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Garber Feels CBA Sets Stage For A New
Relationship With Players, Like Donovan
MLS and the MLS Players Union reached agreement Saturday on a new five-year CBA that will improve player compensation, give most players guaranteed contracts and improve players' ability to move from team to team. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the new deal will “very positively … set the stage for a new relationship" between MLS and its players. He added, “Our goal was to improve our relationship with the players and address their deepest concerns, but do so in an evolutionary way rather than revolutionary way.” MLSPU Exec Dir Bob Foose said, “The negotiations certainly had emotional ups and downs for everyone involved ... but our commitment on both sides never wavered to get it done.” The new agreement will not provide free agency, a chief sticking point in negotiations because players wanted it and MLS owners refused to concede on it. But the deal will give players greater ability to change teams as the result of a newly created “reentry draft.” Players who are cut, whose options are not picked up by their teams or whose contracts expire will enter the draft at the end of the season and teams will be able to pick them up and sign them to new agreements. The concept was developed by the union. Foose acknowledged the union made progress on the issue of free agency, but “not as much as we would have chosen.” Garber said, “MLS was founded on the principle that our owners would not be competing against each other for player services. When we think of free agency, it's that concept of internal bidding, and there will not be internal bidding for player services.” Galaxy F Landon Donovan said, “Going forward, we're going to have a real relationship with the league as opposed to being combative at times. We're all mainly excited that we get to play soccer this year, and we're all very, very proud of what we accomplished here" (Mickle & Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS: Garber on Saturday stressed that MLS' "single entity system that seemed one of the main points of disagreement among the sides will remain in place." Garber: "It's not the system that's important to the league and how that system allows us to strategically manage our system." He said that TV revenue and attendance are "two keys issues both sides understood need to be improved for the league to improve financially." Garber: "We also collectively agreed we need to grow our television ratings and attendance" (SEATTLEPI.com, 3/20). Negotiations went overnight until 2:00am ET Friday and 8:00am Saturday, "with players watching NCAA tournament games" (AP, 3/20). The negotiations dating back to the middle of last week "ranged deep into the night, with 25 player representatives from the 16 teams sitting through hours and hours of negotiations." Garber: "I've never seen a group of players that have been more focused, more committed, more knowledgeable about the issues" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 3/21).
Twellman Believes Deal Starts
Process For Free Agency To Evolve
ALL ABOUT PLAYER RIGHTS: Foose said, "There is real progress on correcting certain situations that were vitally important to our players involving movement within the league. There are changes there, significant changes." He added, "These negotiations were always about player rights. While, of course, the players did want to see reasonable increase in compensation, the rights were our central theme all along. We think we have made some real improvements in players' ability to move throughout the league" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/21). The MLSPU said that only about 38% of players had guaranteed contracts under the former CBA, and Dynamo GK and player rep Pat Onstad said that will increase to 56-57% under the new contract. Onstad: "There is no free agency, and that was a big battle. ... There's a lot of areas we're very pleased with, and there are some areas that are going to be a tough sell to the membership" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/21). Wizards D and player rep Jimmy Conrad said of the re-entry system, "If anything, it just puts some pressure on your team to make a decision on you." Wizards F and player rep Josh Wolff added, "I don't think we ever expected to get free agency in its perfect sense, but this is something that allows players to move (around). It certainly gives us more options than we had before" (K.C. STAR, 3/21). Revolution F and player rep Taylor Twellman: "This is a monumental moment. ... We won't know how big this day is until we look back many years from now and say on March 20, 2010, we struck a deal. This starts the process, and down the road, players' rights and free agency will evolve" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/21).
PLAYING KEY ROLES: The talks were supervised by George Cohen, Dir of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Cohen said that he "tried to reach agreement on smaller issues to build momentum." He said he told the two sides, "Western civilization does not hang in the balance" (AP, 3/20). Both Garber and Foose praised Cohen, who acted as a mediator in the talks in the last two weeks, working late nights. They said that without Cohen's assistance a deal might not have been possible (Mickle & Mullen). Donovan said the deal "would not have gotten done" without Cohen and his deputy, Scot Beckenbaugh (ESPNSOCCERNET.com, 3/20). Galaxy D and player rep Todd Dunivant said having Donovan at the negotiating table "definitely helped because he brings a sense of credibility and he's a guy to listen to." Dunivant added, "He didn't just come in at the end and save the day. He was part of the whole process. Even when he was in England, he was on all the conference calls. When he came back, it was a no-brainer that he was going to be there" (AP, 3/22).
