Author’s Note: Please be advised that I am not an attorney. None of the below is a legal opinion/interpretation nor should it be taken as such. The article below is just a view on the road ahead.
On the day following the statement made by Dade Brigade with their #OpenSoccer tifo, Miami FC have filed a lawsuit in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Alongside Miami, the Kingston Stockade (New York/NPSL) joined the motion calling for implementation of promotion and relegation within the United States pyramid. Why such a strong action from the Riccardo Silva owned team? Let’s jump back to last week.
As you may already know, Silva walked into MLS headquarters for a meeting with Don Garber & company a few months ago. During this meeting Silva stated that his conglomerate, MP&Silva, were prepared to offer MLS $4 Billion for the media rights to the league at the end of their current deal. MLS rebuked the offer stating that the league could not discuss future media rights as the current affiliations have the right of first refusal. With such an eye popping number, surely there had to be something else in play. There was. Part of the offer mandated that the MLS would have to open their doors and allow a system of promotion and relegation to be put in place.
Back to the present, with the 400% increase in revenue turned down by MLS, it is easy to assess that Silva has turned the heat on MLS, The U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), and CONCACAF. Locally, the soccer community knows that nothing Miami does is “second tier”. Miami FC is run as a first division European club amassing a payroll and expenditures far superior to anywhere else in the second division. So, why make a push for first division now? Why buy into the NASL knowing well that the USSF system is closed?
This is where it gets dicey for Miami. MLS has all but announced a deal with Beckham bringing an MLS team into Riccardo Silva’s backyard. Purchasing a second MLS Franchise in Miami will not be approved in the short or medium term. Silva has stated previously that he does not appreciate or wish to work within the MLS model where a salary cap is in place and the contracts are league owned. For example, should his club develop a player and sell him to any club around the world, the club would only receive two-thirds of the transfer fee while MLS recoups the other third. If promotion and relegation becomes a reality, Silva could SHATTER the salary cap. In a system where teams are moving throughout the divisions, a centralized league would no longer be feasible. Essentially, we would have a true transfer market in the United States.
Miami and Kingston are being represented by Jean-Louis Dupont. Does that name ring a bell? For most soccer aficionados Dupont was part of the legal team that implemented the Bosman ruling. The Bosman ruling modified the transfer system and the nationality quota within European football. In laymen’s terms, the ruling stopped the practice of European clubs holding players hostage after their contract has expired. It was the creation of the free transfer. Not important enough? How about forcing FIFA to rotate the World Cup venue continentally not allowing one continent to routinely host the world cup? Oh yeah, Dupont is behind that as well.
Silva clearly has spared no expense in the legal battle ahead by seeking the counsel of arguably the best sports attorney there is. At the center of this upcoming battle is a FIFA article regarding the regulations for governance of the statues. Article 9 states in part “A club’s entitlement to take part in a domestic league championship shall depend principally on sporting merit. A club shall qualify for a domestic league championship by remaining in a certain division or by being promoted or relegated to another at the end of the season.” It seems that Silva is arguing that in the USSF system, a team cannot earn a spot in the CONCACAF champions league based on merit. Sure, a lower division side can win the U.S. Open Cup, but the tournament has predominantly been decided by MLS teams since the league’s inception.
It can be stated that this is essentially a “Hail Mary” attempt to change the entire system in the United States. However, given the pedigree of the legal team representing Miami and Kingston, there is a strong possibility that relief could be granted. One of the factors that has already been discussed throughout conversations is the possibility that FIFA could essentially mandate the USSF to implement promotion and relegation. Failure to comply could result in the U.S. led bid for the ’26 World Cup to be vacated. Surely, given the conditions and speculation of corruption surround the ’22 World Cup in Qatar, stripping the United States of the ’26 tournament seems outlandish. There is one caveat to keep in mind. The United States’ investigation into CONCACAF led to the overhaul at FIFA. Perhaps, some at FIFA would love to make the United States pay for its actions? There are multiple scenarios that can happen should relief be granted. One would be a backdoor deal into MLS in order to appease FIFA and have Silva drop the complaint. On the other hand, if this lawsuit damages the ability of a North American World Cup, there could be a public backlash and hatred towards the club like nothing ever seen before in professional sports.
Only time will tell.