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Leagues: MLS

The Difference Between an American Sports Contract and a European Football Contract


I wanted to follow up Kartik’s excellent post on the nature of the MLS contract with a look at this situation from the MLS owner’s perspective.  If there is one thing the owners fear and will try to avoid at all costs, it is having a situation like what exists in Europe where a player contract is really a one-way street with the top players in a ridiculously powerful position.  In American sports, a player contract is a binding and respected document, but in Europe, it is really only binding to the team.

To illustrate the difference, let’s take the case of one of the best American athletes on a mediocre team – San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum.  Lincecum may be the best young pitcher in a generation having won two straight Cy Young awards while the Giants have missed the playoffs for the past six seasons.  I am sure that a wealthy team like the New York Yankees have already photo-shopped pictures of Lincecum in pinstripes, but they know that Lincecum is contractually obligated to the Giants, in one form or another, until after the 2012 season.  Until that time, Lincecum is a Giant, and there is no way for him to realistically agitate for a trade to the Yankees and there is no way for the Yankees to “unsettle” him without violating Major League Baseball rules in a way they would not dare.  Lincecum knows that though he may be underpaid at the moment, he does have a humungous payday coming in 2012, and there is nothing he can do to change that date.  He just needs to stay healthy and keep pitching well.

As much as any other agreements like the sharing of TV revenue and the ordering of draft picks, it is the sacred nature of the guaranteed contract that keeps American sports operating at something approximating parity.  The Yankees may have more money than any team and more high-priced players on their squad, but they had to wait for those players to become available in the free agent marketplace.  They could not act like Real Madrid or Chelsea and simply go out and purchase any player they wanted at any time.  Because teams respect contracts, the pool of available players is narrow and the talent is spread around the league.

The same cannot be said for European football.  If predatory teams like Chelsea, Real Madrid or, lately, Manchester City, want a player, all they have to do is cough up enough money and they can probably get him.  The fact that Jolene Lescott was contracted to Everton or that Kaka had a deal with AC Milan is not a barrier – it is an obstacle to be hurdled with cash.  Teams are obligated to pay all they players with whom they have contracted no matter how injured they are or poor their performances become, but if a player achieves a certain stature, he can engineer a transfer for himself.  Though they might spend some time protesting, the teams holding the contracts are invariably forced to acquiesce.  In this regard, players are protected by both the ethic (or lack thereof) of the football leagues and European labor law which is enormously pro-employee.

From its inception, MLS was terrified of participating in this type of market.  Both because American sports fans appreciate parity in a way that is not valued in Europe and because they needed to control their costs in a start-up league, the MLS hierarchy needed to put into place a salary structure that would not spiral into what Europe has become.  In order to encourage potential investors to buy teams, MLS had to assure those investors that they would not be competing against a new incarnation of the New York Cosmos, which many believe started an arms race of high-priced superstars that ended up dooming the NASL in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Thus, the MLS itself became the contracted entity rather than the teams.  The MLS executives, primarily Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazadis, did the contract negotiations for every team, and were responsible for paying the players.  The individual teams were freed up  to concentrate on marketing and financing stadia.  With salaries under the strict control of MLS acting as a single entity, the team ownership groups knew that they could never be victimized like the smaller clubs of Europe and could begin investing in the infrastructure required to build a league with long-term viability.

That is what makes statement by FIFpro, the federation of international football players, about reverting to a system similar to what exists in the rest of the football world so unsettling for the owners.  In the last several years, MLS has allowed international owners to buy into the league in both the Chivas USA and New York Red Bull teams and their international perspectives have been helpful as the league develops.  However, FIFpro represents a lot of players who can effectively rip up their current contracts when a better offer comes around, and this is exactly what the MLS wants to avoid importing.

As the MLS enters its 15th season, it can probably use this round of negotiations to enigineer some steps away from its single-entity model.  As the MLS management becomes more experienced and sophisticated, it is may be ready to reward skilled ownership groups with a greater degree of autonomy over their actions and decisions.  But from the owners’ perspective, those steps away from single-entity have to be accompanied by cost controls and respect for contracts.  If they enter an arrangement where other teams within MLS or teams from European leagues can poach players with immunity, it would be disastrous for the development of soccer in America. 

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  1. Muya

    December 3, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Aug 16, 2009 … Muya is the best soccer player in the world and in the future he will stay number 1 the best soccer player in the world

  2. Muya

    December 3, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Aug 16, 2009 … Ronaldo is the best soccer player in the world and in the future he will stay number 1 the best soccer player in the world

  3. cheap uggs

    December 2, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    smart man

  4. Charles

    December 2, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Maybe a little off topic, but then again money is the topic, right ?
    I just renewed my Sounders season tickets.
    They are expecting 30,000 season tickets, with sell outs of 38,000 or so.
    100% of the luxury boxes sold again this season.

    IF you are on board with the MLS and not hoping it is second tier or worse that it fails….
    PRAY the MLS does the smart thing and puts out as much money as they can to get the best talent they can. w
    They need to while competiting with Europe for American soccer fan’s dollars.

  5. Rex

    December 1, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Good points in the article and at minimum, it prompted the discussions that followed.
    Bottom line is that money talks. True manU isnt forced to trade the player, but you cant turn down tens of millions of dollars. I am fine with single entity ownership but MLS has to allow free agency within this ownership.

