The Sweeper: Players, MLS Break the Silence on CBA Talks

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Reacting to player comments on on-going collective bargaining agreement talks made on Friday (part of a clumsy player PR ploy, according to Jason Davis), Major League Soccer president Mark Abbott has spoken out on the league’s position on a new CBA.  While he defended the league’s offer to players, mentioning a proposed increase in league salary spending to $60 million over the next five years, he also spoke about the major sticking point in negotiations: free agency under MLS’ single-entity structure.  Steve Goff quotes Abbott:

“That is something the league is not prepared to do,” [Abbott] said of free agency within MLS. “What is important to understand is that our league is in a different situation than the other professional sports leagues in North America. When it comes to players, we function in an international market and other leagues are not subject to our salary budget and do have greater resources. It is that dynamic that makes us different from other sports leagues in the U.S., and that’s why we don’t believe free agency works for us. The players have an opposite view, but our view is that it’s not something that is good for the continued growth and development of the league. Our system was designed to counteract the international market.”

Both Goff and Kenn Tomasch question how allowing players released from their club to move freely between MLS teams will destabilize the league and raise costs for owners.  Goff asks, “What is the harm in a player declaring his intent to remain in MLS but wanting to play for a different club?”  Meanwhile, Tomasch also wonders, “If you don’t want a player, why shouldn’t he be free to seek employment elsewhere (like any other worker in any other field in America)?”

Whatever the league’s rationale behind rejecting free agency for players (feel free to sort through Abbott’s remarks on Soccer by Ives for more on the subject), it’s apparently enough to force a work stoppage.  MLS has already stated it’s more than happy to start the season without a new CBA, putting the onus to strike on the players.  Several bloggers, including Fake Sigi, have already argued the league will have the upper hand in any work stoppage, so it remains to be seen how far players will be willing to go to challenge the arguably illogical notion that some form of free agency will kill MLS’ single-entity structure, rob it of all its players, and bankrupt the league.

Quick Hits

  • Kenn Tomasch with an excellent article detailing the last professional soccer strike in America, the NASL in 1979.  It didn’t last long, didn’t involve everyone, and was generally a big, fat mess: “For less than a week in 1979, the NASL played a confusing game of ‘What’s My Lineup? with some players walking out, some walking on, and many walking around wondering exactly what was happening.”  How much there is to learn from this “strike” for this time around remains to be seen…
  • Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, Jaime Jackson continues his excellent coverage of Portsmouth‘s winding-up woes for the Guardian, today revealing some sticky details about Pompey’s enormous wage bill: “Once tax and NI payments are added to the basic £1.8m players receive each month, and other staff wages are taken into account, the club are still shelling out far more in wages than their Premier league TV money and matchday income combined. The chief executive, Peter Storrie, accounts for more than £100,000 a month and earns £1.4m a year.”
  • Depending on your point of view, the remarks of a spokesman for the Manchester United Supporters Trust quoted in the Independent this morning will either be heartening or maddening: “This is surely no coincidence. United have scored an incredible 19 goals, and the fantastic atmosphere created by all supporters, but especially those wearing the colours of green and gold, has undoubtedly been transmitting to the players on the pitch.”

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