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Labor peace: who's the winner?
by Paul Kennedy, March 21st, 2010 4:28AM

TAGS:  mls, soccer business


[MLS] Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Union reached an agreement in principle Saturday on a new five-year collective bargaining agreement, averting a strike scheduled for the start of the 2010 season.

Among the terms of the deal which still needs to be approved and then announced:

-- a re-entry draft for players of a certain age who are out of contract or whose options are not picked up.

WHAT THE PLAYERS GET: Players will have in a very small way the ability to control their future when they are out of contract, ie they can move without their former club having to agree to a deal with their new club. "We made progress on this area," MLS Players Union Executive Director Bob Foose said. "Not necessarily as much as we would have chosen, but that's collective bargaining." Translation: the players get little.

WHAT MLS GETS: No free agency. "MLS was founded on the principle that our owners would not be competing against each other for players' services," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "When we think of free agency, it's that concept of internal bidding and there will not be internal bidding."

-- guaranteed contracts for a majority of players based on age and service in the league.

WHAT THE PLAYERS GET: Between 55 and 60 percent of players will now get guaranteed contracts. Of those players who will now get guaranteed contracts but didn't before, many will be veteran American players, who form the union's rank and file.

WHAT MLS GETS: Teams will be able to replace players without guaranteed contracts, meaning they can make lots of mid-season moves to upgrade -- they hope -- their rosters. That's significant since most players become available during the summer transfer window after their contracts with European clubs expire.

-- greater compensation for players.

WHAT THE PLAYERS GET: While the details on player compensation -- salary cap and minimum salaries -- have not been revealed, they are believed to include a nice boost in minimum salaries.

WHAT MLS GETS: Higher minimum salaries relieve MLS of what has been an embarrassing p.r. issue -- stories of young players in recent years trying to get by on as little as $12,900 a year. Big picture: MLS owners will pay relatively modest increases in salaries over the next five years, which makes the league a very attractive proposition to outside investors -- a league that at the moment has only two teams -- Seattle and Toronto -- making money.

  1. Ted Westervelt
    commented on: March 21, 2010 at 12:28 p.m.
    Great window on the process here. Soccer America deserves a lot of credit for critical and detailed reporting on this important situation. The facts are clear: Most owners would have saved money on in a strike year, while players would have suffered. The easy way to explain this fact is to fall victim to the American soccer inferiority complex. If you have this condition, you say the tiny American soccer footprint requires MLS policies like imposed mediocrity, and the major player concessions they extracted in this settlement. If, however, you can see the sport skyrocketing, while our teenage league remains in the same incubator in which it was born, you can take a different view. You are able to see a league that, either by design or ineptitude, is not providing the product we deserve. One whose caps and controls are so great, they actually limit crowds. One that keeps it's eyes tightly closed to the successful open free market business model that the rest of the planet employs. That model is designed to incentivize owners to build the best possible clubs, instead of shield them from all possible financial risk. It's one that American supporters deserve today, and the one to which MLS is diametrically opposed. If we continue to judge the success of the game by MLS owner profit margins, we'll continue to get the soccer they think we deserve. We will continue to get the handicapped, debilitated version of the game they think they might be able to eke a profit out of in thirty years - if they can obtain our acquiescence and export their system or imposed mediocrity to the rest of the soccer world. We deserve better.

  1. Christopher St mary
    commented on: March 21, 2010 at 5:26 p.m.
    I second your compliment to Soccer America. However, I see the future of MLS a little different. When I was a young teenager following the New York Cosmos playing at Hofstra University in the early days of the NASL, American soccer was a totally different animal. It was played by the first generation American offspring of people from other countries where soccer was the number one sport. That generation has now had offspring of their own and there has continued to be a constant influx of immigrants from other parts of the world where soccer is embraced passionately. It will still take some years for it to come to it's full fruition but, barring nuclear war, a worldwide pandemic or some other world ending catastrophy, I predict that by the time the current generation of "Little League" soccer players come of age soccer will be within the top four major league sports in America. I know that is quite a statement but with all the factors coming together, it seems totally plausable if you think about it rationally. In my opinion, you can shorten your timeline by about 15 - 20 years. Understandable after the hard lessons of the NASL. This time, they want to get it right.

  1. John Hofmann
    commented on: March 21, 2010 at 8:19 p.m.
    Great news that stability has been maintained. Simply put, no one really knows what might have happened if a strike had actually taken place -- except that the argument that there would have been no winners is probably right on. I hope that Christopher is right in his feeling that the continuing influx of soccer support from overseas will help push the popularity of the sport in North America. Ted seems to think the free enterprise system is the answer to all U.S. soccer problems and, apparently, that if fully applied would give us instant credibility. This seems to be the answer of a lot of people in this country currently. In my opinion it's not going to be that simple. World football, around the globe, has two basic things going for it -- a long incubation period (at least in comparison to the one generation perspective of most commenters in this country) and very little in the way of competition from other sports while it was becoming entrenced across the world. MLS is fighting a huge uphill battle to gain ground against a number of major sports. It isn't the currently serious soccer people in this country that are going to be the key to how well MLS fares in the future -- it's going to be, hopefully, the many fans that will become fans over time. They'll be learning the game as they go along -- many will not be looking at it from a snob position of people who already know the game (or think they know it) and are demanding instant gratification in the manner of highest level soccer here, without the necessary support system (sufficient, paying fans) to make it successful. One critical thing, in my opinion, is the parity that MLS is offering. I feel this is an incredible step up from, for example, the EPL with its, typically, 3-4 giants and 16-17 dwarfs. Ditto for most of the leagues in Europe. 'Nuff said. Congratulations to MLS and the players to have had the maturity and level-headedness to avoid possible disaster. Let's have a great 2010 season and a successful world cup!!

  1. James Madison
    commented on: March 21, 2010 at 10:54 p.m.
    From the news reports, the new CBA sounds very much like the deal that was there all along. However, as in many CBA negotiations in which there are multiple owner interests and multiple worker interests, a complex and prolonged dance is necessary to get everyone to come to terms with reality.

  1. Clayton Berling
    commented on: March 21, 2010 at 11:05 p.m.
    The remarks so far indicate various stages of understanding, not fully right nor completely wrong. A league that is still an infant by any standard has to carefully evaluate all the facts, assuming it wants to stay close to viable. Two clubs with profit does not equate with viability. Look at a number of major clubs in Europe and elsewhere which are in deep debt or even bankruptcy, and these are in strong soccer cultures. Sweetening the pot for lower tier players is a start in the right direction. Even today American players are trying to make a career in our game even at such low salary numbers because they care about it. By any measure they could probably make a better economic decision going into some other field. Most fans of the game are not looking for the highest paid stars (who suck the game dry), but a fun, competitive entertainment. I know there are some who will never support the game until it meets their ideal. They have been around for many decades and never have been the backbone of the rise of the game.

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