They met at conference tables, they drank coffee, they brought in federal mediators. There was very nearly a strike. But the MLS Players Union and Major League Soccer have finally figured out the basics of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here are 10 answers to questions you might have about the new MLS CBA.
1. So, definitely no strike?
No strike—the season will begin as scheduled. The CBA hasn’t actually been signed yet, and there are still some details to be worked out, but MLS and the MLS Players Union finally agreed to a deal, in principle, late Wednesday night. LA Galaxy vs Chicago Fire will open the season on Friday night and MLS 2015 will not be anything like NHL 2004.
2. Did the players get what they wanted?
Sort of. The main thing the players wanted was free agency, meaning players have freedom to entertain offers from other MLS teams once their contract expires, and with interested teams rather than MLS head office deciding what each player is worth. What the players got was a VERY limited form of free agency.
3. Details please …
Players aged 28 or older, who have played in the league for eight years or more (with any team), are free agents once their contract expires. They are free to entertain offers from any team in the league.
4. And then they get a big salary bump?
Not really. The new deal puts limits on how much a free agent’s new salary can increase by. If they were making <$100,000 then the increase is capped at 25 percent, if making $100,000-200,000 the increase is capped at 20 percent, and if making >$200,000 the increase is capped at 15 percent.
5. And how many player are eligible to be free agents?
The 28 and eight formula means only around 10 percent of current MLS players are eligible. All other players are stuck playing for who the league tells them to play for and for how much the league tells them they’re worth.
6. Why would the players accept that?
Some of them didn’t. There are a handful of anonymous quotes out there from players who were fully prepared to strike for better terms, and all indications are that seven MLS teams voted against the agreement. But negotiations began with MLS saying “no free agency, ever, now shut up” and has ended with the league accepting that free agency is part of Major League Soccer. It’s more of a philosophical win for the players than a financial one—and you could even make the case that MLS started from such an extreme position as a negotiating tactic and ultimately got what they wanted.
7. What about minimum salaries?
Those are going up, up, up. The 2014 minimum salary was $36,500 and the 2015 minimum will be $60,000. It’s not LeBron money, but it’s a 64 percent raise for the league’s lowest earners and it means that the MLS minimum now is more than enough to live on. Some players might even get their own apartments.
8. How long will the CBA run for?
Five years, so we’ll be back for renegotiation in 2020. That’s another small win for the players because the league wanted the CBA to last for eight years. And when 2020 rolls around, the players will negotiate to lower the numbers in that 28 and eight formula.
9. What do the owners get out of this?
Well, they had to cave on their “no free agency ever” stance, which damages their claim to be a single entity (as opposed to a series of competing teams). But they do maintain a lot of weapons for keeping costs down. Only 10 percent of players being eligible for free agency, plus the hard limit on how much a free agent’s new contact can increase, will keep costs nice and predictable for team owners/league investors.
10. So should MLS fans be happy?
Yes. The players could maybe have extracted more if they’d played some extra hardball, but the fact that we won’t have a strike and that the 2015 MLS season, complete with 60,000 tickets sold for Orlando City SC vs New York City FC on opening weekend, will go ahead is worth a big sigh of relief. The fact that the owners saw at least some and allowed some form of free agency is also worth celebrating. If not now, then in 2020.
—Daryl co-hosts the Total Soccer Show podcast, where you can find plenty of discussion about the MLS CBA.