MLS Soccer: Strike Averted, New CBA Signed!

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Seattle Side Up Abraham Profile PicMajor League Soccer and its player’s union have come to terms on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).  The MLS season will begin this weekend as planned.

“We are pleased to finalize the framework for a new collective bargaining agreement with our players,”

–MLS Commissioner Don Garber

Entering its 20th season, a suspension of MLS games due to a strike would have been a disaster for the sport.  In the past five years, MLS has added six teams, signed a television deal worth $720 million, and enjoyed record average crowds at nearly 20,000 spectators a game.  A strike could have undone many of the gains MLS has made in raising the game’s profile in America.

Work stoppages have been a disaster for other leagues such as the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and National Hockey League (NHL).

Pay Disparity

Among the chief gripes by the players was a lack of free agency and the lower minimum wage in professional sports ($36,000).   The low wage has been made more egregious by players with the institution of the Designated Player rule (DP); a rule that allows each team to pay their top players above the salary cap.

In the following table, we see that the Sounders salary for its players excluding the 3 DPs (Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martin, and Osvaldo Alsonso) is close to $2.7 million.   Meaning that ~$8.5 million is going to the top 3 players.   While Dempsey makes $5 million a year, 1/3 of the team makes less than $100k a year, of which several players make a meager $36k a year.

2014 Sounders FC Salary $9,433,138 $11,541,265
Salaries w/o Designated Players $2,500,134 $2,692,743

The new CBA will raise that minimum wage from $36,500 to $60k. 

Free Agency

Similar to Major League Baseball before 1974, MLS is restrictive for free agency; this has been an issue for the MLS Players Union.  The new CBA deal provides for free agency for players at least 28 years old with eight seasons of league service.

This will impact many teams who have locked down veteran players with indentured servitude, this CBA takes steps to increasing the competition for quality veteran players.  There will however, be a cap on free agent salaries.  So veterans will have an opportunity to move between teams, but there will be controls to prevent bidding wars among teams.

Final thoughts

The acceptance of the CBA is a giant win for every one.  A strike would have alienated fans, especially in newer markets.   Additionally, players from S. America, Asia, and Europe will be enticed to come play in the MLS due to the increased salary.  Although the owners stand to lose some power, in the long run, keeping the season running will increase the value for their teams.

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