You know what’s great? Competitions with promotion and relegation.
Everyone knows why – it creates dramatic tension across the whole ladder at the end of the season, not just at the top, and it gives fans of clubs outside the top tier something to dream about.
We also all know the reasons why promotion and relegation won’t work with the A-League – it’s a franchise-based competition, which makes relegation difficult or impossible, and Australia doesn’t really have a second-tier competition with clubs in a position to step up if we did have promotion.
So, no relegation, no promotion. We can’t get there from here and we’re stuck with what we’ve got, right?
If the powers that be were happy to take the long view and live with some messiness, we could have a form of promotion and relegation that would give us most of the upside and grow towards a genuine second tier at the same time.
We can do it by using the power of expansion. The league is well down the track towards expanding the competition with two more franchises. I’m all for this because I live in Canberra and I’m sure they’ll make the right choice and give one to us.
But what about the next expansion, and the one after that?
There are 18 teams in the AFL and 16 teams in the NRL. The English Premier League has 20 teams. I don’t think there’s any doubt that once the current expansion is done the A-League will begin planning for the next one. As a rule, more content means more eyeballs, which means more broadcast revenue.
When the next expansion comes to 14 clubs, let’s give them to two top-finishing teams from the FFA Cup, but not on a permanent franchise basis. If either finish in the bottom two the following season, they’re relegated and replaced by the top-finishing teams from that year’s FFA Cup.
What if one of the franchise clubs finishes in the bottom two drop zone? Only one club gets promoted and relegated that year.
I freely admit clubs promoted into the A-League are going to struggle to finish above the bottom two – it would probably take one of the franchise clubs having a genuine disaster of a season not to – but then Central Coast had just three wins and four draws in 2015-16, so you never know.
The promoted clubs’ share of the broadcast deal will help bridge the gap with the franchise teams, but they’d still have to stand up the considerable back-end infrastructure existing A-League clubs already have running. The A-League has options to even out that advantage if they want to or need to, but managing booms and busts is just one of those things about promotion and relegation – just ask Blackpool or Cardiff City fans.
Promoted clubs will face a choice: spend the windfall dollars on a tilt at staying up or invest in the development infrastructure – physical and personnel – that will give them a sustainable chance of featuring regularly in the A-League.
This system would probably see quite a churn of clubs through the A-League, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’d be a pool of clubs – plus managers, coaches and administrators – with experience in the top flight. Plus there’ll be a pool of teams to form the basis of a new second-tier – teams with fan-bases, support structures and experience playing in a big competition with a heavy travel load.
There’s a solution to that churn over time too. Every time the league expands, the new slots should be for promotion and relegation clubs. A 16-team competition with four promotion and relegation clubs and two relegation slots – and, later, an 18-team competition with six promotion and relegation clubs – gets us pretty close to the stuff we like about a promotion and relegation.
This is not a perfect plan by any means. It’s wildly unfair that only some clubs would be at risk of relegation. Given where we start as a franchise-based competition, there’s no other way. Besides, competitions are never entirely fair. Big city clubs have clear advantages with sponsorship and the size of the potential fan-base over regional clubs.
It could also be true that the promotion clubs could simply fail to be near enough to A-League standard. We won’t know that until we try, though.
It feels to me like getting a messy taste of the good stuff is a pretty good start.
Article link: Promotion and relegation: not a whole plateful, but a decent taste. Written by Tony Hodges, on The Roar – Your Sports Opinion.
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