A letter to FIFA President Sepp Blatter
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
- Frederick Douglass
I’ve been agitating for open leagues and unlimited clubs in American soccer for almost three years now. Of this I have no doubt: The vast majority of US supporters would like to see an open system implemented here. The fight for promotion, relegation and independent clubs in the US is not with those who don't understand the concept. Instead, it is a battle of perception. It is a fight against those who overestimate league power. It is a struggle against irrational fear, misunderstanding and obfuscation floated by MLS and their allies. It is an argument with an unfortunate few who continue to blame the game for the weaknesses of the closed system in which it is trapped. It is a struggle with those who don't believe we have a rich pro soccer history. It is a challenge to a captive minority who believe the open global system can only be implemented if it benefits the portfolios of a few entitled MLS owners.
This is also a battle against the corrosive effects of closed leagues on the governance of the game itself. The tools are at hand to stop the decay of FIFA relevance on the global club scene - and champion the US club game to finally reach its vast potential. It is time to insist that our federation either sanction a system of independent clubs and open leagues connected by promotion and relegation, or find themselves without a FIFA sanction.
Should you leave FIFA weaker than you found it, it won’t be due to swirling corruption allegations, Chuck Blazer, English clubs in arbitration, or the side effects of awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. It will be because you failed to take advantage of a real opportunity to demand that promotion, relegation and independent clubs are finally and properly sanctioned in the United States of America.
Should you leave the US game weaker you found it, it won’t be due to the unpopularity of the game in America, unsophisticated supporters, or a cultural roadblock to independent clubs and open leagues. It will be because you failed to stand up to support the essence of the game, the hopes of out supporters, and address the vast unfulfilled potential for club soccer in the US.
It cannot be overstressed: This isn't a struggle to sell the virtues of promotion and relegation to the average American soccer supporter and stakeholder. That battle has already been won. Instead, it is a struggle to prove that FIFA cares about open leagues and is willing to stand up against those in MLS and US Soccer who do not. It is a fight agianst the naysayers who say you cannot and will not stand up for what is good for the game - especially when what's good for the game isn't good for MLS owners.
In reference to calls for MLS and our federation to move the US club game to a winter schedule, you recently said “If [US Soccer has] the courage to change, they will do it, they told me.” More remote “Ifs” have never been spoken. Courage has been in chronically short supply at US Soccer since before the Wizard of Oz debuted in theatres. They have never been in a position to address the basic incompatibility of closed league power and independent federation governance. Indeed, given the systemic collusion between league and federation today, and despite supporter pressure ramping up for promotion and relegation, they are perhaps more reticent to address it than ever before.
That's why FIFA must step in to lend our federation courage yet again.
threat to FIFA
There is no bigger threat to the relevance, legitimacy and scope of independent soccer federations than unchecked league power. There is no more proven way to consolidate league power than by allowing leagues to choose their own teams. There is no more flawed and unstable system for club soccer than our closed leagues.
Any study of American professional soccer history is a lesson in the chronically unhealthy relationships between closed leagues and federations. Time and time again, closed leagues simply reject independent federation governance.
The last time our federation truly stood up to league power, Ford Model Ts flooded American roads, flappers were in vogue, and The American Soccer League was in its heyday. In the late 1920s our first top-flight league was second only to baseball in American professional team sports popularity - despite their winter season. It was potent enough to fill both chilly New England stadiums with supporters and the USMNT roster with top quality US club players.
ASL was also the first closed US soccer league to systemically challenge federation control. When our federation opposed league efforts to move US Open Cup matches out of the league season, the resulting battle weakened the league enough for the Great Depression to finish them off – but not before an intrepid roster composed entirely of US club stars took our Men’s National Team to the semifinals of the first World Cup.
Since then, US Soccer resolve has been in a coma. In the 1970s, NASL chose to forgo a divisional sanction altogether - but ignorance was not bliss. Though they illustrated the massive potential of the American game again and set attendance records that stand to this day, our second great top-flight league collapsed just a decade later.
MLS - the latest effort from the US pro sports establishment to jam club soccer into our domestic pro-sports model - has taken league power to new heights. Today they subjugate our federation with a part-time volunteer President who takes a paycheck from an MLS/NFL owner. A board lathered with current and former MLS executives and cronies then sanctions a special single entity closed system that limits investment, access and quality throughout US club soccer.
