Martin Tyler’s Take on Football in America …

… If you’ve enjoyed Martin Tyler’s PBP work during the 2010 FIFA World Cup for ESPN and ABC, then get used to it, because Soccernet reports Tyler will return in the same role for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

If you haven’t enjoyed Tyler, well, then … sorry for ruining your morning.

In the article, Tyler touched on how he saw his role as not being one to try and convert the non-believers. I agree with that approach. Tyler is best left to commentate on what he sees in front of him and other key events in the tournament, not preach about how other countries run their national team programs or how to grow the sport in the United States. I enjoy his work, I know some don’t. Your mileage may vary. That’s OK.

But he did say one particularly interesting thing that I wanted to call attention to, if only to gauge reader reaction:

I’m not here to fan the flames of the whole promotion/relegation argument. I think there are dynamics in place here that are so different than what we see in England and in other countries that such a system may never work right. But I’m not as down on the system in England as a whole as others are, and I don’t necessarily blame it for the financial troubles that several English clubs at different levels have gone through. Mismanagement is in the eye of the beholder.

But I do think Tyler makes an interesting point. Many have trumpeted how for Major League Soccer to be successful, “major” markets such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have to field strong sides and be influential. Yet, the league is now in its 15th season with a “New York” club that has basically only been good at bashing its head into a wall and failing catastrophically for most of its existence.

Tyler seems to suggest the opposite strategy to MLS – that a bottoms-up approach would be more effective. Would the dynamics of our geography, the nature of our sports fans, and the patterns with which sports fans spend their dollars support such an idea?

There has often been discussion about somehow working MLS and USL together to create a two-tiered association that would offer promotion/relegation between the two. What Tyler would seem to advocate is starting at the ground floor instead, perhaps with a number of regional leagues where teams are built in a community setting and over the course of many years, a pyramid is created to join MLS from the bottom, rather than reshaping MLS (and the USL) at or near the top.

I think the concept would be interesting in particular locales, but it wouldn’t have the same support all over the country. Funding would be a big question mark, and there’d have to be some level of cooperation from MLS with regard to funding and/or sponsorship so that it’s clear that while each regional league is somewhat independent, Big Brother is there to lend a hand and communities would know that it could be worth the effort over many years to step up to the big time. In some ways, though, it would be the ultimate in player development, as top-level clubs would have plenty of teams to scout, some in their own backyards.

In short, it’d be a 15- to 20-year effort. It’d probably take some soccer lover with deep, deep pockets, to manage the whole thing. It’s an intriguing idea.

But it’s more for discussion and for kicking around than anything else, because I can’t imagine it ever happening. It’s a nice idea on Tyler’s part, and maybe it ties into the whole pseudo-romanticism of the little club like an AFC Wimbledon trying to climb the ladder toward football immortality.

It might work in theory, but I’m just not sure that whole concept would ever take hold and be adequately supported here.

Your thoughts? If nothing else, it gives us something to talk about during this 2-day World Cup hiatus.


40 thoughts on “Martin Tyler’s Take on Football in America …

  1. I’m not sure MLS would let any of it’s clubs drop out of it’s control into lower leagues. What we may end up seeing is a J-League type set-up where there is MLS 1 and MLS 2, both controlled by MLS with pro/rel in between the two.

  2. Not applicable to the US.

    There’s not enough interest in the population as a whole for there to be decently supported teams in tiny markets. Even if, say, Cedar Rapids or Amarillo or Utica could play in MLS weekly (and they do play in the Open Cup — Harrisburg just knocked out NYRB), there’s not enough interest to get more than a handful of people excited.

    Add to that, a huge proportion of US soccer fans don’t support even MLS because they view it inferior to the USMNT or England or Mexico (or whatever). Those few fans aren’t likely to take a shine to a regional league that’s below MLS.

  3. What I want to know is if Ian Darke will be back for 2014 (hopefully with a new partner in the booth). I have enjoyed his commentary.

