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“The options include striking, because if the CBA is no longer in force, neither are the clauses by which the union promises not to strike and the league promises not to lock the players out.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.

10 thoughts on “The Sweeper: A Strike Would Not Kill Major League Soccer

  1. Richard Whittall

    The article goes on to say, “The Coates family have already invested £17m, interest free, and plan to inject another £24m.” The exception proves the rule; the reliance on private investors means you just pray you get a good ‘un instead of a bad ‘un. It’s great the Coates are patient, and enjoy their half a mil pound profit with a debt-free club, but the system of relying on massive cash injections from wealthy individuals just to stay afloat/compete is still messed beyond belief…

    “The most important thing about this club is that it stays in existence, and we have had success on the pitch to match the investment.” Say the Coates. Not everyone would use ‘success’ on the pitch as a proper match to an investment of that size.

  2. Tim

    Wouldn’t say “kill,” I would say see NASL 1.0. Soccer can’t die, but a strike/lockout would slow its growth if not lead to retraction in regards to a true first division.

  3. bkfiv

    Is the goal of MLS just to survive, or should we be hoping like I am that it will grow every year into something better? If it’s just to survive, Kenn’s probably right, it probably won’t die. If we want the league to grow in popularity and playing level, I don’t think this helps at all. I see it as a PR nightmare, plenty of people will stay home, and I don’t even see how what the players are asking for will help raise the game here. Allegedly all they want are better guarantees and free-agency. They’re not asking for the salary cap to be increased and I think this is very narrow & selfish thinking from the players with most to gain. As a fan, if I want the level of play raised, I would like to see more money spent on better players. Some could be from the league, some not. If the (older) players think all the negativity is worth it so guys with few other options can still get paid, it seems like the players are not seeing the big picture here. We’ll see how this turns out, but I don’t like it, whether it ‘kills’ the league or not.

  4. Rory

    The big problem would be that there could be a hit in the attendence post-strike. Since Colorado, FCD, and SJ are all struggling in that department to begin with it could really hurt them. More importantly, could ESPN get out of thier MLS contract if MLS takes the year off? We could quickly find ourselves right back to where we were in 2000 and 2001.

    Most importantly, if there is no agreement then the players contracts can become void, right? How would an MLS look post-strike if every decent player is gone? You ready to see nothing but second stringers who couldn’t go overseas?

  5. Max

    I don’t think you can merely shrug off the threat of a decrease in attendance. MLS is riding a wave of momentum in Toronto, Seattle, and now Philadelphia. These cities have embraced MLS like few others have before, and much of the positive good-will would be wiped out with any significant stoppage.

    Philadelphia? A vitally important market – 4th largest in the U.S. and the quintessential American sports city – what a way to introduce them to the league. 10,000+ season ticket holders without witnessing a game, a controversial state-funded stadium project, and all that gets delayed because EMPLOYED pro athletes walk out on proposed wage increases.

    From a PR perspective, nobody is going to care about the players’ issues. Very few understand the complexities of the league that lead to their issues, and although salaries in MLS are dwarfed by other pro leagues, I doubt the public would be aghast if salaries became widely reported. In the grand scheme of things, most MLS “veterans” (25-35 y.o.) make between $60k-$200k a year. In this economic climate, I don’t see any of their complaints holding too much water with the public.

  6. Bella

    I would go a step further and say that a strike might not hurt MLS at all this year, for all of the reasons mentioned and more. I don’t think MLS has so many casual fans that attendance would change significantly if they were distracted, and I think they will be distracted during the month-long World Cup Finals anyway. In fact I don’t understand how MLS won’t lose most fans during that tournament.

    The League takes a break during most of the two week WC Group Stages yet still resumes before the last day of that stage — but who wants to watch the minor teams, such as Brazil, Spain, Portugal and Ivory Coast scheduled to play on that day, like Brazil, Portugal, Spain and Ivory Coast? Then MLS is back in full schedule throughout the final stages and on the day of the WC final itself. Maybe they think football fans will be so excited by the WC games that they’ll rush out to see their local team in action, but I can’t imagine many people trying to schedule more TV time than they can get to follow what’s happening in South Africa.

    My other thought is that the possible strike is getting more coverage than any normal pre-season. If there’s a strike and the league does the right thing by the players, that will be great for its image. If, on the other hand, it continues to treat the players as they are now treated, many devoted fans — including myself — will be left with a bad taste in our mouths.

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  8. Joseph D'Hippolito

    I think Kenn is wrong on several counts. Let me respond point by point:

    “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?”

    Well, Robert Kraft (owner of the Revs and Patriots) just might if he’s faced with an NFL work stoppage. Stan Kroenke has shown far more interest in Arsenal than in the Rapids. AEG bailed on both the WPS’ Los Angeles Sol and the ill-fated Beckham Academy in Carson. I don’t see how FC Dallas’ owner can afford to operate with the club having almost no credibility in the Metroplex. It’s not as far out as it might seem.

    “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?”

    How many owners will wants some of those players back. How many of those players can afford to continue their careers in the USL or NASL or whatever?

    “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?”

    If they’re not profitable to run, yes. I can see that happening with Pizza Hut Park and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

    “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?”

    With all due respect, Kenn, that’s a stupid question that has nothing to do with MLS.

    “Will fans stay away in droves from Major League Soccer matches when they resume after a work stoppage?”

    Why not, considering that many of those fans already prefer televised soccer from overseas over MLS?

  9. Jack

    “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?”

    Yes. When you operate in the red under the best of circumstances having a player’s strike is a great way to stop the benevolent flow of loan money. You don’t know much about business if you don’t know that. If you don’t have the money to operate your business then you don’t have a business. It doesn’t matter how many cities built you a stadium or how many fans would attend your games if your league still existed. This article should put no one’s mind at ease.