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Lockout looms with MLS, Union seemingly at an impasse

Disagreement over CBA opt-out clause, wage cuts threaten season.

A-League Rd 26 - Newcastle v Melbourne City Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images

[Update, Tuesday at noon: According to ESPN, It appears as if a lockout has been averted as the two sides have come together with the biggest breakthrough coming on a force majeure clause that would effectively mirror one in the NBA as opposed to one triggered by an attendance decline.]

[Update: Hercules Gomez is reporting that the 9 a.m. Tuesday deadline has been pushed back to 9 a.m. Wednesday, as MLS revises its proposal.]

The prospect of some semblance of a regular season for Major League Soccer took a dark turn Sunday evening, with the league issuing an ultimatum to the players: Agree to our terms, or be locked out.

Multiple reports indicate that MLS responded to the latest proposal from the MLS Players Association by demanding the union accept the league’s latest offer by Tuesday at 9 AM Pacific time. Failure to do so would result in a lockout of the players, according to the reports.

That response has already led to an escalation from the players, with The Athletic reporting Monday morning that the players will refrain from participating in voluntary training. Neither the MLSPA nor MLS have commented on these latest reports.

The demands from MLS are surprising inasmuch as there had been no previous indication that the parties were having an acrimonious negotiation. The league had requested pay concessions from the players, as it became clear that the season would not proceed with fans in the stands, which would dramatically affect the league’s short-term finances. By most accounts, the players as a union were on board with taking some pay cut — though it should be said the feeling was not unanimous.

The main source of contention seems to center around the so-called “force majeure clause”, which would allow the parties to escape the terms of a deal in the case of a national emergency, such as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. According to ESPN, MLS wants the ability to escape the terms of the CBA in the event five teams suffer an attendance drop of 25 percent or more from the previous year. It’s unclear how such a drop would be calculated, given inaccuracies generally in attendance reporting. The MLSPA has offered a similar clause, though the details were not available as yet.

There is also a modest difference in the pay cuts offered by each side, with MLS proposing an 8.75% pay cut, while the union has offered cuts amounting to 7.5%, according to ESPN. Finally, the parties have yet to come to an agreement on adjustment to a modified television revenue sharing plan.

The parties had appeared to agree to the broad parameters for a return to play, starting with a tournament in Orlando. Some of the concerns the players had were resolved, with MLS making accommodations for players with medical concerns or immediate family members who are pregnant, for example. With the Tuesday deadline looming, it’s unclear if that tournament will happen after all.

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