The Sweeper: A Strike Would Not Kill Major League Soccer

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“Effective at midnight tonight, our collective bargaining agreement with MLS will expire,” MLS Players’ Union executive director Bob Foose said.

“While we expect that negotiations with MLS will resume at some point, there simply hasn’t been enough progress made in the negotiations to date to warrant an extension of the old agreement. We have advised our players to keep working for the time being, but as of Friday they will be doing so without a CBA. In the meantime, all options are being considered as the process continues. We are completely committed to forging real changes to the way MLS players are treated.”

So, no strike right away by the players’ union; but with negotiations at a pause and no extension to the collective bargaining agreement in place, ballot papers on a strike are presumably speeding around the country as we speak.

Ridge Mahoney explains the scenario:

“The options include striking, because if the CBA is no longer in force, neither are the clauses by which the union promises not to strike and the league promises not to lock the players out. So, technically, the players can train and play while holding the strike threat in hand, and the owners can elect to lock the players out. “

A strike, Mahoney says, would be a “clear lose-lose.” Many less pragmatic observers are going much further, and believe a strike would kill stone dead the development of soccer in the United States, especially in a World Cup year.

As Kenn Tomasch puts it, “It’s trendy and chic and makes you look like you’re in the cognoscenti when you shake your head slowly and say “A strike would kill soccer in this country” with a tight frown on your face.”

Just “stop”, Kenn urges you.

Kenn asks:

  • “Are the people funding Major League Soccer going to stop funding Major League Soccer after a work stoppage? Are they just going to fold up their tents and stop operating teams?”
  • “Will players who either go on strike or get locked out end their professional careers and stop playing in Major League Soccer at the conclusion of a work stoppage?”
  • “Will the communities and companies that have funded the league’s nine soccer-specific stadiums (with others either planned or hoped for) just bulldoze them and turn them into shopping malls?”
  • “Will the teams at the Division II level just say “Eh, there’s no point in playing if they’re not playing, so we’ll fold, too?”
  • “Will fans stay away in droves from Major League Soccer matches when they resume after a work stoppage?”

We agree with Kenn that the answers to all of those questions are “no”, to a resounding degree in most cases. The last question is perhaps the trickiest; we’d see a fall in attendance temporarily, particularly a loss of casual fans, but the pockets of probably all of MLS owners are deep enough to weather that storm, should it come to it. There’s a reason MLS only lets seriously rich billionaire dollar companies and individuals to buy into the league (of course, that’s one reason the players are being intransigent about their own demands).

A strike would not be good for for MLS, certainly; but soccer in this country has survived many not good things before, as has MLS. As Kenn concludes, “If not having a major league for a decade didn’t kill the game, a brief work stoppage isn’t going to do it.”

Quick Hits

  • As Portsmouth enter administration, Stoke City prove it’s possible to be a medium sized provincial club in the Premier League and be debt-free: “Figures announced for the year 2008-09, the club’s first season in the Premier League, show the Potters made a net profit of £503,000 at the end of the last trading year, after transfers, and had an increased turnover of £54m – up from £11m in their last season in the Championship.”
  • Arsenal, meanwhile, have announced pre-tax profits of £35.2 million, and perhaps most importantly for the club in contrast to some of its bigger competitors, “Debts at Arsenal Holdings, the Gunners’ parent company, were slashed from £332.8m to £203.6m.”
  • Complaints by Celtic about the standard of refereeing in the Scottish Premier League ahead of their Old Firm derby against Rangers means “the risk of disorder on and off the pitch at Sunday’s Old Firm fixture has been needlessly heightened”, according to former referee Kenny Clark.

The Sweeper appears daily. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.

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