  4. Why would any current MLS team/ownership group vote for promotion/relegation? Talk about a death sentence.

    In theory, we already have a league that has promotion/relegation up from little communities thru their top tier? IT was the United Soccer Leagues. It’s a money-losing enterprise, and over the past two years has been an absolute mess. Now we have this NASL/USL nonsense known as USSF D2 Pro League.

    Most of the teams in the USL/NASL have loved the system so much over the last 10 years, that they’ve been desperately trying to join MLS (see Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, Montreal, etc.)

  5. Isn’t maybe that lack of relegation that has helped made the English National Team stagnant? The way I see it, this lack of relegation, while good for owners, is bad business for fans of the game. If you are in a second tiered market (or maybe you just have a very fiscally conservative owner), what type of incentive would you have to hire good international or local players to play for your team, since you know the worst can happen is you end up last? You don’t lose juicy TV rights.

    And from a local player perspective… unless you are properly scouted, what other incentive would you have if you are in a second tiered league to perform week in and week out in hopes of first division play? Some of the best stories of unknown players making the limelight come from those who actually got promoted at the end of a season and were “discovered” by a whole audience once their matches were aired on national TV.

    Some of the best leagues in the world (specially the ones that supply players to Europe like Argentina) support the system, and it has certainly help increase the level of competition.

  6. my favorite Tyler line all tounement – from yesterday’s game:
    “that cross was a bit too tall for Xavi, as most crosses are…”

  7. I must be reading this wrong. A lack of relegation is stagnating the English team? England has pro/rel. Did you mean the American team?

  8. “I’m not here to fan the flames of the whole promotion/relegation argument. ”

    That’s what you said last time! And look where it got us.

  9. I think someone just scored a goal, but I couldn’t tell because all I could hear was Martin Tyler snoring.

  10. You see nonsense, I see a necessary and long-overdue USSF intervention in lower leagues to try and introduce some sort of stability. Because pro-rel cannot happen as long as an MLS team would risk its very existence by going down (think of FC Dallas petering out a la Atlanta Silverbacks).

  11. Look at professional hockey and baseball in the US/Canada. The NHL has lots of tiers, from the AHL all the way down to small, regional Junior teams. MLB has Triple A down to small, local leagues. Neither of these groups have EVER had promotion or relegation and the top players seem to find their way into the big-time eventually.

    We are a huge country, and trying to have a REALLY small market team in the middle of Montana play in the NFL would NEVER work. The travel/hotel etc issues alone would be very hard to overcome (would you ever think you could get an NBA team to ride 2+ hours on a bus to play one game). Not to mention the biggest issue – $$$ from TV rights. In England, there are at least 10 teams, just in and around London. Here in the US, we’re lucky to have two near Chicago.

  12. So then, going back to Martin’s argument, then becuase he’s on “[his] little island”, they can afford such a situation. I agree.

  13. A benefit that the US has over other nations is that we have over 300 local radio markets and 210 TV markets. While we also have national broadcasting, there are potentially 210 markets in which teams can sell local TV rights.

    Minor league hockey and baseball get decent attendance, despite the availability of top level teams and games on TV. I see no reason why teams, built from a grass roots level could not achieve success appropriate for their operational spend. As everywhere else, everybody likes a winner so teams that moved up, in a pro/rel scenario would receive increased support and increased sponsorship.

    The compromise the USA would have to make would be to, at a much higher tier/level than in Europe, create regional leagues, in order to reduce travel time and expense. Perhaps only Div 1 and 2 can be national with the regional div 3 winners in a playoff for promotion.

    In summary, while we have to adjust for our geographic size and population distribution, this can be offset by format adjustments and the benefits of local media markets to create a full tiered system with pro/rel.

  14. Merge USL-2 into USSF 2, then get PDL and NPSL to merge into one set up. Then reorganize the 5th level to some kind of regional Leagues ascending from the amateur leagues. Meh, it’ll never happen, but I can dream can’t I?

    *njndirish goes to FM10 editor to continue work on the American Premier League

  15. As I see it, pro/rel is not really an option in the short or long term, for the obvious reasons. However, our country seems entirely comfortable with the idea of the farm team that is used in baseball and hockey.

