We have a deal, again.
While the sequel is rarely as good as the original, and the third installment even less so, for Major League Soccer, the players’ association and fans wanting domestic soccer, the Friday evening announcement of an agreement on a third Collective Bargaining Agreement in about a year will be welcome closure to a seemingly interminable saga rivaling the Matrix trilogy for headache-inducing drama. Or trauma.
“Major League Soccer and the Major League Soccer Players Association today reached a tentative agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement,” the league said in a release. “The agreement, covering the next seven years from 2021 through 2027, is subject to the approval of the MLS Board of Governors and the membership of the MLSPA.”
The respective “i’s” and “t’s” haven’t been dotted and crossed, as the agreement still needs to be ratified by the players’ association this weekend. Ratification is generally a formality when negotiations reach this stage, though in a world where a pandemic continues to rage, nothing should be taken for granted.
That ominous note aside, it appears as though fans can once again look forward to watching soccer ... even if it’s strictly from their couches in most places. But as distasteful as that prospect may be for fans — and the owners who will have to suffer through non-existent gate receipts — still worse was the potential of a owner-imposed lockout, and a likely lawsuit from the players.
The ongoing pandemic, and the resulting financial impacts, led MLS to invoke a force majeure clause, allowing them to engage in negotiations to revise the CBA ratified last June. The original revised offer included a two-year extension and limited raises. The players initially countered with a one-year extension through 2026, and proposed changes to free agency. That led MLS to threaten a lockout if the players did not agree to terms by a league-imposed deadline. That “deadline” was extended one week to allow the parties to continue negotiating and then for an additional day once progress was clearly being made.
Whether the owners would have actually made good on their threat to initiate a lockout will never be known. The league was firm in its demand that the CBA — which originally was set to expire after the 2024 season and then extended through 2025 due to the coronavirus pandemic — be further extended through the 2027 season. This deal would take the agreement past the 2026 World Cup, set to be held in North America and widely expected to be a financial windfall for the league.
For the players’ part, they appear to have won some additional concessions on free agency in the back-end years of the CBA. Additionally, according to an ESPN report, there will be no salary cuts in 2021, and there will be a 10% across-the-board salary increase in 2027 with higher salaries for players classified as senior minimum. The new TV revenue sharing deal will see the players get a percentage of the difference between the new deal, plus $100 million. In the 2023 and 2024 seasons, the players will get 12.5 percent (a decrease in 2024 of 12.5 percent) and from 2025-27 the players will receive 25 percent.
One thing that is unclear is under what conditions the league can use the force majeure clause in the future. According to the ESPN report, the clause can again be invoked after December 1, 2021, meaning the league could once again drag the players to the bargaining table. For now, though, the parties having seemingly averted a work-stoppage and the 2021 MLS season can begin in earnest. Players are due to report to training camps on Feb. 22 and games are scheduled to begin on April 3. The players will be ready to play.