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Are American Soccer Owners Threatening the Structure of the Beautiful Game Abroad?

MLS has taken on an exciting life of its own in the past few years, but does the American sports model threaten the very game it intends to culture?

Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

For ages, the cultural separator of sports has divided the interests of most large countries with the global game of soccer being popular everywhere except America, but the Beautiful Game seems to be finally gaining a strong foothold in the most sports-crazed country on the planet. Multi-million dollar broadcasting rights deals and the popularization of its native league, MLS, are visible indicators that America is finally embracing the sport long loved on the other side of the pond. But just as the conquistadors of old brought plague and disease to the innocent peoples of the Americas, the United States now threatens to bring its own owner-focused sports model to the beautiful game.

Around March 2016, several higher-ups at some of the world's largest clubs met at a hotel in London, along with American billionaire Stephen Ross. The topic of their discussion? A European super league that would include the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, A.C. Milan, etc., effectively nullifying the existence of the UEFA Champions League. According to reports, the reasoning behind this meeting for an alternative super league was because some of the aforementioned clubs want security within an elite competition. A club like A.C. Milan, a storied organization that has played a significant part in European history but has fallen from grace, is looking for a guaranteed competition so as not to miss out on the money involved with such leagues.

This sort of guaranteed inclusion is a foreign concept to those in Europe. Even the standard league structure offers no assurance that a large club, or any club for that matter, will continue to be involved in an individual league through relegation and a points-oriented league structure. By comparison, the United States organizes its sports differently. All of the most popular sports leagues such as the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB operate on a no-relegation model. There is never a risk of missing out on the premier competition for any amount of time. American owners have recently started to make their way into European clubs, taking with them their ideas of continued inclusion at the top; a welcome idea for those owners wanting to cement their place at the top.

The reason one may consider this shift towards an American system to be a poor one is that the relegation model has often had a way of rewarding clubs that are financially and structurally stable. Clubs like Southampton, Leicester, and Eibar have all risen through the ranks of their respective leagues via what is perceived to be a solid club structure and hard work. Though there hasn't necessarily been a significant shift in power regarding the financially dominant teams collecting silverware, there's always the possibility. One could even argue that now more than ever, with all the new money being poured into the game due to megalithic TV deals as a result of the ever-increasing globalization of the game, is the time in which we may see some new faces among the elite. Supporters can enjoy the possibility of being rewarded for supporting their local club by seeing them climb to the dizzying heights of whatever league they take part in, eventually working their way up to places unknown. Promotion gives a sense of palpable achievement. Players might stay with a promoted team on the rise rather than the undeniable, almost-guaranteed realization that a worthwhile player on a lower-league team in the states will leave for the majors at the first sniff of a chance.

The approach to the global game in the U.S. has been different because of the structuring of previous leagues in the U.S. and to that extent it is understandable as to why it's not set up like in England or the rest of Europe. There are around 5,000 recognized teams in England alone, allowing for the structure of their promotional system to be a bit easier.

The love for the game in Europe is historic, while the game in the States is relatively new and still being accepted from a social aspect. These expectations, however, should not allow for the acceptance of the owner-focused model in Europe. The powers that be may see it as the perfect opportunity to solidify their place at the precipice and cut out any chance for a significant loss from a financial perspective, but it would cut out the heart and soul of the game that has given a blank page to which a story like that of Leicester City's can be written.