    The USSF needs to push this type of system instead, where we have a trickle up of talent instead of a trickle up of teams. I think this will be the evolution as more MLS teams get solvent and start turning profits. It will require the USSF though.

    These local farm teams may not get huge crowds, but most do OK and fans do support local guys (and even non-local guys) The problem is how they actually get up to the top. Currently, the lower division teams are competing for talent with MLS (and the world). It should not be that way.

  16. The problem with the NHL and MLB having pro/rel is that many of those lower tiers are actually operated and the players are under contract to the Major League teams. For example the players for the Tulsa Drillers are actually under contract to the Colorado Rockies. This is very different than many of the International soccer leagues and if done right could be different here also.

  17. That’s something I’m still working on with Jesse and the gang from Bigsoccer. I grant you that it’s quite confusing at the moment.

  18. Yeah, the USL/NASL fight may appear to be over nothing, but it surely wouldn’t appear that way if it were happening to us. Whether the owners actually control the league or not seems just about the most fundamental principle to league organization that there could be.

  19. The only way this would work is MLS remains the top league and all lower divisions are broken up by region and only play in that region to cut travel expenses. Than those top teams of the table play each other for a chance to enter MLS. In those Regional leagues than you can break it down further West League One, West League Two, West League Three. etc. etc. MLS can keep its current structure of Revenue sharing which would be an added benefit of gaining promotion.

  20. I love the idea of a promotion/relegation system in the U.S., but it just wouldn’t work.

    It’s fine in England, where fans and sponsors accustomed to the system will stick with a relegated club, where antiquated stadiums and limited revenue streams (read: no luxury boxes) are part of the charm of lower-league competition.

    But if I’m a potential club owner in the U.S. — say Merritt Paulson in Portland — why would I pony up millions to acquire a club that could easily be downgraded to a lower league after its first year?

    Sure, the club could get promoted, but would the sponors and fan base stick with the club? The die-hards will, but not that casual fans that these MLS teams need to attract to fill up seats.

  21. This is, for the 34,505,644th time (yes, I’ve kept count), exactly why promotion and relegation will never happen here and why it promotes bad soccer (fear of relegation), bad ownership (truly smart investors would never go near a club at risk of relegation), and club instability (the lack of smart investors leaves too many dumb and/or criminal ones in charge of smaller clubs).

  22. I like Martin Tyler, but I think he’s likely out of touch with the broader sporting landscape in this country…

    I mean, it’s nice to talk about a pro/rel system but the sporting dynamics here are so much different to begin with…

    For instance, just guessing, but I bet Martin Tyler would be astonished if you dropped him off to have a looks around at the University of Michigan American Football home opener this fall… 110,000+ in a frenzied circus atmosphere for an amateur college game…

    I had some discussions with Brits and some other European nationals in Germany at the 2006 world cup about American sports and while they realize that college sports are a big part of the sporting landscape here, I don’t think they understand exactly how big and what a huge business it is… Those I spoke with seemed to think it was a lesser, amateur game that had interest because we had nothing better…

    The truth is, if you look at college football and basketball, you see that cross-country, small town regional support and enthusiasm he’s talking about… and it just so happens that these amateur athletes and the NCAA feed the top tier pro leagues… Our colleges and universities (for american football and basketball) do what the lesser pro leagues do in Europe with Soccer in grooming and developing talent for the top tier pro leagues (and build local and regional fan enthusiasm in the process…)

    I’m not trying to paint ALL foreigners with a wide brush by any means and say nobody gets it, but the sports culture is different and unique, and a lot of people outside the US simply don’t understand the dynamics of the sports ‘competition’ and why a euro-style pro/rel for soccer is such a hard concept to try and implement here…

  23. To be fair, we Michigan people only support our Big 10 football teams with so much passion because our NFL team is so terrible.

    As for Tyler’s point about small towns becoming big towns, In the 15 or so years that the Premier League has been around, only once has a team held the trophy that wasn’t form London or Manchester. Yet, here in the US, with our parity, Salt Lake are the champions of American soccer. In the NFL, the team with the most modern titles is from Pittsburgh, a city that’s largely unassuming on the national landscape. Green Bay is arguably the most beloved team in the league. Indianapolis is a league powerhouse more so than either team from NY.

