Despite promotion and relegation being a staple in leagues across the world, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati offered his explanation for why it's not implemented in the United States–and isn't likely to be anytime soon–in a wide-ranging interview with SI's Grant Wahl on the Planet Futbol Podcast.
“There are a number of issues that come up with that particular format of competition, but the biggest one is it’s not the rules of the game that people bought into when they made investments, whether it’s in the USL, the NASL or MLS,” Gulati said. “It’s not the rules that we set out when teams came in. And so whether that happens or not, is it possible? Sure. Is it going to happen in the next few years? I don’t think it is, but it’s not going to be that we dictate it should happen or shouldn’t happen. You’ve got investments that have been made. And so if the leagues get together and say we should look at this, are we willing to help facilitate that discussion? Sure, we’d be willing to. But if you make an investment today and the next day the government—in this case, us—changes the rules completely and changes the value of your investment? That’s going to lead to some serious problems. That’s point one.
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“Point two: I’ve seen a lot of the empirical evidence on it, and there’s not a lot of empirical evidence on the benefits and costs of a promotion/relegation system. Yes, there was the Deloitte study, and I’ve met with the author of that and we’ve talked about it. But for example, one of the benefits that comes out there is that teams that are at the bottom in a particular first division, let’s say, will do whatever they have to to make investments to stay up, so that increases the competition. O.K., that’s true. But in a salary cap world, is that true? The answer is no. It can’t be.
“So what is the empirical evidence on this? My main point on all of that is I’m not saying one system is better than the other. What I’m saying is this is the one we have. This is the one people bought into, paid money to get into. The European system, am I a fan of seeing great promotion and relegation battles? Sure. I’m also a fan of seeing great playoff games. We’ve got a very different system here on many fronts, not just on promotion/relegation. Like the transfer of players. In the rest of the world, contracts are not assignable. Here we’ve got contracts that can be assigned, and therefore players can be traded in a different way. The length of the season, all of those things are very different.”