Welcome to a brand new series in SmallWorld, dubbed SmallScale Arguments. I’ve called this segment SmallScale Arguments because all these news stories will be more opinionated than factual and may not have much lasting impact on anyone. I’m still writing about them, though, since they’re giving people, clubs, and organizations in the local US soccer scene a platform from which to speak. I want this blog to help facilitate discussion among those people, even if that discussion is based more opinion than fact.
Again, let me restate that this is all my own opinion, though I’ll try to bring in viewpoints from many different sides of the discussion. First up in SmallScale Arguments is the NPSL’s decision to add Valeo FC as an expansion team for the 2020 season. Usually, expansion teams are met with positivity, but this particular expansion has reopened the debate of which kind of system should be used for small American soccer leagues. There are economic, territorial, cultural, and developmental aspects all roped into this, so let’s get it started.
On Friday, September 13, Boston City FC, a somewhat longstanding member of the North Atlantic Conference in the NPSL, sent out a statement indicating its displeasure at the NPSL’s decision to add an in-town rival into the same league. It seems that Boston City’s main qualm with this expansion is competition for the same revenue streams between the two clubs. In other words, they feel Valeo will steal some of Boston City’s attendance numbers, sponsorships, and local partnerships, which are already sparse enough in the fourth-highest division of US soccer.
Boston’s statement concluded by putting the club’s future with the NPSL in doubt.
We will review our status as a club playing in the NPSL while considering available options so that our club can continue to grow and thrive.-Boston City FC statement posted on Twitter Friday
A few individuals are coming to Boston’s defense, pointing to the closed system utilized by the NPSL and criticizing the rigidity it forces upon clubs like Boston City. No matter how well Boston City perform in the NPSL, they’re destined to stay within the confines of the league, which now means they’re stuck with an in-town rival eating away at their precious resources. Unless they choose to move, that is, like they’ve now indicated they’re considering doing.
In an ideal situation (AKA every league outside of the US), there would be a more open system that features promotion and relegation. Pro/Rel has been a hot topic in American soccer for years, but it’s never quite worked because of the way MLS was founded and operates financially. In lower leagues, though, opportunities for a Pro/Rel system have been more plausible. Most recently, the brand-new NISA has been outspoken about the potential of a Pro/Rel system. However, the league doesn’t support territory rights, instead seeking to promote local rivalries.
This brings us to the topic of territory rights, which is where it gets confusing. Some oppose proximity because they want to see clubs get a maximum return on their economic investment. It just makes sense financially that more competition in the same market means less money. But there are others who don’t like proximity because it infringes on territory rights.
What are territory rights?-someone reading this right now
Territory rights in the world of soccer signify a protection by a league on a particular club’s market area. This is done nearly across the board in American sports leagues (with the exception of enormous markets like Los Angeles or New York, where there are so many people in said markets that there’s plenty of revenue to share), but it comes at a cost. Local competition is abolished, and for small clubs, that means lots of unnecessary travel across the country, not to mention a lack of a local rivalry that you can share with your neighbors.
Further, this concept of local rivalries has been utilized with great success in European nations, especially England. Ask supporters of a fourth- or fifth-division side across the pond, and they’ll probably tell you that the greatest part of supporting his or her side is fanning the flames of that club’s rivalry with its crosstown rival. This element is largely missing from bigger leagues, and territory rights are a big part of that problem.
On a side note, yes, I realize that El Trafico is a local rivalry in MLS. But it’s only been around for two years, and that’s more of a social and cultural divide that’s happened to take the form of two soccer clubs. We’ll call that an exception. Meanwhile, the very same MLS considers a game between Orlando and Atlanta to be a battle for the South. Hmm.
So there are those that are against Valeo’s entrance to the NPSL because they want an open, Pro/Rel system, and there are those who oppose it because they just don’t want to see territory rights in the lower leagues. Complicating the matter even further, though, is the fact that those who do like seeing a Valeo added to the mix probably fall into one of those two camps, too.
EXPLAIN YOURSELF!-pretty much everyone reading this right now
Okay, let me explain what I mean. Most of those who want to see close proximity between clubs probably don’t support territory rights. They also probably want to see Pro/Rel across the board in the US in an open system, because that’s how a lot of soccer fans feel at the moment. What separates the handful of them that draw a different conclusion on the Valeos of the world is this: they want to see geographical rivalries simply because they make their communities better.
They aren’t worried about economic challenges; they weren’t ever involved in the world of soccer to make money. They don’t care about the politics of territory rights; they’re just normal folks out to make soccer accessible and fun. In essence, these people just want to see soccer as it should be. And so do I. And so should you. When communities of people are prioritized over politics and money, soccer’s transformative power is really visible.
So whether you like an open system or a closed system, territory rights or local rivalries, my conclusion is that the best way to promote positivity in soccer is to let any club that sees a niche fill it. If it’s a geographical niche, awesome. Bring soccer where it isn’t already. But if it’s a niche five miles away from another niche, so be it. Maybe there’s a population that still needs to be united. Maybe there’s a youth development opportunity that still needs to be created. That’s still exciting to me, and still beneficial to American soccer.
Let me know what you think about this issue in the comments or on SmallWorld Social, both on Facebook (SmallWorld Soccer Blog) and Twitter (@SWSoccer_Danny). What are your thoughts on the issue? Is there a fundamental element to American soccer that runs deeper than an open or closed system, or is that the extent of the problem?
As always, watch local soccer, unify those around you, and seek out diversity!