Labor Woes Pushing MLS to the Brink

The Major League Soccer season is scheduled to start on March 25 when the Seattle Sounders host the expansion Philadelphia Union.

Of course, with the owners and players trying to hammer out an collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expired back in January, that date is hardly written in ink.

It is encouraging that MLS president Mark Abbott is on record as saying there won’t be a lockout, but it has me wondering.

If things like free agency are really as important to the players as recent quotes from Jimmy Conrad and Pat Onsted suggest, could we have a strike on our hands?

It doesn’t take very long to go over the history of work stoppages in major sports in the United States – and the adverse affect it had on the the respective sports.

In 2004, the NHL scrapped its entire season. The results for that league in terms of revenue and fan interest are still being felt.

Baseball’s mid-season work stoppage in 1994 resulted in the death of the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals), and the rise of the steroid era (as owners looked the other way in the name of putting fans back in the stands and reviving TV interest in the sport.)

All of that makes me wonder what might happen is the MLS players decide to decline the league’s offer to start the season under the existing CBA?

Frankly, I’m not sure the league could survive a lost season.

The economy, while better than is was a few months ago, is still running at less than full power. Even under perfect labor conditions, you’d have to figure that this might be a down year in terms of revenue for clubs. If the 15th season of MLS doesn’t happen, you’re going to have owners, both old and new, looking for the escape hatch.

Sponsors and TV partners would be left out in the cold as well, something they wouldn’t be likely to forgive and forget down the line.

Fan support will be affected as well.

Hardcore MLS supporters will be heartbroken and understandably bitter, and by extension, slow to embrace the league when it irons out its labor wrinkles.

Casual sports fans will shrug and watch more baseball, setting back the growth curve of American soccer for a decade or so.

I’d like to believe that Abbott and union boss Bob Foose understand that a work stoppage is the last thing that either side wants or needs.

But I said that about the hockey and baseball disputes, and we know how those turned out.

23 thoughts on “Labor Woes Pushing MLS to the Brink”

  1. Players and owners need to come to an agreement for the betterment of the game. Back in 2004 the Lightning won the Stanley Cup and then the lockout happened. The team fell apart and hockey here in the Tampa Bay Area has not been the same, less fan support and talk about the team.

    MLS and football in North America would be hurt if there is a lockout.

    Come on guys and work it out!

  2. I agree 100%. I do not feel that the MLS would be able to sustain itself after a labour strike and possible lost season. In the last couple years more and more people are gradually coming around to the sport but a labour incident would be an absolute, and in my opinion, fatal disaster.

  3. here’s an idea. Pay the players, let them move around the league and pay talent to stay in MLS. Our talent goes overseas to ride the pine which stifles their development. Stop overpaying 30-something has beens and focus on selling keeping top domestic talent and selling young foreign talent to the bigger leagues. How hard is that?



    1. Rex may not exactly be graceful, but he’s right. This really is starting to look like a case where a few older players are leading everyone to the edge of the abyss. Union reps are usually the older players basically by default. And now THEIR selfishness is gonna screw this up for EVERYBODY. It’s so maddening.

  5. I’m a fan of the Galaxy, as my hometown team, but I can’t really work up too much enthusiasm for a league that keeps the most important decisions centrally. It’s just not good for the growth of the sport they are allowed to act like the employer in a one-company town where they pay the workers what they want to, and theyl have to accept it unless they want to move far away (in this case, out of the frakking country!).

    It is wrong that the talented American players face the choice of staying in US and getting paid way less than they are worth because MLS dictates the salary, or leaving the country.

    That’s not good for the American game, and it’s why I’m for a strike if it’s necessary to get real concessions on allowing real movement of players.

    1. Does a MLS central office really negotiate salaries rather than team officials? I assumed that even though the contract is with MLS, the team decides how much they want to offer a player (within the bounds of salary cap/DP rules).

      Players can also move to other US pro leagues. If you’re talking about star players, I’m not sure what you’re after. Are you in favor of unrestricted free agency for all, for players of a certain amount of service time, and does this include a salary cap? I don’t think it’s realistic to hope for any unrestricted free agency and no salary cap, and it’s debatable whether having that would be “good for the American game.”

