Borrowing an idea from soccer…

This is just a thought exercise. Something to imagine the potential benefits and pitfalls of, without any fear of it ever coming to pass, because it won’t. Ever. You’ve got a better chance of getting hit by a comet made of lightning while inside a t-rex.

Paper Lions and myself ran off on a bit of a tangent towards the bottom of the comments in the David Ortiz hit a large number of HR’s post.  And in that tangent, an idea struck me.  I’m quite certain I’m not the first person to think of it, and if I had just a tiny bit of gumption I could surely find many articles that have been written on the subject.  However, the idea is new to me, and I wanted to explore it on my own, independent of outside research and opinion, before posting it here.

Having done that, to whatever modest extent I am capable, here now is the original question that sprang to mind and my own largely uninformed answers….

What would it look like if baseball in North America adopted a promotion and relegation system similar to what soccer in the UK uses?

Now, I only just started paying attention to professional grade soccer starting with the latest World Cup in Brazil.  I was specifically enamored with the performance of US Secretary of Defense, a.k.a goalie Tim Howard.  So when the 2014 baseball season ended and I began my annual avoidance of all things NFL, I drifted “across the pond” and latched on to Howard’s team in the Premier League, the Everton Evertons.  My interest in soccer really only exists when the MLB is in the offseason, I bailed immediately upon the beginning of Spring Training earlier this year, and I haven’t watched a single second of soccer since the new season started.  So when I say I am almost-completely ignorant of the sport, it’s not an exaggeration.  But the promotion/relegation system was immediately interesting to me.

To give a quick explanation of what that is, think in terms of the MLB, AAA, AA, High A, Low A, Instructional League stratification we have in baseball.  Now imagine that all of those teams in all of those strata operated completely independently of each other.  That’s a rough description of the Premier League, Champions League, and other lesser leagues of soccer over there.

At the end of each year, the three teams with the worst record in the Premier League get demoted to the Champions league, and the three teams with the best record in the Champions League get promoted up to the Premier League…..likewise the three worst teams in the Champions League get “sent down”, and the three best teams in the league below that get “called up” to the Champions League.  It creates legitimate races at both ends of the standings, as the best teams obviously want to move up….but the bottom-feeders are also trying like hell not to get sent down.

Instead the US baseball teams in the minor leagues being self-serving, autonomous entities, they are really nothing more than feeder systems for the 30 big league clubs.  I mean, those ballgames are almost universally fun to attend, but they are pretty much empty stadiums.  Because everyone knows that the best players don’t stay long and the players aren’t ever really playing for anything other than to eventually make some other roster halfway across the country better.  Attendance is driven by gimmicks, not competition.  I think attendance would skyrocket at these games if the local fans thought they would mean something.

And all it would take is one great season to potentially turn things around in a big way.  Using this year’s current standings as an example….

  • You’d have a hell of a race at the bottom of the standings.  The Phillies and Braves would be near-locks to be relegated, but the A’s, Brewers, Reds, Marlins, and Rockies would all be fighting hard to stay out of that last demotion slot.
  • Looking across the 3 AAA leagues (PCL, Mexican, and International), you’ve got seven different teams with 80 wins so far, fighting for just 3 promotion spots.

And getting promoted would be huge.  Now that team would be on the major league schedule, playing 81 games in their home park against the biggest superstars in the game.  Attendance would be insane, and the revenue that comes with that attendance would help them build a better team, one that might be able to do good enough to eventually stick in the MLB.

Like I said at the start, there’s zero chance this ever happens.  But I think it would be pretty amazing if it did.

21 thoughts on “Borrowing an idea from soccer…

  1. This structure would make baseball so much cooler….of course, you would have to have owners that actually re-invest profits into the team and to their own stadiums (which, of course, they pay for and build themselves…without handouts from the public)

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    1. That actually seems to me like one of the problems that would kinda solve itself by simply having the relegation penalty.

      If an owner….let’s say Jeff Loria for example….doesn’t re-invest in the product on the field (and the field itself), then as the quality of the team suffers, the team sinks lower and lower through the tiers through relegation. Attendance falls and revenue vanishes.

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      1. Right, which is why this would never happen.

        When was the last time a rich guy volunteered to give away unearned value in assets?

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      2. I don’t know….when was money invented? Probably some time before that.

        Another major stumbling block is really just a branch off that same tree, and that’s the fact that the current major league owners pretty much “own” all the players throughout the minor leagues. Implementing this type of system would require that those owners cut loose all those players, and it’s well beyond my imagination to think of some sort of compensation that would get the owners to sign off on that.

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      3. The other annoying thing about this is that we’d NEVER hear the end of it from Cards and Yankees fans about how long they have been in the premier league, blah blah blah.

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  2. Other than the nightmare that would be scheduling, and travel, sounds good to me! That would bring all sorts of new scenarios into rivalries. Just imagine how much fun everybody else would have if , say, the Yankees caused the Red Sox to be relegated. Or vice versa. Or the Cubs got the Cardinals.demoted. I’m sick and twisted enough to think this would be good.

