Would Promotion/Relegation Benefit the Philadelphia Union?

The MLS has a particularly long off-season, especially when your club is typically out of the post-season conversation by mid-September. The winter blues are approaching, and thinking honestly about the future of the Philadelphia Union doesn’t help.  So, I thought I’d fantasize. What if MLS became a promotion/relegation league? Would the Union flourish, fall deeper into the abyss, or remain pretty much what they have been and what they are today?

It makes sense to believe with the threat of being relegated to a lower division for the following season, club ownership would feel more pressure to win, spend and maintain their club’s place in the highest tier division. Earnie Stewart and Jim Curtain have made it clear to the media as well as season-ticket holders, the Union do not have the spending capabilities of an LA Galaxy, NYCFC, etc.  But not many clubs do. The other option to avoid relegation is to make drastic changes after failing year after year.  They haven’t shown the ability to do that either. The question is, would relegation force their hand?

I can attest as a former season ticket holder, I’ve felt that my payments were simply funding the Philadelphia Union Academy and the actual club I pay to see is more of an after-thought to management. The Academy, as necessary as it is for future success, is also their crutch, and unfortunately their fallback when they’ve run out of excuses for missing the playoffs yet again. Union supporters won’t care about a well-established academy if in a few years the club we pay to see is still mediocre.

I’m a realist and know that if  pro/rel happens, it won’t happen in MLS for many, many years. Not because pro/rel doesn’t utilize a play-off system and that’s what America is used to. You can still have your top clubs included in a playoff at season’s end.  The problem is, there aren’t enough long- established MLS clubs that could maintain their fan base after a year or two in a lower division. I honestly believe if the Union were relegated, they’d lose at least a third of their supporters and the club would no longer be able to survive in this market. So promotion/relegation or not, the solution lies in Union management no longer dragging their feet, making changes to the club and staff when losing becomes a trend, and not taking its supporters for granted.

I can recall sitting in the stands at Talen Energy Stadium late this summer, watching the Union blow another lead with less than fifteen minutes to go. Earnie Stewart was sitting in the box right behind me, Chris Albright at his side. A few angry, apparently inebriated fans left early but told those in Earnie’s box exactly what they thought about the state of the Union before exiting.  Stewart and Albright sat stone-faced. I know they could see them and heard what they were saying. A few minutes later, the final whistle sounded, I turned around and Stewart and Albright were nowhere to be found. That’s the thing. Soon they won’t be able to escape the disappointment of the fans.  Don’t get me wrong, they are the most welcoming group of guys and do take the time to talk to fans under other circumstances. The 2018 season is the tipping point for this regime. If they finish towards the bottom of the East or barely make the play-offs and are eliminated right away, Stewart won’t be able to fall back on the Academy to appease Union supporters. This group won’t be able to rely on affability. They are under-estimating the vitriol and commitment of their supporters and another season like this I believe will force their hand.


Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

5 thoughts on “Would Promotion/Relegation Benefit the Philadelphia Union?

  1. A very interesting piece and one that all of us Union fans can relate to. Watching our club struggle season after season is not the way to keep us coming. A number of substantive changes need to be made, and even the hypothetical threat of relegation won’t help, as this piece clearly demonstrates. Looking forward to seeing what the future brings the club and from this writer.

  2. While I love how relegation works in a soccer crazed country like England, here I agree — if the Union were playing lower division teams based in small towns, fan apathy would quickly occur, lowering revenues, and I’m not sure how they’d recover. Agreed that next year is a tipping point for the future of the franchise. We’re 8 years in with not a single playoff win, it’s time to make moves to win now.

  3. Excellent article! If the U doesn’t start paying attention to us life long fans, we’ll take our time and money elsewhere! At this point I’d rather watch the Flyers!

  4. Nice article. Too bad MLS owners would never go for this. They stand to lose too much money if their team was relegated. Unfortunately the Union missed their opportunity to be relevant in this town (here is your next article). With how bad all 4 teams have been over the past couple years, the union could have completely put themselves in the 5 for 5 conversation if they actually put a worthwhile product on the pitch. Too late now…76ers and Eagles have a major hold on things and the Phillies are on the upswing. (Flyers haven’t scored in 2+ games so I have no comment)

  5. I was very impressed with the writing in the above article. I found the article to be interesting and it gave me some things to think about regarding the management of the Union. Let’s hope Mr. Green keeps up the good work and continues to educate the Union fan base with his excellent literary skills. I am now one of his biggest fans! Thanks!

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