Our weak federation and their backward policies used to only hurt us here at home. Now their persistent petulance has global ramifications. Even as US pro-sports owners are buying up clubs all over the world, MLS executives are racking up millions of frequent flier miles extolling the anticompetitive benefits they enjoy. For the first time, European owners are making noises about wandering the closed MLS path.
Left to their own devices, what D1 club owner wouldn’t want to be excused from the competitive perils of meritocracy?
Left unchecked, MLS desire for power and control is sure to spread. You’ve seen reports that American owners are seeking to end relegation in the Barclay’s Premier League. You’ve certainly heard rumors that European owners are wondering aloud about creating a closed continental superleague – outside of federation control and free from relegation.
You may slough off the threat, but FIFA is already being forced to react to conditions created by the closed league favors you have granted to MLS. One can make a case that open leagues are winning the battle: The Australian federation is making more noises to move towards promotion and relegation. European supporters will likely stop the spread of closed leagues, leaving little chance of an MLS Europe forming in the near term. Still, the power of closed league thought is real enough for a few European owners to publicly dangle threats over you already. By that measure alone, US pro sports owner power is already being leveraged in an effort to erode FIFA legitimacy and relevance. As long as FIFA continues to sanction a closed system here in the US, you will have to worry about it metastasizing.
Like it or not, you are engaged in a global battle with proponents of closed league power – and that power erodes the size and scope of federation governance. US club owners are a relatively new phenomenon on the world club stage, and some arrived with cultural proclivities to closed league entitlements and anti-competitive protections. Empowered by our captive federation and the closed league restrictions they champion, they are making a move on the game itself.
If you don't stand up for open leagues here in the USA, you can be sure that the same ambivalence on good governance that strickens many US fans will begin to infect European supporters. MLS execs need only to prove that you're unable to stop them to produce their desired malaise there. They'll begin to talk about the inevitability of greed winning out over good there if you keep letting it happen here.
threat to the US game
While I believe truly independent federations are hallmarks of effective FIFA governance, intrinsic to the global success of the game, and keys to the future of a vibrant global club market, my primary concern is the immediate future right here in the US.
The game has never been more popular in the US, and it has never been further from reaching that promise.
We all know US Soccer officials granted MLS vast entitlements in hopes that the combined powers of the US pro sports establishment would finally deliver stable club soccer, and finally begin to exploit our vast player potential.
My beef with them is their failure to acknowledge that it hasn’t worked. MLS survives at a great cost. Lower division club failure rates remain very high. Our new national team coach is scouring Germany for the sons of US servicemen - becaue pickings remain so slim at home. The US hasn’t sold a player on the international market for more than a token sum for three years. World Cup TV rights are now selling in the USA for a mind boggling $1 billion more than MLS TV rights.
In the early 1990s, the namesake of my local D4 team was a D1 APSL club that featured US great Marcelo Balboa. Earlier this year they qualified for the US Open Cup, losing only in the quarterfinals to the Kitsap Pumas.
Today the Real Colorado Foxes are on the verge of financial collapse.
Should my local club expire, they will join the ranks of thousands of expired closed league clubs. Since the inception of MLS, fully 75% of US lower division clubs have failed.
I do not pretend to follow the Foxes. Judging by the dire situation they share with most lower division US clubs, I am not alone. I abhor the fact that they are trapped in a closed pyramid bereft of promotion and relegation. I am disgusted that our federation limits investment, access, and quality at virtually every level in order to aid one league’s endless search for profit via control.
Alongside the asphixiation of lower division clubs on which MLS relies sits chronic dementia. When US Soccer allowed the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, NY to be abandoned in 2009, it was said that the collection was to be moved to a more accessible location. Two years later artifacts have been dispersed, and the museum itself has been relegated to a tiny virtual home on the back pages of the US Soccer website. An American notched the first hat-trick in World Cup play. Another holds the world record for goals in a top-flight league season. Most federations would celebrate these facts. Here in the USA, this history cannot be found without a fine-toothed web browser.
In the modern era, US Soccer subjugation to the needs of a tiny cartel of powerful US pro sports owners is clear. Our part time volunteer federation President is so compromised, waiting for him to conjure courage is a fools errand.
That being said, activism from US supporters and stakeholders has produced some change in their behavior - or at least in their perception battle.