AND THE WINNER IS ... ESPN SOCCERNET's Jeff Carlisle wrote while the "biggest winners from the agreement are the league's fans," determining whether MLS or the MLSPU "gained the most was somewhat difficult to determine." It appears that "both sides achieved some important goals, with the players sounding especially pleased with what they gained." The union "got much of what it wanted" in the area of guaranteed contracts, while in terms of "unilateral contracts, the gains seemed minor." The MLSPU also was "able to extract some concessions in terms of wages although neither side would reveal how much." But the league "appears to have carried the day on the issue of free agency, which had been a considerable sticking point in the negotiations." MLS also retained the "right to have final say on approving all player contracts, thus preventing teams from having complete autonomy to negotiate their own deals." Carlisle noted free agency and final right on contracts were "considered to be underpinnings of the league's single-entity system, and from all appearances, that structure has been maintained" (ESPNSOCCERNET.com, 3/20).
Hunter Contends League's
Number Is Overstated
A month after NBA Commissioner Davis Stern declared NBA owners would lose $400M this season, NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter has disputed the number, according to Ken Berger of CBSSPORTS.com. Hunter: “Based upon our review and what we've done thus far, we dispute the $400 million figure. And we plan to present our rebuttal to David and the owners at an appropriate time. Our contention is that the number's overstated." But Berger wrote “there appears to be little hope for bargaining to resume until after" July 1, when "owners and players will embark on what is expected to be the biggest free-agent signing period in NBA history without a clue as to how the financial landscape will look going forward.” Hunter: "I would hope to submit a proposal to the owners any time between May 1 and July 1, with the idea that we would obviously be available to spend a lot of time negotiating during the summer, when the players are available." The union's attorneys and accountants “have been reviewing a mountain of financial data turned over by the NBA” which the league says show “how dire its financial position is.” But the union sees “a mixture of accounting tricks, team mismanagement and the nearly two-year recession as the real culprits in a revenue decline they say is not nearly as large” as Stern has stated. Hunter: "The basis of our objection is just when it comes to general accounting principles. We think that there's been an overstatement, that some of the things that they discount should not be discounted because they relate to non-operating expenses and related parties." Asked if he had a more realistic figure for the league's losses this season, Hunter said, "No, I don't. But we will. We contend it's much less than the $400 million." Hunter specifically pointed to revenue sharing as a key issue. The owners “did not include a revenue-sharing plan in their initial proposal in January,” and Hunter said, "Revenue sharing will be a material piece of our proposal." Hunter did acknowledge that a work stoppage could hamper the league's own projections for growth in the coming years, particularly in international markets, and called "the mere discussion" of a lockout "almost foolish." Hunter: "A lockout would be devastating, there's no question about it. And I'm not so sure, in the face of a lockout, how many teams would actually survive it" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/19).
Selig Not Specific About What
Direction Realignment Should Go
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig on Saturday said that he is "in favor of some realignment of baseball's divisions, but wasn't specific about what direction it should go," according to Dick Kaegel of MLB.com. Selig: "I've always believed in realignment. ... It's a subject that's been in my mind for a long time, but is there anything really to report? No." Kaegel noted a recent report "suggested that Selig's 14-member Special Committee for On-Field Matters" is discussing the concept of "floating realignment." Under this concept, clubs reportedly "would not be assigned to a fixed division, but could shift divisions year to year" (MLB.com, 3/20). Red Sox Owner John Henry in an e-mail said realignment is "worth studying." Red Sox President & CEO Larry Lucchino: "I think it's a pertinent subject that should be revisited from time to time." When asked about the notion that the Red Sox and Yankees should be in separate divisions, Henry said, "That would never happen" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/21).
ALL-STAR GAZING: In K.C., Bob Dutton reported "all signs point to Kauffman Stadium getting" the '12 MLB All-Star Game. The game is the "next one available," and an announcement "could come as soon as next month." Selig on Saturday "declined to confirm Kansas City will get the 2012 game but indicated a decision is imminent." Selig: "I'm very hopeful and believe the Royals are on the right track. We'll make the announcement at the appropriate time" (K.C. STAR, 3/21).
The UFL has been "actively trying to convince the NFL to invest in the junior league in hopes of gaining a valuable senior partner, as well as other investors,” according to sources cited by Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com. The latest proposal, “which would give” the NFL a 30% stake in the year-old UFL, “is not on the agenda for discussion during the NFL owners' meetings” in Orlando this week. Such “a potential move was interpreted by one source as the NFL acquiring another pawn in the chess match” between the owners and the NFLPA when the current labor deal expires in '11. But an owner-based source “refuted that notion,” saying any investment in the UFL would be counter-productive to the NFL's collective-bargaining position. In addition to the 30% stake, the UFL has proposed the NFL will have “at least one seat” on the UFL's board and “a role in the football operations.” Sources “disagree on whether a deal is likely.” Both NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello and a UFL official declined comment. One source said that “the two sides had signed a non-disclosure agreement.” The proposed partnership potentially “would provide additional programming” for the NFL Network, which would broadcast some UFL games, sources said. A source added that if “there ever was a partnership, the NFL would likely use the UFL as a training ground for on-field game officials and possibly experiment with a variety of competitive concepts,” such as it did with NFL Europe (ESPN.com, 3/19).