    Heck, if an owner from Rochester or even Charleston could afford to come into the league and had the financial backing to pull it off, I’d invite them in with open arms.

  24. Building bottom up is fine if you want us to have a good top flight and significant national market share 150 years from now. Sal’s Pizzeria is a good shirt sponsor for a PDL team, and one less embarrassing than the Galaxy’s, but Sal doesn’t have the coin to get five minutes with Tim Leiweke.

    Actually, what we have now is both and – Sugar daddies from the top, a vibrant PDL from the bottom. It’s pretty dodgy in between, though, and there will be no relegation until MLS owners have a viable answer to the question “relegation to what?”. Something might be doable in about twenty years.

  25. Agree totally. Darke has been way better than Tyler who sounds jaded. Remember, he’s be calling these games almost 30 years and i think it’s time for some new blood.

  26. You know, the truth is that we *do* have promotion and relegation in the American sports scene–at least in two of the major sports, baseball and hockey. It’s just that in those sports the players are promoted and relegated and not the teams. So the comment about pro/rel serving to sharpen players is still appropriate here, it’s just done in a different manner.

  27. The argument most oft heard regarding Pro-Rel in America regards the risk towards investors. And it’s a completely relevant and salient point. However, it relies on the assumption that the current process of starting a team (pay MLS a large sum of money to join the club and get most of your players from an expansion draft) stays intact. Pro-Rel would be a lot more reasonable were that process to change. If someone could start a team simply by finding a venue, hiring a coach and bringing in players from wherever they wanted. So… fans…..what you need to do first and foremost is start lobbying for a huge change in MLS’s structure. Then…and only then…can you begin arguing for Pro-Rel with any basis in reality.

  28. Sure and then MLS would be down to 6 teams and look a lot like the mess that is the USL/NASL. Sounds lovely…

  29. Hey…I’m not actually arguing for it….I’m just saying that in order to realistically have pro-rel a WHOLE lot has to change first. Stuff that most people wouldn’t want to see changed in the first place. Seems like a lot of pro-rel advocates think it can be easily tacked on to MLS’ current business strategies. I believe they are way off base.

  30. I dont think MLS cares about the develpment in the whole country. Their only concern seems to be making that elusive profit. It’s a big corporation, a single entity that does not even allow it’s own teams to develop.

  31. And that’s the best approach. I always liked J1 and J2’s system. I think the USL-1 should be the defacto MLS-2.

  32. I think that people are taking the “build from small markets” too far.

    Avoiding the relegation discussion, I like the idea of using the 2nd tier (whatever it’s called) as a proving ground for entry into MLS. That will naturally lead to “mid-major” markets being the ones entering MLS. And besides, there are already teams in the major marets. , of course growth will come from sub-major markets.

    Also, totally agree w/ the baseball model. It seems crazy to me that MLS/USSF can’t work out a system where talent is incubated in lower divisions. Why can’t the Galaxy attach a bunch of developing players and farm them out to lower division teams “farm clubs” as they say in baseball. How is this not happening?

  33. What a great idea, we should build in cities that are more modest in size than the New Yorks and LAs of the world. What a shame MLS didn’t think of that back in ’96!

    Why, they could put teams in places like Kansas City or in Columbus, Ohio! And I’m sure franchises in places like Tampa or San Jose or Miami would thrive!

  34. Thats actually a very valid point. In europe they rape the relegated teams of all there talent instead of finding it on there own. OUr system actually takes talented scouts to find a player vs playing against one to value his worth. Im not a fan of Pro/Rel but im not against it either.

    I think the big issue we all have is that NCAA doesnt produce world class players in soccer like it does in other sports. If it did, this whole discussion would be null and void and the rest of the world would be wondering if they should be following suit.

    In short on another note, the main reason why pro / relg wont work in the US is because investors have already spend to much money to get to where they are. It only works in other places because that is how those leagues became what they are through that system. The best teams stay up year after year and make a name for themselves while other teams move up through the ranks to become what they are.

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