The Anti-Competitive Nature of US Soccer: The Need for Promotion and Relegation

The Anti-Competitive Nature of US Soccer: The Need for Promotion and Relegation

As soccer continues to gain popularity in the United States, the closed league system and the absence of promotion and relegation have come under scrutiny. Recently, a legal case involving Relevant Sports LLC and the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) has reignited the debate over the anti-competitive nature of US soccer. In this blog post, we delve into the significance of promotion and relegation, the drawbacks of the closed league system, and the potential benefits of embracing a more open and inclusive structure.

Promotion and Relegation: Fostering Competitive Balance

Promotion and relegation serve as key mechanisms in soccer leagues worldwide. This system ensures competitive balance by allowing lower-ranked teams to earn their way into higher divisions based on performance while holding higher-ranked teams accountable for their results. It provides a fair chance for smaller clubs to rise through the ranks, preventing monopolies and ensuring the sustained growth of the sport.

The Closed League System: A Barrier to Fair Competition

In contrast to the promotion and relegation model, US soccer operates on a closed league system, primarily exemplified by Major League Soccer (MLS). Under this system, a fixed number of teams remain in the league year after year, regardless of their performance. New teams can only enter through an expensive expansion process, which limits opportunities for smaller clubs to compete at the highest level. This franchise model, aimed at creating stability and profitability for team owners, raises concerns about monopolistic tendencies and restricts the growth and competitiveness of the sport.

The Relevant Sports Lawsuit: Exposing Anti-Competitive Practices

The case brought forward by Relevant Sports LLC against USSF and FIFA shed light on the potential antitrust violations within US soccer. Relevant Sports argued that the closed league system violated Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, alleging that USSF and FIFA conspired to create a system that stifles competition and excludes smaller teams. While USSF defended its compliance with FIFA’s regulations, the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case, stating that a binding association rule preventing competition serves as direct evidence of concerted action.

The Need for Change: Embracing Promotion and Relegation

The ongoing legal battle emphasizes the need to critically evaluate the closed league system in US soccer. By implementing promotion and relegation, American soccer can enhance competitive balance, offer smaller clubs a fair chance to compete at the highest level, and deter the concentration of power within the sport. Opening up the system would foster increased competition, ignite fan enthusiasm, and provide a more engaging and equitable experience for all stakeholders involved.

The Potential Benefits: A More Inclusive Future

Embracing promotion and relegation in US soccer could yield several advantages. Firstly, it would encourage investment in smaller clubs, creating a pathway for them to reach the top divisions. This would promote a broader talent pool, nurturing the growth of homegrown players and enhancing the overall quality of the sport. Additionally, it would increase fan engagement and interest throughout the season, as teams fight for survival or strive for promotion, creating a sense of excitement and unpredictability.


The absence of promotion and relegation in US soccer has hindered the sport’s growth and stifled fair competition. The ongoing legal battle between Relevant Sports LLC and USSF underscores the need for change. By adopting a more open and inclusive system, US soccer can provide opportunities for smaller clubs, enhance competitive balance, and create a vibrant and dynamic soccer landscape. It is time for American soccer to reevaluate its structure and embrace promotion and relegation to pave the way for a more promising future.

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