FOLKS,, it’s a real treat here at HOT SPROTS TAKES as we have our first guest HOT TAKER in the form of @theryanwalsh, feel free to give him a follow if you haven’t already, the #content is (usually) good.
That said, he has some thoughts on relegation in US sports, if it’s at all realistic and what league’s might be ripe for relegation.
Take it away Ryan!
Relegation is good for them, but not for us: ranking the leagues most ripe for the Euro format
If you’re a soccer fan, you’ve likely read – or at least browsed – enough takes on North American leagues adopting relegation than you would like to admit. And there’s a reason behind that subliminal, click-baity madness; the decision to accept relegation on the west side of the Atlantic is controversial, with strong arguments to be made on both sides.
Those for the change argue that relegation rewards strong performance while providing consequences for perpetual failure. On the other hand, opponents of change submit that fans financially supporting struggling teams are unfairly punished for managerial incompetence. Both arguments hold water.
As a (generously) tangential patron of the beautiful game, I felt compelled to have make my take known. And not in a binary way, let’s see how relegation would work in the major North American leagues. But, in the spirit of click-bait, I’ll rank — from least to most likely — the chances of each league moving to relegation.
I’ll be blunt: there’s no way the NFL could realistically participate in relegation. For starters, good luck convincing an NFL owner to create more competition and sacrifice potential playoff revenue by creating a new league. Football stadiums are expensive to maintain. As it is, they’re only guaranteed to host seven games a year. The popularity and convenience of RedZone and Sunday Ticket — complimented by exorbitant parking, entry, and concession fees — already pose a looming threat to stadium revenue. You have a snowball’s chance in hell of persuading owners to sacrifice the guaranteed revenue they do have by participating at a lower level.
And let’s not even start to discuss the other problems created by further pro football expansion. Stadiums aren’t cheap, and finding sufficient local communities willing to take on the financial burden of constructing them and the necessary infrastructure wouldn’t be easy. The quality of play would decline from a thinning the talent pool easily susceptible to injury. Also, there’s no way a sport which prides itself on being uniquely American would take on European customs.
This may be surprising to many considering the NHL’s minor league infrastructure, but let me explain. Firstly, the league is struggling to drum up interests in America as is. Teams in quirky markets (cough Arizona, Carolina cough) are already hot under the collar financially. And while the NHL had multiple suitors for the expansion slot that was awarded to Las Vegas, the league didn’t have enough quality metropolitan callers to make relegation a possibility. They would have to send about a fifth of their teams to a lower league, which would kill waning interest in struggling cities.
What would be done with the rights to minor league players claimed by NHL teams? Would teams with minor and professional teams in the same cities share venues? If the Canadian dollar were stronger than it currently is, NHL relegation would be more likely. But in it’s current state, I wouldn’t count on it.
The NBA has adapted to the digital age better than any of its North American contemporaries. By making itself available to a broader audience online, the league has seen a surge in popularity that has made itself more financially secure than ever. A newly signed television contract has expanded the wallets of team owners, but that doesn’t make expansion/relegation in the best interests of their bottom line.
The NBA — more so than any other North American league — is grounded on the presence of superstars, which are few and far between. A “Big 3” is required for legitimate postseason competitiveness, and keeping those groups together is already a difficult proposition. The branding of these superstars in national ad campaigns adds to the prestige and value of their franchises. Spreading out stars further wouldn’t hurt the worth of perennial contenders, but would knock down middle and lower tier teams down a peg or two.
With the cost of teams rising to unprecedented levels — Clippers owner Steve Ballmer paid $2 billion for the team in 2014 — it’s just not realistic for owners to willingly diminish their own return on investment by risking demotion.
College Football and Basketball
From a strictly theoretical perspective, it makes the most sense to add relegation to big time college sports. It would provide smaller schools the chance to compete at the highest level, while showcasing their new, progressive, interesting styles of play.
The stadium infrastructure already exists, so the red tape to acquire tax payer funds for further construction wouldn’t be needed. There have been a thousand takes speculating scenarios for college realignment. And while many are worth a read for entertainment value, let’s call a spade a spade: NCAA and conference bureaucrats won’t allow it to happen.
As much as I would like to see the Springfield Isotopes play a big league season, I just can’t see it being possible. But in the interests of staying fresh, let’s start with the reasons for why relegation could happen in baseball.
For starters, many cities with minor league teams have the infrastructure in place to make hosting major league games realistic. Are their stadiums as large as the MLB would like? Of course not, but expanding an existing, outdoor stadium is much more cost effective than building a new ball park from scratch. Many lesser markets — Portland, Richmond, Norfolk, Charlotte, New Orleans, Nashville — have accessible facilities available.
But — much like minor league hockey — separating prospects from their contracts with major league teams provides a logistical nightmare. If you gloss over that quagmire, however, there may be enough interest to support a relegation league. Baseball has no competition in the summer time, so while there may be a lack of parity between the smallest and biggest markets, such a divide already exists in the MLB. Of the major powers in North American sports, the MLB makes the most sense for relegation.
This isn’t a thing already? Huh, that’s weird. Seems like it should be.