We hosted a Google hangout with Ted Westervelt of SoccerReform.us to talk about some hot topics in the United States soccer landscape. Ted is a vocal supporter of promotion and relegation in the United States and believes that the country is ripe for the execution of the system. Aside from the website, his thoughts and questions can also be seen on twitter. Here are the results from the hangout. Thank you to those of you that joined us for the session.
*Editor’s Note: There were some audio issues in the beginning and so the first segment of the session is inaudible. We asked Ted to provide his background and a little about how he got into the cause. He said in part that he has a political background and that helped in the transition. For more on why he is behind his cause please take the time to read his site. His research of the teams and matches of the 1920s have been intriguing as well. He feels there is a way for a better system. The following is a transcript of the remainder of the session. The bold section are the posed questions followed by Ted’s response.
There seems to be an agreement in place between Major League Soccer and USL. Is this something you see as positive or is there an underlying business motive?
There is. The thing is that every USL Pro team will have a connection to an MLS team and if that happens it could for a minor league. For me it gets a little, well if you are turning division 3 into a minor league that puts another road block in the way of promotion and relegation.
A hot topic is the MLS attempt to trademark the Cascadia Cup, which is now a point of contention for the supporters’ group that helped to make it what it is today. There are other similar ideas already present, like the Novo Nordisk Battle of Texas. This seems like a hot button topic for you given your reaction on twitter. There are still many talking about this. What is your take on the potential trademark?
I kind of go both ways on this because I think MLS is getting a bit aggressive on maintaining their control. I think this is one of the ways we see evidence after Sepp Blatter’s comments, which I believe are legitimate. Certainly, from the research I have done, the MLS is nowhere near the NASL or ASL [American Soccer League] was in the 1920s in terms of penetration and by penetration I mean average sports fans coming to see them. It’s fun to see them kind of push the envelope and it’s great to see that supporters are standing up and saying ‘wait a second.’ It may not be promotion and relegation. It might not be sort of control the U.S. soccer pyramid but they are seeing the MLS overstep their bounds. It makes me pretty happy.
Another topic in the last couple weeks was the idea that the New York Cosmos are planning on building their own stadium to the tune of $400 million and be there to compete with the MLS and not become MLS NY2. Does you see this as a threat or is it real? Will the Cosmos become their own entity?
This is an awesome thing and I am so fired up to take this situation on and take the bull by the horns. I think we will find out how much the Cosmos’ legacy is worth. Do they need to be in MLS to kind of access that? And does being in Long Island hurt? We’ll find out about that too. On the other hand this is a common theme in American Soccer history - league in fighting, and leagues fighting federations, and leagues not working well with the established system. If we get into a situation where MLS and NASL are fighting and U.S. Soccer can’t take the hint and head in the right direction where leagues can fight, that is where the danger comes. If this Cosmos’ phenomon has legs and if the NASL makes a dent against the MLS – it’s fun and it’s exciting, but if it is handled the wrong way it is detrimental.
Now there are a lot of teams that are aiming to be a part of the MLS, which may be counter to what the Cosmos are saying. Is it just falling in line to be a part of the MLS or should they follow their own path? For instance, there is a new stadium opening up in Pittsburgh that is in a major focal point of the city and the [Pittsburgh] Riverhounds have said they hope to be in the MLS. Is this exciting to you or do you think these teams to strive more to be their own entity?
Number one, Pittsburgh, with some of the research I have done over the past month, is right up there with St. Louis and Paul River, and New Jersey, and New York when it comes to be a soccer hot bed. It goes back as far back as you want to go. Pittsburgh deserves a ton of street cred when it comes to soccer. I think it is great that they want to be in MLS and it is fantastic to see them pushing this and it is great to see the Riverhounds hoping to get noticed in that whole scheme of things. But I can’t help but think a promotion and relegation system is just a much better way to drive investment. One of the spectres people put out there is look at Scotland. You don’t want to become Scotland where only two teams matter and it is foolish and the rest will develop into some kind of two club system. Well our market is huge and Pittsburgh is one of two dozens cities that I have seen that could potential host a big competition and you get to the point where it is just too many for one league. For me that is one of the best arguments out there for promotion and relegation. We will not be able to accommodate all these teams that have the ability to be in division one. Let’s split it up and keep things moving. Maybe Pittsburgh can drop down to D2 and rebuild and then they’ll come back. I just think it is a much better system to drive investment and excite all the fans, especially in this country and this market. We are talking about the U.S. and Canada. In many ways we are more tailor made for promotion and relegation than any country on the planet.