Pressure from US supporters resulted in a change of his title from President of Kraft soccer, to special advisor to the Kraft family, but you can be certain Sunil Gulati still receives plenty of cash from his MLS/NFL patrons, and no paycheck from our federation.
Under these conditions, It can only surprise the very naïve - or acutely unconscious - that the federation he leads cannot find the strength to stand up to US pro sports owners and the limited closed league establishment they jealously protect.
Some say US Soccer shored up your re-election campaign by helping to cripple your opponent. You must smell an ulterior motive. Do you wonder if Sunil Gulati and friends knew the fallout from the bin Hammam bribery scandal they helped expose earlier this year would drift right over Zurich - where it continues to hang today?
Our chronic federation paralysis will persist as long as the league power behind it remains unchallenged.
Until FIFA acts on their intransigence in defense of good governance and the game itself, the deficit of courage at US Soccer is sure to rise.
precedent for intervention
FIFA has had to lend more courage to US Soccer than perhaps any federation in the world. In 1913 it was FIFA that insisted US Soccer sanction a true national soccer competition. US Soccer obliged, and formed the US Open Cup. In 1926, it was FIFA that intervened to stop the flood of European players from abandoning their old country contracts to play in the American Soccer League. US Soccer and the ASL responded, suspended the guilty players and punished the clubs involved. In 1988 it was FIFA that made a proper pyramid topped with a true first division a condition for hosting the 1994 World Cup. US Soccer obliged again, and MLS was born.
We're due for one more intervention.
No doubt you have heard the Americans who stand and fight for promotion, relegation and independent clubs are out of the mainstream. You heard right. While most Americans support the concept, they are both too jaded to speak up and prone to attack those who do. We are a unique element that believes US pro sports owner power is not beyond reproach. We see that MLS and their attendant federation will not move to a proper system of unlimited clubs without a fight, and believe their power is not absolute. We are brave enough to disregard the bogus fears about the youth and fragility of club soccer in America. We are wily enough to know monopolies like MLS do not naturally evolve out of their entitlements to control and protection from competition.
Perhaps more importantly, we hold the minority belief that independent governing bodies like FIFA will stand up to cartels of entitled billionaires when their interests do not coincide with the essence of the game.
ambivalence rooted in institutional mistrust
Most of our peculiarity in the footballing world stems from the average American’s current disbelief in responsible and independent governance - not our inability to conceive of open leagues. Our trust in good government is at such a low ebb, anyone who asks any government body to stand firm against a controlling cartel of ultra wealthy businessmen draws snickers from the crowd.
The American sports fan tends to feature prominently in that dynamic. The question is almost never “Should US Soccer sanction promotion and relegation”? It almost always devolves into “Will MLS allow promotion and relegation?” Because of their utter lack of faith in our institutions to lead, they put all the balls in MLS’s court. Some believe promotion and relegation is a competing business model, not a responsible federation policy. They assume it must appeal to a small cartel of entitled MLS owners in order to go into effect.
This fundamental misunderstanding leaves some US promotion and relegation advocates in a pickle: They demand that lower divisions to achieve the stability needed for promotion and relegation in a system that literally prevents them from attaining that stability.
Of course, we know they are fundamentally mistaken. Federations sanction leagues. Leagues and clubs then decide if they would like to seek a federation sanction.
Although I admit the power of coddled US pro-sports owners is very real, there is no evidence whatsoever that they believe you must cower to their demands. This gives you an opportunity to clear up US supporter confusion at its source.
You can act.
the time is right
The opportunity is staring you in the face: The vast majority of US supporters acknowledge a preference for promotion and relegation. The vast majority of the global supporters acknowledge a preference for promotion and relegation. You have the opportunity come down on their side before it’s too late for you, FIFA writ large, and the sport itself.
In my years of agitating for unlimited US clubs and the open league system in which they thrive, I have run across many inconvenient truths: Our pro-sports establishment is entrenched enough to withstand vast criticism, incredibly resistant to change from within, and remarkably intent on maintaining closed league entitlements. The coercive monopoly on which MLS power depends on discouraging lower division owners from speaking in favor of systemic reform. Many US supporters tend to dismiss both federation power and believe our pro sports owners answer to no one. Some still blame the game for the systemic problems that continue to play a major role in hampering the development of the US game.
You can bridge that gap, rally the world to the cause, and make a lot of US supporters very happy in the process. We want the same unlimited clubs the rest of the world enjoys. Give us a reason to believe in FIFA, and we will.
