SBD/Issue 131/Leagues & Governing Bodies

MLS, Players Union Agree To Five-Year CBA Just Days Before Season

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).

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