As much as one might think that renegotiating the same deal for the third time in less than a year would be easy, it turns out it can be more complicated than coming to a deal in the first place.
Especially when it is one side applying all the pressure and trust is at an all-time low.
After Major League Soccer invoked the ‘Force Majure’ clause on Dec. 30, which set a 30-day window to discuss potential changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league last week let it slip to media sources that they were looking for a two-year extension of the CBA, among other concessions. On Tuesday, MLS commissioner Don Garber held court with the media to let the public (and players) know that time was of the essence, and the league needed a response from the MLSPA.
“We understand that the MLSPA need some time to review the proposal that we made last week,” Garber said. ”But as of today, we have 20 days to work together to reach an agreement, and we are laser-focused to reach an agreement with our players, ready to sit down with them, day or night, to try to reach an agreement. So there has to be a real sense of urgency from both the MLS league office, our ownership and certainly from the player pool and the MLSPA.”
This urgency was apparently news to MLSPA Executive Director Bob Foose, who held a media call Wednesday afternoon to discuss the league’s proposal and Garber’s comments.
His response to Garber’s comments could charitably be described as “nonplussed.”
Foose for his part ranged from bemusement to frustration at the league’s attempt to again renegotiate the CBA. Having first come to an agreement on the current CBA in January 2020, Foose hailed the player’s relationship with the league as at its zenith, calling the deal a game-changer in, “what it means to be an MLS player.” Then the pandemic hit, and because the sides had not ratified the agreement, it left MLS an opportunity to restructure the deal. That process created a substantial rift with the players
“I think it would be impossible to overstate the damage to the relationship that the league did with the way they conducted things last summer,” Foose said. “It was substantial and will be very long-lasting.”
There are other factors complicating this negotiation. Chief among them is the impact of the coronavirus on the 2021 season. “The fact is right now that neither we nor the league have any idea what impact that pandemic is going to have on finances in the 2021 season,” Foose said.
Typically, in mid-January teams are preparing to report to training ahead of a March start to the season. According to Foose, there has been no indication when training camp is set to begin, because the league hasn’t informed the players when the season will start. “Teams haven’t begun preseason planning, which makes me think it’s [unlikely to start in mid-March],” Foose said. “We’re not able to have an expectation at this point.”
Foose also pushed back on the idea that the league’s proposal to extend the CBA by two years wouldn’t significantly affect player salaries in 2021. Additionally, Foose said that up to 40% of the player budget for this year is “discretionary,” meaning teams have the option not to spend that money should that decide not to.
“[Teams] certainly have the ability and had the ability and will continue to have the ability moving forward to cut significant amounts from their player spend,” Foose said. That amount could range from $1 million to $2 million per team, Foose estimated.
With all of that said, Foose said that the players have no intention of striking, and will abide by the agreement as currently structured. The force majure clause does require both sides to negotiate in good faith during this 30-day window, but it’s unclear what happens after that time expires. If the players do not intend to strike, then the impetus falls to the owners, who could potenially withdraw from the CBA and lock the players out.
Foose declined to comment on whether the players would seek to challenge the invocation of the force majure clause, and reiterated the players won’t be rushed into making a decision. “We’re certainly not looking to continue these talks indefinitely,” said Foose. “At the same point in time it’s critical that we have as much understanding as possible as to what 2021 is going to look like, in terms of our ability to have fans in stadiums and there’s still a ways to go to get that knowledge to get that information.”