US supporters are a bright group. I've witnessed it firsthand. When given the facts about federation governance, they begin to believe change is possible - even without MLS buy-in. When given the facts on the state of soccer in the US vis a vis the vast powers MLS has to limit the growth of the game, they question their fear of change. When they see how our collusive federation allows one league to impose provincial limits on an international sport that thrives on global competition, they see that the system is limiting development. When they look back for the first time across a century of failed US leagues that adhered to our pro-sports model, they stand ready to exonerate our game from the persistent shortcomings of our system. When they see the naked conflicts of interest at US Soccer, they are willing to push our federation to transition to a vital, open US club game on an aggressive timeline. When they realize our ubiquitous pro-sports business model was built for domestic pro sports in dominant, isolated leagues, they unanimously oppose its continued imposition on the global game of soccer. When they peruse the dismal record on player development that MLS has compiled, they chomp at the bit for change. When they hear Sir Alex Ferguson say that the end of relegation in the Barclay’s Premier League would be suicide for English lower division clubs, they immediately recognize that the lack of relegation in our top-flight league hurts ours.
Conditions may never be this ripe for a FIFA intervention again. US supporter demand for promotion and relegation coincides with the need for FIFA to shore up legitimacy and relevance like never before. The interest in top quality soccer in the US is at an all time high, while MLS falls further from reaching the potential of US club soccer than ever before.
The fundamental incompatibility of closed leagues and independent federations is well documented.
The time to act forcefully is now. In one fell swoop, you can help us absolve our game from the failures of our system, champion the growth of US club soccer, and end the creeping influence of closed league power on the global club stage.
Next to the assumption of absolute league power, the misperception of the US game as infantile and weak is a key to holding together our closed league status quo.
It is also easier to refute.
By helping to challenge these assumptions, you will make a huge difference. If you are like me, excuses for the inability of US Soccer to sanction open leagues based upon the fragility of the game ring as hollow as Don Garber’s desire for MLS to become a top world league in ten years.
We all see the wild hypocrisy at play here. You are no doubt aware of our tremendous soccer past. You heard them claim we don’t have the infrastructure in place for a soccer league, while the availability of existing world-class facilities has been central to every recent US bid to host the World Cup Finals. You see European friendlies pack the largest US venues, and ratings for European matches blow past MLS's. You just saw US broadcasters pay half of what the planet paid for World Cup rights in 2010, that figure was a record $1 billion more than MLS broadcast rights garnered in 2014. You watched US viewership of European matches blow past MLS games.
Perhaps you have heard the US club game just enjoyed a banner year. MLS average attendance finally eclipsed 1996 records, and surpassed our top indoor stadium sports. New TV contracts were signed worth over $10 million annually. David Beckham finally won an MLS Cup. The league continues to build soccer specific stadiums and even won their first matches ever in Mexico. MLS academies are reportedly flourishing.
Beyond the assumptions, misperceptions, press releases, self-congratulation, and spin, a different story emerges: We are a century deep in top-flight US club soccer - and further from its potential than ever before. In the 1920s, American Soccer League wages were drawing so many European players in their prime, the Scottish FA called the phenomenon “The American Menace”. Today, the MLS salary cap remains at an anemic 1/45th of average EPL payroll.
Worse still, despite the sudden hire of celebrity coach Klinsmann, player development and national team progress are stagnant, and MLS has roughly the same percentage of foreign players as Serie A. Lower divisions continue to teeter on the edge of viability. Even the woman’s club game sits on the verge of collapse, here in its traditional homeland. Over the last several years, Argentina and Brazil have demonstrated successes in player development by selling thousands of players on the international market, while the United States has sold perhaps two. Meanwhile MLS academies are still funded in large part by the parents of aspiring players and have yet to sell a player on the international market.
As supporters of promotion and relegation in American soccer, we have an opportunity not availed to other US domestic pro-sports fans: We can appeal directly to an independent governing body to intervene should the fortunes of our game chronically languish. Should our backwards system coincide with stagnant US player development, should our national team resume losing ground to small Central American nations, and should our lower divisions continue to perpetually flounder, we can call on an established system of governance to respond. If US Soccer keeps failing to represent most stakeholders, we can appeal to you to sort that out.
