MLSPA submits revised deal as lockout looms

In a bid to avoid the first work stoppage in league history, the MLS Players Association submitted to MLS its latest proposal for a revised Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

The MLSPA offer attempts to find a compromise with what MLS has proposed. In the MLSPA proposal, the terms of the CBA would be extended by one year. The union is asking for players 23 years of age and higher and with at least four years of service to qualify for free agency in 2025 and 2026. The previous free agency threshold was 24 years of age and 5 years of service.

The MLSPA is also offering reductions in the salary cap in every year from 2022-25, while also reducing the amount of revenue sharing in the next media rights deal to 12.5 percent for 2024. All told, the MLSPA said the total amount of concessions would be around $53 million.

MLS had previously asked for a two-year extension to the CBA and a freeze in the salary budget from 2021 to 2022 in exchange for no cuts to salary or bonuses in 2021. MLS said their initial offer would amount to between $100-110m in concessions.

“Players and staff have clearly borne substantial risk to their physical health because of the pandemic,” the MLSPA said in a statement. “With these concessions, players have also unquestionably borne a substantial portion of the league’s Covid-related financial losses. To the extent that those losses continue beyond current expectations, the CBA allows teams to further reduce expenses by adjusting their discretionary spend. Most importantly, this offer creates a revised CBA framework to ensure the continued growth and stability of MLS in the years to come. In exchange for and in recognition of these concessions, the proposal includes modest non-economic changes for the 2025 and 2026 seasons, changes that would benefit players by reducing the age for free agency eligibility by one year and decreasing some of the restrictions on free agent earnings.

“While concessions are always difficult to make, players have seen first hand the severe impact the pandemic has had on MLS. They recognize and appreciate the collective sacrifice that was required from league staff, club staff, matchday employees, ownership groups and fans to complete the 2020 season, and they recognize that this impact will continue to be felt by all as the 2021 season gets under way. Today’s proposal will allow players, fans and the entire MLS community to get back to the crucial business of building this league for the years and decades ahead. A work stoppage at this time and in this environment would be catastrophic for the standing of MLS, both domestically and internationally. It is our sincere hope that it can be avoided. Players are ready to play.”

The two sides have been engaged in CBA negotiations ever since MLS invoked a force majeure clause on Dec. 29. This was done in response to the continued adverse economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has led to concerns by MLS that they are looking at another season with few or no fans in the stands. Given the league’s dependence on gameday revenues, MLS felt it was facing another year of steep losses. MLS has claimed that in 2020, the league lost nearly $1 billion, with $725 million directly tied to the pandemic.

The invoking of the clause reopened negotiations for 30 days, after which either side could nullify the CBA, or negotiations could continue.

MLS has insisted that the end of the 30-day window, set to occur at midnight on Thursday, was a hard deadline. In a memo sent out on Wednesday, MLS president and deputy commissioner instructed the league’s teams and staff to prepare for a work stoppage in case an agreement on a CBA couldn’t be reached by Thursday night.

The union has countered that MLS invoked the force majeure out of financial opportunism instead of financial necessity, especially after making $150 million in concessions in the most recent CBA which was negotiated last June.

The reopening of negotiations marks the third time in the last year that the two sides have been involved in CBA talks. The two sides reached an agreement in principle last February, but neither side formally ratified the deal. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, MLS reopened negotiations, with the two sides agreeing on a revised deal last June.

Earlier this week, MLS announced that training camps ahead of the 2021 regular season would commence on Feb. 22. The regular season is set to begin on April 3.

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