[PORTLAND DAILY]Collective bargaining agreement talks? Expansion? Chivas USA? MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott discussed these and other topics for an hour Tuesday morning with media members at a breakfast in Portland on the eve of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game.
CBA NEGOTIATIONS.The cloud on the MLS horizon is the threat of a work stoppage. The current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the the year, and the MLS landscape has changed a lot since the last agreement was reached. Some clubs have invested heavily in high-priced talent, notably Seattle and Toronto FC, which induced Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley to return to MLS with big contracts.
Abbott would not characterize MLS position on the financial health of its clubs except to say, "We are going to explain the facts as they are." He feels the league has a good relationship with its players and their player association and the current CBA resolved many issues the players had with the league.
But Abbott said he had no illusions the process will be easy. "It will get public and contentious at some point," he said. He said the league and players association would like to keep the noise down, if possible.
"We're not going into it, nor do they, looking for a fight," he said of the negotiations. Asked if MLS training camps would open in January 2015 without an agreement, Abbott said, "We do not go into this looking for a disruption in business."
EXPANSION PROSPECTS.MLS will expand to 21 teams in 2015 when Orlando City and New York City FC join the league. Atlanta will be MLS's 22nd team, and the league will expand into Miami if David Beckham's group can secure a stadium deal.
At least five cities -- Sacramento, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, San Antonio and Austin -- have been public in their interest in seeking an expansion team for what would become the league's 24th team. Abbott said he would leave it to the cities to comment on their goals. “There are serious people who have serious interest in MLS," he said.
Abbott said MLS examines three factors in viewing potential expansion clubs: market dynamics, stadium situation and ownership group. And he added that MLS would not go beyond 24 teams in 2010. "We’ve determined that the right rate of growth for us is to get to 24 teams by 2020," he said. "We think that’s the right balance for a variety reasons – the player pool that we have, the way our television contracts work ..."
CHIVAS USA BUYER.MLS, which purchased Chivas USA in late February, has no specific timeframe for its sale of the club, according to Abbott, who acknowledged the club might still be Chivas USA in 2015. The league is committed to Los Angeles, he said, and its primary focus for a new stadium is in the city of Los Angeles, not elsewhere in Southern California. The primary focus is on building a soccer stadium on the site of Sports Arena, the home of the Lakers and Clippers years ago, next to USC.
Abbott, who said the LA club would remain at StubHub Center until its own stadium is built, would not discuss a purchase except to say it would be "significantly higher" than the price for the Orlando City expansion team. (The Orlando City expansion fee was reported to be $70 million.)
Other topics ...
-- The 2015 MLS season will again feature 34 games with start and end dates of early March and early December. Abbott said the league was close to making a decision on the new conference alignment. MLS currently has 10 teams in the Eastern Conference and nine in the Western Conference. The two new teams -- Orlando City and NYC FC -- will presumably be in the Eastern Conference so one team -- likely Houston -- would move to the Western Conference.
-- In response to FIFA president Sepp Blatter's statement that MLS should adopt a summer-spring season in line with most of the rest of the world, Abbott reiterated that MLS examined the issue in 2013 and chose not pursue it because it did not make sense at this time. He wouldn't rule out the possibility of switching the calendar but said it wasn't imminent. Asked whether MLS would ever adopt promotion-relegation, Abbott response was short and to the point: "Never."