Will there ever be a “USL Premiership”?
Still, there are questions of financial viability and the willingness of ownership groups to commit to such a venture. To start, the primary owner of each club must have $40,000,000 in net worth, and the rest of the ownership group must add an additional $30,000,000. I won’t claim an awareness of the average USL owner’s checkbook, but there are enough local real estate magnates and small business people to give me pause.
This limits the potential of a higher-spending league.
What’s more, I don’t imagine that a “premiership” itself would lead to a big enough gain to warrant the split. The USL isn’t exactly a sponsorship or television rights darling as is. Thus, creating a division that competes more directly with MLS at the expense of smaller but dedicated markets in, say, El Paso or Colorado Springs adds little value. Further, the more selective league would incur greater travel costs thanks to a more dispersed geographic makeup.
In terms of strategy, the USL has shied away from head-to-head warfare with MLS lately. The Charlotte Independence self-relegated when Charlotte FC came to the market and St. Louis FC fell by the wayside in a similar context. On the pitch, the gap is big enough that a new, more “elite” tier wouldn’t make a dent in MLS. The best players in the USL Championship – think Tyler Pasher in the past – are essentially MLS rotation players. Is it really worthwhile to completely reorganize your league structure to make a squad full of those types? Do fans perceive those differences at the margins?
Ultimately, a premiership is fun as a concept, but I doubt the viability for a number of reasons. Settling in with a stable Championship first tier and a League One second tier under the USL umbrella seems to be the preferred outcome at this point.
There are still routes to innovate and add competitive storylines as well as revenue streams. An inter-division cup competition or promotion and relegation within the USL would do just that without breaking the bank.
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