If there is one truth that applies to all sports it is that no news is good news during the preseason. While normally this sentiment would apply to on the field scenarios like injuries or suspensions off-the-field activities like say a labor dispute between owners and a player’s association can also be an ominous sign for things to come. Thankfully for all Major League Soccer supporters contract negotiations between the league and the players association went off without a hitch with both sides agreeing to a new five year deal this winter. While of course the immediate takeaway from the agreement is that there will be no work stoppage there are a number of different items that were agreed upon that should benefit all parties. There were five items that both parties outlined in their press releases that seemed to show that was some solidarity in these negotiations, that both sides realized these needed to be addressed: increased investment in player spending, greater salary budget flexibility across rosters, players to share in media revenue for the first time, an increase in the number of charter flights, expanded eligibility for free agency, and keeping the number of Designated Players at three.
On the surface it appears that the Players Association received everything that they would want. In the new agreement the minimum annual salary for veteran players will increase every year throughout the five years reaching $109,220 in 2024. It also calls for lowering the age and service time before a player can declare for free agency (28 years and eight years of service to 24 years and five years) giving players more the opportunity to see what their value is on the market. Furthermore, the new agreement also makes it mandatory for teams to use charter flights and sets minimum standards throughout the term of the agreement.
There is also the impact that this agreement will have on the renegotiation of television which are set to expire in 2023.In the press release it states, “Beginning in 2023 and 2024, MLS will increase player spending by an amount equal to 25% of the increased media revenue above the amount generated by the league in 2022 plus $100 million”. What this does is ensures that teams have to use a percentage of what they earn in revenue from the contract towards players salaries.
While all of these things are definite wins for the players they are also wins for owners as well. For years the perception has been that MLS owners by and large are risk averse. While they are fans of small, consistent growth the idea of taking of big gambles and working with the players on improving the product were not something that they were interest. Given that some of the older owners were around for when the league nearly went out of existence one can certainly empathize with their position. However, it certainly seemed to stymie growth and from an outsider’s perspective made it seem as if the owners weren’t interested in their clubs.
However, the league is changing in many ways and one such way is with the infusion of new ownership groups who are looking to expand and are unafraid of adding salary. Teams like Atlanta United FC, Los Angeles FC, New York City FC, Seattle Sounders FC, and Toronto FC have moved the goalposts in terms of expectations from the league and have shown a willingness and a desire to spend. That has not only galvanized some of the older ownership to change their methods but also for the league to start moving towards a better relationship with the players. In the past, owners largely treated the players as a minor nuisance. Now it seems to be a much congenial relationship which should make all parties, including those interested in promotion and relegation, very excited.
Although there are still many things that Major League Soccer needs to work on the Collective Bargaining Agreement seems to be a step in the right direction. It gives the players more protections and benefits while also not harming the growth that the league has created over the past decade. If both sides can continue this positive dialogue, then it should be to the benefit of the greater game in North America heading into a very important 2026 World Cup.
By: Sean Maslin