There has been a bit of talk recently about abolishing the promotion and relegation system in the English Premier League, mainly coming from the Foreign owners of Premier League clubs. A couple of quotes from this article sum up the argument, which is really about investor certainty:
a growing cartel of owners believe the Premier League should adopt the American franchise model to end financial fears linked to the massive cost of dropping out of the elite
Obviously, if I was an American owner and I owned a football club, or I was an Indian owner, I might be thinking I would like to see no promotion or relegation. My investment is going to be safer and my shares are going to go up in value
Relegation results in a massive drop in revenues so I can see an argument that owners will be more willing to invest in the clubs if they know that they will not be regulated. Basically, getting rid of relegation would give more certainty on the firms future cashflows. Interestingly, the Premier League already gives “parachute” payments to relegated clubs to help compensate for this.
The other side of this argument, voiced quite passionately by Sir Alex Ferguson, is that this would “kill English football”. For once, I’m inclined to agree with red nose. The Premier league would be so much more boring without relegation. Given the gulf between the top 6 or so teams and the rest of the 20 team league, the majority of the games would become relatively meaningless. Similarly, the Championship (England’s second division) would become pretty boring too. Given the big prize of promotion would disappear, who would actually care who wins the 2nd division??
Now you are probably wondering where the economics is, this is an economics blog after all. If the league is less exciting due to getting rid of the relegation system then fewer people will watch games on TV, go to games etc.. which means the league will suffer financially. My hypothesis is that supporters of the big teams would be still be just as interested, but supporters of the teams at the mid to bottom end would be less interested and that the Championship would die.
So there is a trade-off here. It’s possible that by giving owners more certainty through a “franchise model” the entire Premier League would become more even as owners would be willing to plow more money into their teams, this may make the league more exciting and make more people watch. But there would be a countervailing effect of potentially less revenue available to teams as fewer people bother tuning in (which is particular important with UEFA’s financial fair play rules coming).