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  3. The fun part is when a team moves up a few leagues in a short period of time, like 4th division to Premier in 5 years, and they get like 20x the revenue because of revenue sharing.

    It’d never happen because of the ownership issues, but it’d be awesome!

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  4. Logistically, I don’t see how this works. I’m thinking of the Tulsa Drillers, who draw a decent crowd and have a lovely new stadium in a great setting…with 8,000 seats. Or, the OKC Redhawks (now Dodgers) who have seating for about 13,000. How do you promote teams with such limited capacity up? Tulsa could work becoming AAA, but no way OKC can make the leap up to the majors. And, if they built a bigger park to accommodate more fans, what happens if they move down again? Are they stuck with a stadium much to big for them then? Obvs, adjustable stadiums are the answer, but I don’t see that possibility until at least 2068. How do they deal with the size issue?

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    1. This seems so far down the list of problems. Hell, I’m not even entirely sure it is a problem.

      If OKC got promoted up, they’d sell out 81 home games. Sure, they wouldn’t be able to accommodate 40,000 people for each game, but selling out every game would still be a huge step forward for them. Getting some of the cable/television money would go a long way too (and that’s a giant can of worms there).

      And if a team is silly enough to build a new stadium without being pretty damn certain of some sustained success to back it up, then that’s on them. I don’t know, maybe if a team who had built a 30,000 seat stadium got demoted and started drawing only 15,000….they could just close off the upper deck for a year.

      My main thinking is that there’s a bunch of people who would be fans of a local team, if only the local team had some kind of potential future, even if it’s never fully realized. Think of someplace like Memphis. 650,000 people living in the blackout zones for “local” teams Cardinals, Reds, and Braves. It’ll take you roughly 5 hours to get to the closest of those ballparks from Memphis. The Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals affiliate) draw less than 5,000 per game, because everyone there knows their games don’t matter.

      Give these minor league teams control of their own fates, and maybe they piss it all down their legs. Or maybe they make something wonderful happen. Either way, I’d love to see it.

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      1. Maybe there, but the Texas League has a long history and the teams in it are pretty decent draws. The arrangement makes no sense to me, but I don’t think it’s much of a possibility anyway (as you noted). It may work better with denser population bases.

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    2. Agreed, and I don’t think it’s far down the list of problems. An MLB with lower attendance than Tampa is the last thing Rob Manfred wants. It’s also the last thing rich owners, who would have to do even more revenue sharing, would want. And, it’s the last thing that free agent players would want.

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  5. The biggest plus for a system like this is that teams earn their position in each league AND that some small group of old white guys don’t get to determine who gets a team, meaning which fans/cities or other rich people. Any rich person that wanted to build a stadium and start a team could do so. There would be a dozen teams in the NYC area, splitting viewership and revenues rather than the 2-team stranglehold currently now in sway.

    Memphis is just one example, there are many dozens if mid-sized cities that could support a team and would get to have their own team to root for…rather than a minor league team for which the results simply don’t matter…those teams are all vehicles for real MLB prospects to develop.

    There are so many potential positives about this situation….the only real negative would be for the current owners (but fuck those guys) that use the monopoly to extort public funds for stadiums or that use their teams like piggy banks.

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    1. I would be in favor of the minor league teams operating independently. The competition would bring positive changes to the system overall, I think. But, minor league teams would also have to develop scouting, etc. It would increase their costs, which might deter some from getting into the sport.

      The other thing is that you know Americans, and if there are multiple teams competing in the same markets, it will turn into a racial/class thing. Because that’s what we do. And it would be divisive.

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    1. Which would be ignored….what are they going to do? Move?

      There would already be teams everywhere and they’d be leaving their fanbase. There would be absolutely no leverage.

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      1. Well, that puts us back to MLB “call up” teams having bandbox stadiums. And, what I said above above revenue sharing and free agency.

        Won’t happen in MLB. But .. see my comment about the NBA.

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        1. It won’t happen anywhere because there is already a system entrenched. It really wouldn’t happen in the NBA because basketball just isn’t that popular.

          The same thing would happen as happens for soccer in the British system. When teams move up, they use the increased revenues to increase the size of the stadium. They also focus on the common fan…whereas US stadiums now pretty much ignore the common fan in lieu of the corporate dollar when building stadiums.

          Stadiums don’t have to cost as much as they do to upgrade…the ONLY reason they do is because owners are not spending their own money….if they were, they would do so much more efficiently.

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        2. Sure, but if you only have 2 fans and then have 4…that rate is going to be higher as well….still doesn’t make the raw numbers work.

          MLS growth rate is likely faster than any major US league, but that is because they started so far behind.

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  6. To move beyond baseball?

    This idea would work MUCH better in the NBA, if its D-league became untethered from individual teams. Top D-league teams are usually located in major university cities, where using a top-flight university arena would be a simple (one hopes) rescheduling issue.

    Given the much greater value of draft choices in the NBA, it would also be a direct challenge to multi-year tanking. That’s you, Sam Hinkle, who would probably shit brick if the Sixers’ deliberate tanking, then drafting of players with injuries, forced it into an NBA equivalent of AAA.

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