Switching topics here. You will see a centennial celebration of sorts on the U.S. Soccer website but you will see no mention of the U.S. Open Cup that is also celebrating 100 years. Why do you think there is no mention and where do you think the U.S. Open Cup should fall in the realm of soccer fandom in the United States?
I think there are a couple things going on, and guys like Glenn Davis have chimed in on this, but there is a natural reticence to embrace our soccer history in this country. I’ll get real animated as we get through this. It’s old and I think part of it is that MLS wants to say they are doing soccer responsibly and doing it right for the first time. If you open up something like the U.S. Open Cup you will see that in the 1920s they were getting crowds of 20,000, crowds of 15,000 on average coming to the matches. At that time those were big crowds. If you acknowledge the success of the ASL and NASL I think it flies in the face of the MLS motto that we are the only ones doing soccer responsibly in this country and the only ones that really pushed this game and tried to do it sustain-ably. I think there is something to do with that. Whether MLS is actively involved in keeping down U.S. Open Cup – the thing is a gold mine. It is unfathomable to me that they can’t access it. I mean anyone can sign into the New York Times and see these great stories from the 1920s. Perhaps you could say that ASL counted as one of the top ten world leagues at the time. That is a mantle that MLS would love to have. I think there is a little fear and a little reticence to address it because of the scale of its epic-ness, for lack of a better word.
We did a post about the U.S. Open Cup. There has been a leaked schedule as well. There is a site trying to gain funding to spread the word.
U.S. Open Cup is the only site out there trying to push this. Josh is a great guy although we have some serious differing opinions about how to push the site, but Josh is the only guy out there to invest in this. No one is going to make a million bucks on U.S. Soccer history, but it is a topic that is worth the attention.
What do you see as the utopian U.S. Soccer society?
The greatest part of this discussion for me is how do you go from here to there. How do you go from the current system to a system with promotion and relegation? For me, after doing this for a couple years and calling the debate and pushing the debate, I think the only way this happens; MLS is not going to fit through the eye of this needle. I think the question is how do we transition from the MLS to another system that accommodates the clubs we need to move to promotion and relegation. That isn’t even the key topic. The key topic is unlimited clubs. If we don’t have unlimited clubs, how do we go against the best clubs in the world? Unless for some reason the MLS wins this argument. I think the transition to the Utopian involves the break up of the MLS. MLS will profit immensely for selling their clubs, maybe not all all clubs, but they could make a mint off the Sounders.
I think it will happen. It could be 2050 but it will happen when supporters say “‘we don’t want to be treated as second class anymore. We want our clubs to go as far as the supporters can take them and not as far as MLS lets them go.’”
We discussed Brek Shea and his offer for Stoke City being nixed as well. Ted said that can cause frustration for fans. We also touched on Ted’s efforts to discuss this topic with journalists and others on twitter. Some may see his mode as attacking. He said he simply wants to open an argument that hasn’t been spoke of in a century. He says he simply sees a better way although Ted acknowledged some of his tactics can get under people’s skin. He wants a conversation about the system with no intention of personal attack.
You’re dissing people that want to talk and have the debate by saying that it is pointless…It is a real debate. Soccer exists in a different world. ..It is on a global stage and it is already built.
We thank Ted for joining us today and again apologize for our audio issues. We look to have him back on and will bring on many other guests as we move our format to FanSided Radio. We would love to have your feedback in the comments below.