In the end, they got there.
After a tumultuous week where the threat of an owner-imposed lockout of MLS players seemed imminent, cooler heads prevailed and cleared the way for a return to play. The MLSPA ratified a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on Wedensda, including financial concessions from the players due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic forced MLS to suspend its season, and there is no immediate prospect of a return with fans in the stands. That reality left owners looking at losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. In an attempt to claw back some of those losses, MLS asked the players to agree to a series of pay cuts and other concessions. The parties seemingly were negotiating relatively amicably, until Sunday, when the league demanded the players accept their final offer by 9 a.m. Tuesday, or be locked out.
A lockout would have resulted in the players no longer receiving pay or health benefits. The backlash was swift and harsh, with observers calling the move a callous power play designed to take advantage of the ongoing pandemic. The media backlash reportedly caused some rethinking and on Monday, the league pushed the deadline back to Wednesday at 9 a.m., and backed off some of their demands. By Wednesday, the parties came to an agreement which ensures labor peace.
“MLS Players today ratified a new collective bargaining agreement, which will run through the 2025 season,” the MLSPA said in a release. “Today’s vote also finalizes a plan to resume the 2020 season and provides players with certainty for the months ahead. It allows our members to move forward and continue to compete in the game they love.”
The details of the agreement, as reported by ESPN, include the following:
- The long-rumored Orlando tournament is now all but official, with teams expected to report by June 24. The players will be in a “closed” environment for the duration of the tournament, with teams expected to play at least three group-stage games that will count toward the regular season standings before moving into a 16-team knockout stage. There are plans to resume play in home markets, but are not yet guarantees that can or will happen.
- An across-the-board salary cut of 7.5%. The cut is not retroactive, and begins with the May 31 pay-period.
- Performance and individual bonuses will be capped at $5 million for the 2020 season.
- Salary increases as outlined in the original CBA agreement in February have been delayed for one year.
- The players agreed to include a force majeure clause, which would allow either party to opt-out of the CBA in the event of a unforeseen catastrophic event, such as the ongoing pandemic. MLS attempted to have the clause tied to attendance metrics, but the players pushed back and the league relented. The parties will use language similar to the clause in the NBA. Essentially, that would allow MLS to reduce pay based on a pro-rated basis of cancelled games.
- The CBA has been extended for one year, through the 2025 season. The agreement will now expire on Jan. 31, 2026. That would be approximately six months before the start of the 2026 World Cup scheduled to be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
- Finally, the players reportedly agreed to reduce their percentage of any media revenue from a new television deal to 12.5% of any revenue over $100 million greater than was received in 2022 for the 2023 season, though the percentage will increase to 25% in 2024.
Most teams have begun training either individually or in small groups depending the guidelines of their respective jurisdictions. With all players set to relocate to Orlando for the next six weeks, the hope is that games in Orlando can start by July, with teams then returning to the local markets to conclude a truncated season sometime after the tournament raps up.
While the agreement ensures that soccer fans will see competitive games in 2020, the nature of the negotiations has left a sour taste in the mouths of many, given the pandemic and civil unrest in response to the killing of George Floyd, which has led to mass protests across the country.
“However, we recognize that we are all moving forward — as Players, as fans, as societies, as a world — into a future that looks much different than the one we envisioned a few months ago,” the MLSPA said in a release. “There are problems we face collectively that are both more urgent, and more important, than competing on the field. We are grieving, we are fed up, we expect change, and we expect action. This change won’t come on the field, but it will come partly through the force and determination of all who seek justice and equality.”
MLS has yet to comment on the agreement. The story will be updated when and if they comment.