      It would seem, though, that some compromise regarding players whose contracts have expired should be possible. Set a max paycut allowed; if a team doesn’t offer a player a new contract under these guidelines, he is a free agent. The tricky thing will be what to do if they offer him a contract and he doesn’t accept it. It’s not quite fair to expect teams to grant free agency in this case (at least not across the board), and it’ s not quite fair not to have any sort of restricted free agency or arbitration on the player’s side.

    2. Pedro,
      You seem to think that if the MLS wasn’t a single entity all the salaries would be magically higher due to lack of collusion.
      There is a second factor, very few of the teams are making money. So they have a salary cap, which most teams are at, or approach.

      I happen to think the salary cap could go higher than the amount they are proposing, but that isn’t even the sticking point in these negotiations.

      MY POINT BEING….it is FANS NOT SUPPORTING SOCCER IN THE US that is keeping salaries low. See the rants on the Landon needs to stay in Europe pages site if you don’t agree….there are about 10 pages to choose from.

  6. Well, there really isn’t any motivation for either side to do anything until the deadline is here and then maybe after a short strike. Both sides are going to wait to test the resolve of the other and neither will do anything early.

    So, don’t hold your breath for anthing prior to Thursday night and maybe not even then.

    Here’s hoping that it doesn’t become so emotional that a strike to demonstrate resolve doesn’t get dug in any deeper.

  7. Do the player’s union and league have to decide anything on the 25th…do they actually have to sign an agreement to extend the deadline again? I wonder about that since there’s all sorts of pre-season scrimmages/friendlies going on, including the Disney classic thing.

    1. They don’t have to.
      MLS said they will continue under the old agreement. Last I saw the Players Union had not said one way or the other.

  8. Both sides are IDIOTS for allowing this to get to this point. Soccer last year had some real growth, and this year looks even better with the WC, increased TV coverage, and great new stadiums opening up.

    Years of hard work by MLS, players, and fans will go down the drain if there’s a strike this year.

    Hey! Management AND Labor! Get your heads out of your asses and reach a compromise. I don’t care what the issues are! You’ll be shooting each other in the head if you don’t.

  9. support the players. trust me the league will cave in before the strike even happens once they are at the very tippy edge of it all. the players only need a few more seconds and they get what they want cuz lets face it, the mls execs dont care about players or the game, they want money. they dont want a strike with a new club and a shiney new stadia coming in. with the friendllies set up for santos and turkey and czech rep. they will be losing big time money. mls will cave in before the strike happens. i bet my prized claudio reyna metrostarz jersey on it.

  10. I think GSC is right. In the end the owners will have to cave. There cannot be a work stoppage. After all the progress that has been made, canceling a season, in a World Cup year no less, will set the game back so very much. The NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA have all had strikes/lockouts in the last 30 years, but they have the advantage of being decades old and being very popular. Hockey was hit hard but still it has survived. I’m not sure MLS can survive a work stoppage.

    1. I agree. The owners have the most to lose, and will likely cave. The potential revenue lost from a work stoppage is too great, especially in a World Cup year. Especially if Donovan rips it up in South Africa with the rest of the USMNT.

  11. Garber is just a piece of the puzzle. The ones that made posible that he got where he is now, knew what direction the league was going to go, given his background,wich had NOTHING to do with soccer.

    The cartel allready had a plan.The fans were “locked-out” since the very begining.Never taken in consideration.

    We ended up with quite a few contradictions:
    -on a country bigger than Europe
    -with an economy richer than Italy,France and Spain all together.
    -after 14 years MLS has fewer clubs(…sorry,franchises) than walles.
    -and lower salaries than Norway

    The results on the last two Concacaf Champions League,the only club competition on our Confederation that really matters, speak for themselves.While they try to shove “Superliga” down our throats.

    They are all about marketing, “MAYOR this” “SUPER that”…..Bull’s crap!!!!!

    If we folow the bread scrumbs to the end , we have to realize that USSF is at the center of the problem.The last 14 years after all, happened on their watch.

    Now ,to make things better,Mr Gulatis has being re-elected. In the middle of a posible strike wich place a MAYOR question mark on the system that he masterminded.

    The mising factor that could,in my opinion, make the diference,are the fans.
    The agenda of the narrow interests that have kidnapped our game in America should be very clear by now.

    Get up! Stand up! Support the players!

        1. Ah, ok.

          Spanish is cool as well. Going to learn me some of my country’s second language this year. It’ll put me in 30% of the population of Canada.

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