Since that is the very scenario we find ourselves in, we intend to take advantage. This is good news for FIFA. Neither you nor American supporters can afford to let the status quo fester.
Judging by your recent comments encouraging US Soccer to adopt the international calendar, you agree. US supporters appreciate any FIFA effort to stitch us more tightly into the rhythms of the global game. We champion a more holistic approach to our domestic soccer - and that coincides directly with yours.
Nowhere in US club soccer is federation paralysis on the issue more evident than in our lower divisions. Their continued fragility stands in stark contrast to the facts on the ground. Never have conditions been better for their development, yet they continue to flounder. You just sold US broadcast rights to the 2014 World Cup for more than a billion dollars, while many US clubs are barely scraping by on the blood, sweat and tears of owners, supporters and players.
More US supporters are waking up to these inconvenient truths every day, and they wonder why you're still asleep. We recognize that our collusive federation has given MLS a sweetheart deal that shields them from the market forces that would otherwise produce an increase in quality, investment and interest. We abhor the fact that they have given our insulated first division to put profit before product, and are allowing them to search for cash without advancing the fortunes of the US game. We abhor that our federation has all the resources it needs to protect MLS, but not enough to protect and celebrate our rich club history.
These are values we share with FIFA. It's time for FIFA to fight for them as hard as we do. The inability of MLS and their US Soccer clients to draw interest is blatantly obvious. We are watching MLS slip further behind the promise of US D1 soccer than ever before. In 2011, 2.5 million US viewers for Chelsea v Manchester United proved Americans are ready for some real football. In 2010, US World Cup TV audiences eclipsed those of NBA Finals and World Series games illustrated that the game is already in us. A tape delayed EPL match between Chelsea and Liverpool broadcast on the same day as the MLS Cup doubled the US ratings of our live domestic D1 final.
A closer look at MLS Cup itself reveals even more inconvenient truths about the establishment US Soccer is committed to protect. Phil Anschutz’s AEG owns both teams that participated in the penultimate MLS competition. He also owns the stadium that hosted the event, and his name is etched on the trophy itself. In addition, he owns a piece of the LA Lakers, whose season overlaps slightly with MLS now, and would completely overlap should the international calendar be observed.
Much ado has been made of reports that his AEG penned a TV deal with Time Warner for the LA Galaxy worth a whopping $55 million. Without even suggesting collusion or funky accounting, it is important to note that the Galaxy deal was worth roughly 2% of the $3 billion AEG struck with the same media outlet to broadcast the Lakers.
Our fight is for the future of American soccer, but in essence we are rallying for continued FIFA relevance on the club stage. Our shared goals line up against the colluded US pro sports owner cartel that limits the US game in their search for profit. Just as our founding fathers reached out to France for help against the unrepresentative monarchs of their day, we are asking FIFA to help break the grip of an entitled US pro sports owner cartel that taxes our game without representation - and eats away at federation power and prestige in the process. Like Lafayette, you will receive a warm reception here in the States for doing it.
We do not need promotion and relegation because it will make us look more European. We need the open system because it addresses many of our basic concerns. It eliminates the ability of any closed league to limit quality, interest, and investment for profit. It prohibits any cartel of owners from controlling a federation. It ends the syndrome in which the game is blamed for the failures of our system to host it. With US World Cup broadcast rights now selling for half of what the world paid for them in 2010, it is more than fair to surmise that we already a soccer nation.
No doubt you notice that US bid committee prefaced our 2022 World Cup host bid as a way to boost MLS. After 30 years, you are not the only one who wants to see our federation wean itself of the need to ride FIFA coattails.
Together we can change these perceptions once and for all. I suspect you recognize we will require an independent federation to implement a free and open system. Help us find one. Challenge US Soccer to offer every US league and club a simple choice: Submit teams to a real promotion and relegation system in a true open pyramid based entirely on sporting criteria - without quality limits - or forfeit their sanction. Encourage stadium standards for each division. Propose a structured multi-year transfer with dates and benchmarks set in stone. Allow us to regionalize our system to meet the needs of our vast market. Most importantly, let our federation know their continued FIFA sanction rides on compliance.
When you take this stand for the future of both US game and the system of independent federations on which FIFA is built, be prepared for a few strident and shill reactions. Like we do today, you will hear thousands of amplified howls from the tiny US pro-sports owner cartel coming from dozens of anonymous social media accounts tomorrow. A dozen of them will whine in unison about European interference. Tens of their sanctioned bloggers and journalists will hysterically proclaim it a death knell for soccer in America. At the same time, millions of US supporters will applaud you, appreciate your courage, and endorse your initiative.
