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Volume 21 No. 27
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CBA gains go beyond deals and dollars, MLS union chief says

The new MLS collective-bargaining agreement, which provides a form of free agency for players in the league for the first time, should be judged not only by the number of deals and the dollars but also by the new quality of life it provides for players, said Bob Foose, executive director of the MLS Players Union.

“Practically speaking, it’s not just for the guy to choose where he goes,” Foose said. “It’s also a real change in circumstance for a player who is renegotiating his contract with a team. So, you won’t just judge this by how many players switch teams. You will also judge it by how those renegotiations go.”

Additionally, Foose said, players hope the change will give teams incentive to treat their existing employees well, because good players now have the opportunity to move to another team.

“If [MLS teams] are perceived as not treating their players fairly, then it is going to have an impact on their business.
Bob Foose
Executive Director,
 MLS Players Union

Photo by: MLS PLAYERS UNION
“Broadly and somewhat fundamentally, now, for the first time in MLS history, teams have to be very careful on how they perceive the player pool in total,” Foose said. “If they are perceived as not treating their players fairly, then it is going to have an impact on their business. So that is the real broad change and probably hard to quantify, but substantial.”

The deal, announced earlier this month, will allow players with eight years in the league and above the age of 28 to switch teams, although the increases in the amounts free agents can be paid by their new MLS teams will be limited to between 15 percent and 25 percent, depending on their previous salaries.

“It is certainly not a perfect system,” Foose said. “But it is real progress for us. It is somewhere where the owners said they would never be willing to go.”

Mark Abbott, MLS president and deputy commissioner, said the agreement is a fair deal for both the league and the players.

“What we always said is a core tenant of our structure is clubs would not bid against one another,” Abbott said. “We were able to create a structure that allows players at a certain point in their careers to be able to choose their market and increase their compensation.”

Under the new system, the league will still be signing contracts, but will not have the power to veto the contracts or interfere with player movement or compensations within the limit of free agency rules.

“A player is going to choose where to play,” Foose said. “That’s unequivocal.”

The players agreed to the basic terms of the deal March 4, about 48 hours before MLS was to play its first game. Before the last few weeks of the talks, players had been stating publicly that they intended to strike if they did not obtain some form of player movement.

Foose said that the solidarity of the players was key to obtaining the new free agency rights and that getting it was not a foregone conclusion. About 12.5 percent of the players in MLS meet the free agent guidelines, Foose said.

In addition, players also wanted raises, which they received. “The average salary of the senior roster guys will go from about $126,000 to about $186,000,” Foose said. “So there is real economic improvement for those core roster players who are not designated players.”

> PLAYBOOK SIGNS STEVE SMITH: Playbook Inc. has signed Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. for broadcast work and has negotiated a deal with him to be a co-host of morning drive Sirius/XM radio show “The Opening Drive.”

Smith will be represented by President and CEO Reed Bergman and vice president of client development Kristin Bredes LaFemina.

Smith is represented by Derrick Fox Inc. for on-the-field work.

Smith’s deal with Sirius/XM is only in the offseason and his radio appearances are planned for one weekday, for now. “He wants to start with radio and I think he wants to see how this goes, and we will take it from there,” LaFemina said.

The deal is part of a trend that began a few years ago of major leaguers preparing for a broadcast career while they are still playing. Bergman also recently negotiated a deal for New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford with ESPN Radio to be part of its nationally syndicated offseason lineup on Saturday mornings.

“One of the things we are really focused on is helping athletes, mostly football players and some MLB players and some NBA players, really transition off the playing field and onto their new careers,” Bergman said. “It has been important to us to identify the right players — world-class athletes who have the charisma, the presence, that are thoughtful and would be likable as on-camera personalities.”

Other Playbook clients include former NFL players-turned-broadcasters David Diehl, Jesse Palmer, Amani Toomer, Takeo Spikes and Greg McElroy.

> TRASK REVEALS BOOK TITLE: CBS Sports NFL analyst and former Oakland Raiders CEO Amy Trask, who is busy writing a book on her life as an executive in the NFL, has a title for the memoir: “You Negotiate Like a Girl.”

Trask, who is represented by Maxx Sports & Entertainment President Mark Lepselter, has a deal with Triumph Books to write the book, which is due out around the beginning of the 2016 regular season. Lepselter has previously told SportsBusiness Journal that it will not be a “tell-all.”

But Trask said last week it will provide an inside look into her life as a female executive by way of what she said she hopes will be interesting anecdotes.

The title of the book, Trask shared last week, is based on a real-life story that occurred when she was CEO of the Raiders around 2007.

“It is about the time I was told by someone — who shall remain nameless for now — quote, You negotiate like a girl, close quote,” Trask said. “I will share the anecdote, my reaction to it and how I approached it, and I believe the manner in which I approached it will surprise a lot of people.”

Trask is writing the book with Bleacher Report NFL writer Mike Freeman.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.