already built and investors have gotten their return and the D2 teams start seriously competing in the Open Cup and beating D1 teams and the MLS expansion is over and there is no where to go for these great D2 teams, it will come. We just need to be cautious and allow soccer to grow at it’s proper pace and not force it. I’m hoping 25 years……

Brad Weigel
Pro/Rel WILL happen and soon if USSF, MLS, and the lower levels of soccer can get their act together. It needs to happen before MLS gets much too further along the line of expansion. Too many people forget that MLS was created as a development program for the national team. As a development program, it’s supposed to place players in competitive and pressure filled situations to spur growth in the player pool. The current program in place does not provide the proper atmosphere to get the best out of our domestic pool and the change needs to happen ASAP.

Nick Seuberling
For me, PRO/REL is not about getting new teams into the league so much as it is getting the bad teams out. I personally think teams that stink it up or tank should be punished significantly. There should be consequences for making poor soccer decisions.

Boston Brazzell
Brad you assume the USSF would act against the interest of the MLS owners for the good of the country. I have seen nothing but a very cozy relationship between the two.

Bill Wolf
That’s a good point Brad. The player development for the USMNT. I’m not sure I see why pro/rel is required for that though. I think that creating a profitable league is important to create a sustainable development program at the youth level to develop players within the country. We are starting to see more USMNT players choosing MLS over Europe but I agree that MLS is not yet as strong a league to bring those players up for success on the world stage. My concern about pro/rel is that it hurts player development and the USMNT. If investment is turned to players instead of development, then we shut off a potential pipeline for new players. We also could very likely be encouraging owners to pay large amounts of money to bring in foreign players who did come up in development academies in their countries. Now we have a very competitive league and great for the fans except no player pipeline and no US players playing in that league.

Obviously we all feel strongly about FC Cincinnati’s MLS chances due to the fact MLS Commissioner Don Garber visited the city recently. What if FC Cincinnati doesn’t make the cut for MLS expansion to 28 teams?

Bill Wolf
Disappointing but I think it won’t change much. I think we’ll be D2 next year and the competition within USL is going up with teams from the NASL joining. The product on and off the pitch is good and people are having fun. Cincinnati supports it’s teams and businesses. We are loyal to Skyline, Krogers, Graeters, P&G, the Bengals and the Reds and we will stay loyal to FCC.

Yosief Tzeghai
While MLS is a motivating factor for the team’s success, I still think we’ll carry the support of the city. There is a strong core of support for this club. It may lose a little steam from casual fans, but I don’t think being in USL is a deal breaker. It’s affordable and (as of right now) the team seems poised to remain a strong side. Everyone loves a winner and I don’t see FCC becoming a low level (under performing) USL team.

Boston Brazzell
I don’t think we would see a major dip in support. The game day experience is unlike anything else in Cincinnati. Also the boom in millennials and growth in downtown Cincinnati should continue to fuel FCC with new fans. I personally would go through denial, gain a Detroit City level of hate for the MLS and Ted spam my opinions till I collapse with phone in hand

Bill Wolf
You know, I’m super excited about the idea of an FCC / Columbus match but I’m also super pumped about next year in the USL and getting another crack at Louisville and now Indy

Brad Weigel
I personally believe FCC will be included somewhere between 24-28. It’s hard to believe that cities like Raleigh & Tampa will flip the “MLS Expansion” switch and suddenly double their attendance. Even if they do they’ll be 50% behind Cincy. That being said, the club needs to continue to grow their brand and increase the skill level of the players. If they do that they’ll be fine. The success of 2016 can not be taken for granted for it can go away as quickly as it came.

Bryan Weigel
My thought from the beginning has been that if FC Cincinnati is not club number 24, we will not be included in the 28. The more time that this process goes on, I believe our odds decrease. If FCC is not included in MLS I still believe that this club will succeed. This past season proved that our city loves an affordable and entertaining sporting event. I ran into many friends from my time in college and high school that randomly decided to go to the games since it was cheap and fun. On another side, our supporters are dedicated and have put much blood sweat and tears into the club. We don’t need MLS to succeed, but wouldn’t it be fun to see USMNT, CanMNT or other elite level players every week?