Perhaps most importantly - embrace the possibility of continued MLS intransigence promotion and relegation America. Perhaps they will decide to take the unsanctioned road. More power to them! Perhaps they will threaten to collapse.
If so - call their bluff.
Challenge MLS to continue on without a divisional sanction. Absorb their doomsday rhetoric for the street corner Armageddon prophecy it is.
The end is not nigh. Seattle supporters are now turning out in Manchester numbers. They will not choose a league that limits the world-class support today over a system that allows them to rise and compete with the best in the world tomorrow. It has been thirty years since the potential of the New York soccer market was remotely approached. Under a transition to a fully open system, The New York Cosmos will begin building a world-class club today with the $100 million that MLS is demanding from them to own their name and limit their quality tomorrow.
Once the pyramid begins to open, US lower division owners will finally be able to reclaim the equity they need to make a run to the top of the pyramid. They'll be able to amass the capital they need today, instead of hoping to curry favor with US pro sports oligarchs tomorrow.
As much as we want to integrate with the rest of the footballing world, we will need some creative leeway to reach our gigantic marketplace. As you work with us to free the game from the clutches of the cartel that controls it here in North America, please allow for our unique challenges and opportunities. Permit us two independent pyramids, East and West, topped by two first divisions twenty clubs.
Our market is nearly the size of Europe put together. On a European scale, we have 100 potential D1 markets right now. Given the demonstrated popularity of the game and the number of markets that fit the profile, we can support two genuine top-flight leagues. In addition to more completely fulfilling market potential, two D1s also mitigate dangers of geographic concentration. It is not far out to believe that New York City and Los Angeles could combine for seven or eight top flight clubs between them - more than 40% of a twenty-team league.
This plan also offers the potential to feature east-west match ups in our currently underutilized and ignored US Open Cup and schedule space for other national tournaments. Further regionalizing lower divisions underneath them also blunts another oft-cited argument from those who oppose promotion and relegation; travel expenses for lower division clubs.
Finally, when you take action to pry open the US soccer pyramid, please don’t accept anything less than a full federation sanction of a free and open system of independent clubs. Don't be tempted by piecemeal league gimmicks and/or a minor league pro/rel referendum. The vastness of our market makes us a perfect candidate for a fully open system.
Indeed, expect MLS, their backers from other US pro sports, and their cronies at US Soccer to say and do almost anything to protect their status quo, and watch for them to roll out a series of half measures. As pressure mounts for change, they are sure to offer dozens of half hearted, watered down and gimmick-laden proposals for a simulation of open league play - without fully lifting the limits on investment, quality and access that hold our game back.
An expanded MLS playoff schedule does not replicate the benefits of promotion, relegation and truly independent clubs. An MLS 1 and 2 with salary caps and franchise fees will prove just as handicapped as a single, single entity.
I understand if you feel some obligation to see that current US owners are given a return on their investment, and a responsible transition to promotion and relegation does just that. Using the rest of the world as a guide, the rise in interest and investment in US club soccer that will come from free and independent clubs will surely cause a corresponding rise in MLS team value. Should they be incapable of facing the risks of unlimited club soccer, they can simply cash out at a profit.
The tiredest pair of excuses for the lack of promotion and relegation in the United States are the instability of our lower divisions, and the lack of investors to line up to fund it. More and more US supporters are beginning to turn that logic on its head. We know that the lack or promotion and relegation impedes lower division development - not vice versa.
As you know, top flight closed soccer leagues of independent and unlimited clubs always collapse. MLS understands that, so they limit teams in a chain of soccer outlets that leaves each one with less autonomy than the average Burger King. Without unlimited club quality, we know we can never fully join the global market of club soccer.
You also understand that investors do not line up to challenge sanctioned monopolies like MLS. We know that a responsible government policy of equal opportunity is critical to any free market, and we are still waiting for that policy from US Soccer.
Indeed, where would the club game be without Manchester United, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or even the New York Cosmos? If MLS sees them as juicy brands whose costs can now be limited and legacies milked for owner profit like their NFL brothers, we can only hope FIFA disagrees.
