Earlier this month, much hubbub was made that the Major League Soccer Players Union had yet to reach an agreement with the MLS regarding the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Up until the third day of negotiations on March 4th, the players were still maintaining their demand of free agency. It seemed that the games that were set to begin later that week on Friday, March 6th were doomed to be delayed. However, early Thursday morning on March 4th, it was revealed that the Players Union and MLS had indeed reached a framework of an agreement.
The High Points
Free agency was granted to the players of MLS… with some major caveats. As ESPN FC reported,
“Players 28 years of age or older, and with at least eight years service in the league — not necessarily with the same team — will be eligible for free agency. While there are no limits to the raise that their existing team can give them, the raise that other teams can offer is limited based on the player’s current salary. Players making under $100,000 can receive a 25 percent raise, players earning between $100,000 and $200,000 can receive a 20 percent raise, while those making over $200,00 will be limited to a 15 percent raise.”
Other concessions were made such as the 7 percent annual increase on the salary cap and an increase in the minimum salary to $60,000 per year were significant gains made by the Players Union. The minimum salary gains, in particular, represented a near doubling of the previous minimum of $36,500. The new CBA will last for 5 years, allowing for bargaining talks to continue once again in 2020.
By and large the reactions to the new CBA were positive, with owners and fans breathing a collective (pun intended) sigh of relief that the games would be played as scheduled. The players, on the other hand, were disappointed as their demands were not fully met.
Don Garber, league commissioner of the MLS, felt positively about the new agreement:
“This agreement will provide a platform for our players, ownership and management to work together to help build Major League Soccer into one of the great soccer leagues in the world,” commissioner Don Garber said in a statement.”
The executive director of the MLS Players Union, Bob Foose, also applauded the new CBA:
“We are pleased to announce that we have reached a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the league. We are pleased to finally turn our fans attention back to our players and the competition on the field as we get started on the 2015 season.”
Some have questioned if Foose pushed hard enough for the demands of the players, but he remains the stance that he was able to get the best deal from the MLS. The best deal may not have been the ideal deal, but it was better than any other offer that was on the table.
However, other stakeholders were not nearly as positive. One veteran player, who elected to remain anonymous, had these remarks about the new CBA:
“An absolute disgrace. We have been talking about this for over a year, staying united and this what we came up with? We caved in under pressure. Some of the guys at the negotiating table had personal agendas. Granted, some of those issues would not necessarily benefit us older players, but it will have been huge for the sport in this country. It would have benefited future MLSers and the current young player. But instead, we failed miserably once again.”
The modified free agency represents a concession of the owners to satisfy the players, but it does not nearly come close to the players’ original visions and demands for free agency. Firstly, the “free agency” is limited to veterans of the league of over 28 years with 8 years of play in the league. While this is an improvement to the original 32 years of age required for free agency, the limit still imposes a restriction on the “open market” that the players demanded. Furthermore, free agency in the MLS will not allow competing teams to offer as much money to a player as his original team. If a player were to outperform their contract and demand a raise, the original team would not be forced to pay a significantly greater raise than what the market could offer him, which is blatantly capped. Thus, the new free agency is actually a capped restrictive free agency only available to veterans.
Though the players may be upset that they were not granted unrestricted free agency, the fact is that the players were able to make significant strides in the minimum salary of other players. Furthermore, complete free agency was more indicative of a revolutionary CBA rather than an evolutionary one, as was the one that finally was agreed upon. At this stage of the growth of MLS, the players simply do not have enough leverage to demand completely open free agency, however, they can look to the minimum wage increases as a significant step in the right direction as their eternal compromise with MLS owners continues in 2020.