Drunk Ideas: How To Implement Pro/Rel For USA

Welcome back! We’re here to discuss the most divisive issue in “US Soccer Twitter”™: pineapple on pizza promotion and relegation. But first, some rules on drinking at a rock show:

  1. Don’t get too drunk: your favorite band may not be back in town for years and you want to remember it.
  2. The internet is your friend: check setlists from previous shows so if they insist on playing their power ballad you can use that time to hit the restroom and grab more drinks.
  3. Secure your drinks properly: no one likes having booze spilled on them and more importantly, that shit was expensive, so don’t waste it.
  4. Be an adult: This isn’t a time for wine. This is a beer and maybe margarita zone if you’re a 65-year-old parrot head.

Anyways, let’s be the first humans in the world to have a civilized discussion about how to implement pro/rel in the US.

Current Situation:

Pro/Rel Advocates – An open pyramid is the standard throughout the world. It fosters greater competition through increased benefits for teams that take risks and make themselves better. The cream rises to the top.

Pro/Rel Skeptics – The sports landscape in the USA is fundamentally different from that of any other country. The size, both landmass and number of other sports teams in the US, makes relegation specifically a hard sell. If Newcastle gets relegated, what are sports fans going to watch in town? However, if the Colorado Rapids get relegated, fans can easily switch to NBA/NFL/MLB/NHL/NCAA. Also, committed ownership is crucial in this still-nascent stage of soccer development and the threat of relegation can turn off otherwise-interested investors.

MLS Owners: They have invested a ton of money and want to protect their investment. They didn’t pay $100 million to play in a second division. They need to be won over.

Lower Division Owners: They almost all want pro/rel as they do not have to pay expansion fees, though some gladly would pay if given the option.

Solution: The Solberg Plan™

Step 1: By 2025, the USSF will have defined Division 1, 2, and 3 professional leagues that are nationwide. Division 4 will be regional semi-pro leagues.

Step 2: Through the 2024 season, the pyramid will be closed. Leagues can expand and add teams as they see fit.

Step 3: Starting with the results of the 2025 season, Pro/Rel will be implemented with one team moving up/down between leagues. HOWEVER:

  1. The team moving from Division 2 to Division 1 must pay $300 million.
  2. The money from Step 1 is divided two ways:
    1. The relegated team gets 2/3
    2. The other 1/3 is split amongst the rest of the league owners.
    3. A team does not have to be promoted. If the owner does not want to pay the fee, they simply choose to stay in their lower division and a team in a higher division is not relegated.

Step 4: Every year, the promotion fee drops by $20 million. So after the 2026 season, the fee is $280 million, 2027 is $260 million and so on. The fees paid to the relegated team and the other league owners are proportionally smaller, as a result.

Step 5: By 2040, there is no fee to be promoted and we have a completely open system.

Step 6: This same plan is rolled out to lower division, but the fee is cut by 1/10 for each league. So a team promoted from Division 3 to Division 2 would pay $30 million, and from Division 4 to Division 3 would pay $3 million. Those fees would follow the same reduction schedule as Step 4 above.


Let’s revisit our stakeholders from above.

Pro/Rel Advocates: They get a path to a fully open pyramid by 2040 along with a very strong chance that it will happen well before that date as financially capable ownership groups take the promotion fee option.

Pro/Rel Skeptics: This allows leagues to “ease-in” to pro/rel. Since it likely won’t happen often in the first few years, the effects it has on relegated teams can be studied.

MLS Owners: Their investment has a fairly big back-stop. If they go down early they get a big payment and if they stay up it means their expansion fee won’t be in vain as they will have had many years in MLS.

Lower Division Owners: The most ambitious have a way to spend and succeed their way into higher divisions within seven years from now. By 2040 a truly open pyramid is available with the cost of promotion being well within the grasp of teams before that date. It also allows teams who don’t want to be promoted (such as MLS reserve teams, teams already in an MLS market, etc.) to stay in their division if they desire.


Let’s quickly recap the plan: pro/rel implemented in 2025, $300 million fee paid if you want to get promoted that is split between the demoted team and the league, that fee drops by $20 million each year, and the model is used by lower divisions just at 1/10 the prices.

Everyone gets what they want eventually: a fully open pyramid that is phased in to see if it works while giving financial security to currently MLS owners and the chance for lower division teams to move up.

Go forth and spread the gospel of The Solberg Plan.

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