4 highlights of the MLS labor deal


On Wednesday night, a couple days ahead of the 2015 season kickoff, Major League Soccer and the Players Union reached an agreement.

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 The team unveiled new jerseys last week. (Photo courtesy of Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers)

Since its inception, Major League Soccer has been desperate to establish soccer as a American major sport on par with basketball, football and baseball.

Late Wednesday, the league’s owners and the MLS Players Union came to terms in principle on a new collective bargaining agreement ensuring it wouldn’t take a massive step backward in that quest.

“We are pleased to finalize the framework for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with our players,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a news release. “We now enter our 20th season with enormous momentum with our new television partnerships, dynamic star players from the U.S., Canada and abroad, and two new expansion teams in New York City and Orlando that will debut in front of more than 60,000 fans on Sunday in the Citrus Bowl.  This agreement will provide a platform for our players, ownership and management to work together to help build Major League Soccer into one of the great soccer leagues in the world.”

The union also issued a statement about the five-year deal Wednesday:

“We are pleased to announce that we have reached a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the league,” said Bob Foose, executive director of the MLS Players Union. “We are pleased to finally turn our fans attention back to our players and the competition on the field as we get started on the 2015 season.”

This is the league’s second collective bargaining agreement reached slightly before the season kickoff.

Click through for 4 interesting things to know about the MLS CBA. 

1. The strife hinged on free agency

Players wanted to be free agents after the terms of their contracts were completed. Owners oppose free agency because the open market drives up  wages.

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 (Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer
/Portland Timbers)

Wednesday’s agreement dealt a partial victory for the players who were granted free agency if — and only if — they are 28 years or older with at least eight years of experience. The player’s potential raise in salary is capped by his previous wage.

According to the Orlando Sentinel:

Players who are making less than $100,000 can make up to 125-percent of their salary, players making between $100,000-$200,000 can make up to 120-percent, and those making more than $200,000 have a cap of up to 115 percent of their current base.

In addition, the new CBA includes a minimum salary of $60,000, a substantial step up from the 2014 minimum of $36,500. The minimum will increase incrementally per year. The source said there was also an increase in the overall salary cap, though they could not immediately provide that number.

The two sides didn’t start negotiating anywhere near those terms. The league’s initial stance — as early as Tuesday — was particularly aggressive.

The Washington Post’s soccer reporter Steven Goff tweeted Tuesday morning about the owners, who said they would allow free agency for players over 32 with 10 years’ experience with the same club. USA Today Sports called that deal “insulting.” 

For their part, the players intimated they wouldn’t agree to any deal that didn’t allow full free agency. MLS Commissioner Garber spun the compromise as a win for the players:

2. Futbal is not a profitable enterprise — yet

Soccer doesn’t come close to making the billions of dollars generated by the NFL.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the league isn’t built on a solid fiscal foundation.

By settling, MLS and its players avoided a dangerous fate. MLS owners and players could have decided independently they had little to lose with a strike. Most MLS clubs lose money, so owners stood to lose a lot less if games didn’t take place. And most players make so little money that not playing wouldn’t result in giving up much.

The owners are acknowledging that the league is still looking to grow and will accept losses in hopes of future gains.

From WSJ’s Matthew Futterman:

To league officials, who say the league lost about $100 million last year, all the focus on the salary cap and minimum salaries has been misguided. They see those factors as just two small tools to help MLS get to where it wants to be. The league spends $30 million on player development. The mega-salaries of $5 million and up it has committed to stars such as Frank Lampard , Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley are investments the owners make outside the salary cap, via the designated-players rule.

The less that team owners have to spend on mediocre and lesser players to fill out their rosters, the more they will have to spend on the best players they see as essential to build the profile of MLS, both in the U.S. and internationally. They fear bidding wars for free agents will artificially drive up salaries for all players and create a league of haves and have-nots. That is a legitimate concern in a sport where most leagues operate that way, but free agency is something all mature sports leagues eventually have to adopt, like it or not, and history shows league revenues and the quality of competition improve once they do.

The new CBA will have an immediate impact for some players on the hometown team:

3. Fans do their part

A Las Vegas-based MLS fan sent the league owners and players flowers in hopes it would lighten tensions in the mediation room.

Jon Fish wasn’t sure his package would ever make it to the suite, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

He asked the florist to write on  the card, “Please come to an agreement soon, signed the fans.”

“It’s just a little nudge from the fans to the league and the players’ union, ‘Hey guys, do what you can to make this work.’ . . . We all want MLS to be a top-five league in the world,” Fish said before an agreement was reached. “… We can’t have a labor dispute right now in a season when we have a chance to make a lot of headway.”

The bouquet of mixed flowers cost Fish $70, but the Sentinel reports soccer fans on the Internet have offered to defray those costs as the settlement was reached shortly after the delivery.

4. Timbers’ fans were either optimistic or oblivious

A potential impending labor strike didn’t stop the “Timber Army” from celebrating its namesake.

OregonLive.com’s Jamie Goldberg wrote a funny play-by-play of the Portland fan group’s tradition, which has been evolving since 2008. It was born when mascots “Timber Jim” Serrill and “Timber Joey” Webber first brought about 20 people to eat breakfast at Camp 18 and then cut down the team’s tree at Timber Junction.

But over the years, the tradition has morphed and grown. The group now arrives at Camp 18 before the start of every Timbers season to reconnect over breakfast, pay respect to the locale’s rich history with a guided tour of the property’s logging museum and loggers memorial and assemble the children together to plant trees in a large field on the edge of the property. In the late morning, the group then finally reconvenes to place their hands on the ceremonial log and recite the Timbers Toast.

“It’s just a chance for us to gather together as a Timbers community,” Serrill says. “We’ve been apart all winter long and this is one of the first outings that we have. We thought it was only fair that we bless the log for more goals.”

Although Goldberg’s Wednesday morning story didn’t highlight anxiety about a strike, the Timber’s Army did take to Twitter to note the resolution.

Not missing a moment to troll, fans of the Timbers’ rivals from the north offered a less-than-glowing prognosis for this year’s team.

Portland kicks off the season Saturday at Providence Park against Real Salt Lake City. Tickets started at $45 on StubHub as of Thursday morning.

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