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MLS proposes players take 20% across-the-board pay cut, report says

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League would likely stand to save tens of millions of dollars.

Kayla Mehring / Sounder at Heart

Following unconfirmed reports of MLS proposing a pay cut of up to 50 percent for some players, the league formally presented an offer to the MLSPA which calls for a less drastic — though still substantial — reduction.

According to Jeff Carlisle and Noah Davis of ESPN, MLS sent a proposal to the players’ union last Friday that would call for a 20% reduction in salaries for the 2020 season. That was less that the reports of a 50% cut, but the new number has a rather significant catch. The reduction would be “across the board” according to the report, meaning that everyone from Designated Players to players making the league minimum would take the same cut percentage-wise.

In the meantime, players have continued to be paid their full salaries. As a result, the previous proposal could have resulted in some players accepting as much as a 75 percent pay cut on remaining checks. The report suggests that in addition to the roughly $31 million the league stands to save on salaries, they’d seek further economic concessions from the players.

“MLS continues to engage in productive conversations with the MLSPA over ways in which we can collectively address challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott told ESPN.

Though the initial proposal of 50% wasn’t confirmed by either side, Stefan Frei in an interview last week told reporters that the first overtures from the league unsettled some members of the players’ union.

“I think the first words we heard from the league were a little bit shocking for some,” Frei said.

That wasn’t to say the players were drawing a hard line against taking a pay cut. In fact, Frei indicated in the same interview that there seemed to be a consensus among the rank-and-file that the situation called for a shared sacrifice.

“We’re eager to do our part, but it has to make sense for everybody at the same time,” Frei said.

Complicating the issue is that the Collective Bargaining Agreement, agreed to in principle by the parties in February, has not been ratified. It’s unclear when that will happen. Another problem is an element missing from 2020 agreement, as well as the previous ones: a force majeure clause that would allow the league to unilaterally institute pay cuts due to the extraordinary circumstances.

The extent of the pay cuts is dependent on when — and if — MLS is able to return, and in what fashion. There are varied proposals for what the league format will be if they are given the go-ahead to resume play, including a tournament, or restricting play to a couple of locations and essentially quarantining the players for an extended period of time. With the various states in different stages of “shelter in place” orders, it’s unclear when or if the league would be able to resume its previous format for this year, to say nothing of having fans in the stands.

As of publishing, the MLSPA has not responded to the report.