Bill Wolf
I agree again with Brad. I think that 2017 is critical to Cincinnati’s bid for MLS. If we repeat and exceed the season we had on and off the pitch we will do well. It’s hard to argue against proven success. I see Bryan’s point about time. Certainly Sacramento are feeling that. I agree that the longer it goes the harder it is and other clubs are obviously drawing attention away from you. I kind of feel like FCC and Sacramento are tied together and likely to come in at the same time east and west balancing the league. I don’t think that #24 was that critical though. I think is Beckham can somehow pull off #24 either at Miami or by moving to Vegas as we’re hearing, I still think Cincinnati are a viable option for the remaining 4. I think it becomes problematic if MLS doesn’t move us up to locked in status though soon after 24 is a done deal.

On Dec 9th Don Garber at his State of the League address said that the plan is for Miami Beckham United to be team 24. Things need to happen for it to remain in place but if nothing happens soon they need to move on. What does this do for FC Cincinnati’s chances of becoming team 24?

Bill Wolf
I think this is the first time I’m aware of where MLS acknowledged that Miami might NOT happen. They already have LAFC joining in 2018 and Miami was supposed to balance that. They delayed to 2019 but if Miami falls down then MLS will be looking for another eastern team to balance the league. I can’t think of another team that is more ready than FCC to join MLS (in the east). Tampa and Carolina and St. Louis are all making noise but FCC has a proven record of success, an MLS sized stadium ready day one and a strong ownership group. I don’t see MLS moving the time table back to 2018 and inserting FCC in place of Miami. That would imply that they already believe that we have a successful 2017 season. My guess is they won’t be willing to pull that trigger until they see at least 2 years for FCC but I could easily see us being brought in 2019. I think this will all depend on what Beckham does if Miami fails. He carries a lot of clout with the league and they will give him a lot of room….

Brad Weigel
I think that FCC is in the pole position because of attendance, financial backing, and stadium position. They’ve also come out of the gate strong with sponsorship’s. Toyota, Medical Mutual, and UC Health are big names and proves FCC knows what it’s doing. Another little talked about but important thing was their tv ratings. FC Cincinnati posted impressive local TV and video streaming results. The ratings have been so strong that FC Cincinnati hopes to broadcast its road matches next season as well as home games. Ratings lead to dollars and Uncle Don has shown dollars lead to MLS. (edited)

Bill Wolf
Great point on television and ratings.

Nick Seuberling
I think you need balance and if LAFC is entering the west in 2018, you’re going to need to make a shift somewhere. I could see the league moving a team like KC to the east if they think FC Cincinnati isn’t ready. But if that’s the case, then a decision for FC Cincinnati and the 2018 will have to come very quickly. I’m talking like within the next month.

Yosief Tzeghai
The East/West imbalance will certainly work in FCC’s favor. However I think MLS will be willing realign as well. They could easily move Sporting KC back to the east. In short, I don’t think a short term imbalance will be a driving factor if there are Eastern teams scheduled the next 5 years.

Bryan Weigel
If Cincinnati is in competition for spot 24, they must highlight the fact that our TV market is larger than we get credit for. For example if Raleigh-Durham, 2 cities separated by 45 minutes is counted together as the 24th largest market, Cincinnati should be combined with Dayton (1 hour away) to become the 21st largest market. That would put us a 200,000 more viewers than St. Louis! We are a strong TV market and we need to discuss ourselves as such. Why wouldn’t MLS want this large of a market included and with a suitable stadium solution for the short term’

Bill Wolf
I think the problem with moving KC back to the east is that there are a lot of Eastern teams vying for MLS spots (Detroit, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Carolina, Tampa). Seems like there is a good chance they get kicked back to the west a year or two later. That kind of ping pong is rough on fans.

Nick Seuberling
Not to mention rough on coaches who built their rosters based on the conferences they are in. Peter Vermes (Sporting KC head coach) won’t like it.

What do you think FC Cincinnati fans? Comment below! Your opinions and feedback regarding our roundtable questions are welcomed!

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