What sports fan doesn’t just love talking about collective bargaining? I mean, who among us hasn’t had their heart flutter after a good discussion about player contract limits, or international roster spot limitations?
That’s what we got into sports for, right?
Ok, maybe not. But, let’s face facts. If we are fans of MLS, we had better at least have a passing understanding of the spiderweb of rules that make up the structure of Major League Soccer. So, the make-up of the CBA should matter to you.
And, that’s to say nothing about the potential of a work stoppage. Whether games are played or not is undeniably a huge deal for fans. You can’t be fans if there is nothing to fan about.
Yesterday on SoccerToday, we devoted half the show to the discussion of the MLS CBA. Sadly, this has been a regular occurrence over the seven-year history of the show, just as it was during It’s Called Football’s four-year run. I’ve devoted approximately 4,874,869 words to talking about MLS labour agreements. It’s a living.
One of the reasons that it’s a constant topic is that there has rarely been labour peace in the MLS world. Sure, there have been years where we were too far from the end of the contract for it to be front of mind, but the reality is that the power dynamic between the owners and players has always been such that the players have felt taken advantage of.
They say that a CBA negotiation in a “big four” sport is billionaires vs millionaires (which makes it difficult for fans to empathize with either side), but in MLS it’s billionaires vs hundredthoudsandaires. It’s hard to find leverage in a negotiation when the other side has So. Much. More. Money than you.
All of that history matters now as we enter the current negotiation. It informs it. And it could derail it.
Before we continue, a brief tl;dr of the current situation (if you’d rather hear this explained, check out the link to SoccerToday above).
MLS and MLSPA negotiated a new CBA in Jan 2020. Everyone was happy. The players talked about them finally feeling like partners rather than employees in the relationship with the owners.
Lots of smiles and handshakes ensued. All that was left to do was ratify it. No problem, thought everyone, it’s not like a once in a lifetime global pandemic would turn the world on its head 6-weeks later.
As we all know, March 16 happened and the “partnership” suddenly became a dictatorship again (according to the players). The owners evoked one of those fine print things you see in contracts that no one ever pays attention to (this is called the force majeure) and forced the players to renegotiate.
It didn’t go smoothly, but the players eventually agreed to play the weird stop and start season that was 2020 at a 5% pay cut. The owners also demanded that the CBA be extended an extra year to 2025. The owners like predictability so extending the CBA works for them. Players want to push the envelope (and get more money, as any worker would) each negotiation. So, a shorter deal does not suit them.
Flash forward to now and, well, the owners want the players to agree to the same deal, only they want to extend the CBA an additional two years through the 2027 season. They asked for this in a diplomatic and sensible way and the players fully acc…
I joke. No, they basically are holding a knife to the players throat and telling them that this is what is going to happen. Otherwise, there will be no CBA at the end of January due to once again hitting the players with the force majeure.
Make no mistake. If the players don’t agree to this 5% cut and extension to the CBA agreement then the owners will 100% lock them out. The owners likely think that playing hardball now is relatively risk free. Outside of the subscribers to lists like this, one no one is going to lose much sleep if the Colorado Rapids aren’t playing soccer come March.
The owners likely feel that skipping the spring will save them a bunch of money, that the players would run out of money by the summer and, then they would play a short season and still get their confetti moment in December.
Sadly, they probably aren’t wrong.
So, should the players just suck it up and agree to the owners demands? It does seem reasonable that the players share in the losses that the owners will likely feel due to the damn virus forcing us to play in empty stadiums for at least part of 2021.
Look, it’s not my place to tell the players what to do, but I would argue that they have sacrificed a lot already over a long period of time. They have agreed to some of the, frankly, dumbest movement restrictions in the history of sport. And, they did so under duress. Remember: Much. More. Money.
I suspect the players will cave again. They need to eat. However, here’s the thing: The same situation that makes a lock-out less risky than usual are also in place for a strike. If they can cover the bills for a few months maybe it might be time to force the issue. Otherwise, the infuriating and bizarre rules and restrictions that MLS is addicted to may never go away.
As for what a work stoppage would mean to us, the fans?
Well, were not going to the stadiums to the summer at the earliest anywhere so….
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