All of these factors coalesce into a time for the boldest of policy initiatives. We recognize that you have exhausted all other avenues in your push for reform in US Soccer. You have called promotion and relegation the essence of the game. You needled the President of the United States about it. You practically made it a prerequisite for consideration as a World Cup host nation. I suspect you are behind the recent announcement that MLS has chosen to cap expansion at twenty teams. Your challenge to adopt the international calendar couldn’t be clearer.
What have you gotten in return? US pro sports owners are munching on the roots of independent federations and the legitimacy of FIFA itself. They are reportedly threatening to close to Barclay’s Premier League. They are attempting to charge $100 million for D1 club status. Our MLS commissioner, bankrolled by NFL owners, travels the world extolling the virtues of his closed-limited-quality-for-profit-scheme. European owners are threatening to build MLS-style leagues on that continent - free of promotion, relegation and FIFA governance.
US Soccer has assured you that when they find courage, things will change.
Without FIFA intervention, we will both be in the same place 10 years from now: We will be languishing further from our potential than we are now, and those in Europe who oppose meritocracy in their search for profit will be doing everything they can to undermine FIFA.
Both our closed league status quo and the logic that underpins it sits on thin ice with American supporters. You can be the icebreaker.
Americans have a real affinity for promotion, relegation and independent clubs. Nobody believes the MLS cartel will break itself up to benefit the fortunes of the game in the US – no matter how bleak the numbers get. Anticompetitive behavior is designed to insulate businesses from market forces, and MLS proves that point every day.
Every year you permit their privileges to continue, the meritocracy at the core of the game diminishes a little more. Every month you permit our federation to acquiesce to the closed league demands of MLS, the US club game falls a little shorter of fulfilling its promise. Every day you allow our top league to limit player investment, US player development and the fortunes of our national team stagnate a little longer. Every hour you allow US pro-sports owners to encapsulate the game in a closed provincial pro-sports model, FIFA relevance on the club stage ebbs away a little faster.
A golden opportunity lays wrapped in the craziness of promotion/relegation agitators and the apathy and misperception common to those who fear a switch to an open system. President Obama himself has begun to strike on these themes on the national stage. He is currently stressing the role of responsible government in harnessing the power of capitalism for the people, not just the privileged. He says a productive free market system depends on policy that guarantees access and opportunity.
You have the power and opportunity to channel that message, and press for the same kind of policy changes in US Soccer. You can prove to a wide swath of disaffected US supporters that FIFA does care about basic fairness and equal opportunity, even when cabals of entitled billionaires stand in their way.
Never has it been more vital for FIFA to lend our federation the courage to end league hegemony once and for all. The longer US Soccer allows MLS to subjugate the game in search of profit here, the longer it will attract wanderlust from owners around the world. The longer you allow US Soccer to sanction a system that cedes power to one league – envy will spread to others who crave market control and freedom from meritocracy in their search for profit.
Given the basic incompatibility of independent federations and closed leagues - that is a war FIFA cannot afford to lose.
On behalf of American supporters who demand all the rights of their global contemporaries, thank you to FIFA for lending the US Soccer much of the courage they needed to move our game forward over the last century. We hope you can lend them a little more.
When FIFA recently stepped in to threaten sanctions in Bosnia and Indonesia, you proved capable of bold moves. We need you to use that boldness to end US Soccer paralysis once and for all.
Stop US pro sports owners from limiting access, investment and quality of US club soccer. Stop them from undermining FIFA, and smothering our federation. Do not wait for the next European superclub owner to dream of a closed continental MLS-style superliga. Do not wait until MLS interest, broadcast rights and market share falls another $billion behind right here in the USA. Do not give US Soccer another century to fall behind.
Move boldly, decisively and quickly. Most importantly, move now. Our interests coincide like never before. If you cannot inject vitality into US Soccer, it is time to let them go. Absolve the US game from the chronic failures of our pro sports model to harbor it.
The past, present and future of the American game, the essence of the sport, your legacy and the relevance of FIFA itself all depend on it.
If you do nothing, it will not take long for some to wonder what you are getting in return for sanctioning MLS special needs.
Help us evict the foxes running the US Soccer henhouse. Stop them from tearing at FIFA legitimacy and relevance. Stop allowing them to drain the blood of lower division clubs to keep an anemic MLS alive.
Give the Colorado Foxes a road to the D1 penthouse instead.