The Sweeper: Strike Looms in MLS, Will the Players Lose the PR Battle?

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Despite the efforts of a government mediator, George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, negotiations between MLS and the players’ union in New York have not resulted in an agreement — though importantly, negotiations have not been broken off by either side.

Meanwhile, the players have voted overwhelmingly to give themselves the right to strike if no agreement is reached before the season, and Galaxy players’ representative Chris Klein stated unequivocally that “the players will not start the season without a new CBA in place.”

Ridge Mahoney sums up the three key issues that remain to be resolved very well this morning.

It’s perhaps no surprise it has come down to the wire, with the season opener a mere 13 days away. Indeed, the threat of disrupting that first week of action is the players best bargaining chip right now: the Philadelphia Union are scheduled to play their first MLS game on Thursday, March 25th, and Red Bull New York open Red Bull Arena on March 27th. Both games are live on ESPN, and critical moments in both clubs’ histories.

The timing of it is interesting in two ways. Certainly, it makes sense for the players in terms of their leverage with the league to strike at the last possible moment before the season openers. It puts the league in a very difficult position, right now, quite obviously. Emergency meetings are being held by clubs to figure out what to do.

In terms of its effect on the public, striking at the last moment does the most damage, and there will be a sizable number of hardcore fans obviously upset. Shit, I know of over 200 Fire fans booked to travel to New York for the March 27th game still in the dark about whether there will actually be a game to watch. My estimate is Fire fans collectively have spent about $75-100,000 spent on that weekend already. Some of that will be refundable — game tickets, for example. Some plane tickets will be transferable, and some accommodation and transit will just result in lost deposits.

But it’s a substantial amount of time and money up in the air; months of planning have gone into it. Same goes for many other teams: Philadelphia have a large contingent headed to Seattle for their first game. Houston fans have a big bus trip planned to Dallas. Toronto, though put-off by past visits, are presumably sending a decent number to Columbus, if not the 2,000 of previous trips.

All in all, we’re surely talking hundreds of thousands of dollars paid for in tickets, transit and accommodation by away fans to the opening week’s games, and yet with two weeks to go, we still wait to see whether they will happen.

This isn’t a point for or against the strike as such. But there is a PR battle to be won with fans, and given MLS has said it will not lock-out the players and play can continue without an agreement, that puts the players in a sticky position the longer they leave it to strike. The players, of course, will say it’s the league’s fault for being inflexible to them. I’m not assigning blame for the failure of the two sides to come to agreement here.

The problem is that according to Buzz Carrick, a further vote will be needed by the players to actually go on strike. This means that any strike called will almost certainly only be announced within a few days of the opening game, if not the day before.

This maximises the players’ union’s leverage with the league; it also maximises damage to the league’s most committed fans.

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