  6. Charles

    December 1, 2009 at 10:30 am

    You always have great points, I like your posts.
    And I think we agree as I am not looking for MLS Western Division 2009 parity every year, just not looking for teams to have NO chance of winning, year after year after year. It only works in Europe and I am still not sure how.
    But look at the pre-season odds of winning the EPL and look at the odds of the Browns to win the SuperBowl…at the start of the season I guess, huh ? The odds of Everton were like 250-1, even though they were like 6 or 7th highest at the beginning of the season.
    Maybe one team was worse than that in the NFL….maybe. 30+ teams.
    Playoffs are part of that, but a bigger part is even at 500-1 you would have never have put money on Everton, but you might have on my Seahawks..who finished WAY lower in the standings the year before.

    Full disclosure reply: I lived in Cleveland way before you were born and rooted for all the teams you root for.

  7. ddtigers

    December 1, 2009 at 3:38 am

    This is going to be a long winter for MLS, I have a bad feeling that this is going to be a big blow for Soccer and will take years to recover when to dust finally settles.

  8. Chapka

    November 30, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Sorry, but this is just silly. It is actually harder for a European team to sign a player from a team in another league than for an American team.

    Baseball teams can throw money at players they want just as easily as soccer teams can, from millions of dollars in cash to the proverbial “bag of baseballs.” It’s just not usually the best move, because if you’re adding salary it’s usually in your best interest to dump salary as well, and an even more important consideration is roster size limits–no point in signing a new starter if it means one of your current starters is going to end up in the Rule 5 draft.

    But there’s no earthly reason the Yankees couldn’t just hand the Giants a blank check in exchange for Lincecum. It just makes more financial sense for them to wait until he’s a free agent. And they could just buy him; he’d have no say in it. Compare this to a European transfer, where you have to agree on terms with the player on a new contract as well as with the club on a transfer fee.

    As for big-name signings getting turned down…it happens all the time. This offseason alone, Man City tried to sign Didier Drogba, David Villa, Kaka, and Thierry Henry. What happened? Their clubs asked for more than City was willing to pay. Gareth Barry all but threw a tantrum in the press asking to be transferred to Liverpool, and he stayed put.

    The major difference is that in soccer, a team can buy a star without giving something up, because there are no roster limits and no salary cap or luxury tax–and it’s harder to ship a prospect off to a Siberian club than it is to send a baseball prospect off to the Twins. So deals tend to be in cash rather than trade. Other than that? No real difference.

    • Eric Altshule

      December 1, 2009 at 12:04 am


      I think you are incorrect on several counts. Firstly, the Yankees could not just hand the Giants a blank check. Apart from the fact that it violates several unwritten, and possibly several written rules, baseball would never allow it. The purchase would be invalidated by the Commissioner, and I think the last time that was tried was when the A’s Charles Finley tried to sell Vida Blue to the Yankees that way in the 1970s. The Commissioner vetoed the trade because he thought trades of money for players were bad for the game. Players never move in baseball unless they are traded for other players, released or become free agents.

      Secondly, all those examples you gave of deals that never materialized were because the players were not interested. Man City wanted to sign all those superstars, but the players did not want to play for man City. On the other hand, Berry told everyone that he would stay at Villa until the season was over, and then picked Man City over Liverpool because the money was better. This only validates my point – the players have all the power and get to decide whether to go or not. The team holding the contract has little say in the matter.

    • Lars

      December 1, 2009 at 5:37 pm

      You lack the understanding of Labour economics.

      The reason why the US leagues do player trades and not cash trades is that a cash trade demonstrates exactly how much a player is worth and when it comes to renegotiating contracts they can play hardball, especially with things like restricted free agency. If you trade a player for a 1st and 2nd round pick, it’s much more difficult to gage how much he’s actually worth, as you don’t know the quality of the picks…

      By using cash transfers you hand power to the players by giving them the information on how much they’re worth. Otherwise they’re throwing darts and picking their best option.

  9. Eric Altshule

    November 30, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Let me address a couple of different points in the comments-

    1) I don’t think it is remotely controversial to say that American sports have a lot more parity and that American fans are comfortable with that. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds here pointing out the percentage of teams that have made the playoffs from each major sport over the past 10 years (I think it is over 70%, including the Clippers (!)) or the variety of teams that have won championships. Let me just put it this way. If you asked a Fulham fan what the odds are that they will be champions in the next decade, he would say zero, and we would all agree. If you asked a Chicago Cub fan, a team that has not won the World Series in over 100 years, he would think their odds are decent enough that he fantasizes what the party in Chicago would be like. America would have a tough time stomaching a league where only a small percentage of the teams can be considered serious competitors for a championship in the foreseeable future.

    2) To say that ManU did not have to sell Ronaldo or that AC Milan did not have to sell Kaka or that Everton did not have to sell Lescott or that the club could have slammed the door to any of these suitors is naïve. Let me make the point another way. Can anyone name a single instance where a major player was courted by a major team, the player’s representative gave all sorts of blind quotes to the press about how the player wanted to go, the team with a contract said they would not sell, and that the sale did not eventually go through? I can’t. In the end, the Chelseas and Madrids always get their way.

    3) I am not advocating for the MLS single entity structure. However, I do sympathize with the owners who fear being victimized by predatory leagues and teams. I would love to see a more free marketplace and I do think that teams should not retain the rights to players who have gone out of contract, but there has to be a greater balance in the MLS between player and team power than exists in Europe.

    • Matthew N

      November 30, 2009 at 7:13 pm

      Re: 3)

      How would the clubs be victimized? If MLS clubs develop players and sell them for a profit, aren’t they fulfilling their role? They can then use that revenue to buy more players. If they hit more than they miss, they can make money just by selling players, not just through tickets, TV contracts, etc. The problem is, MLS fails to acknowledge that it is a “feeder” league, not a destination league. This isn’t even bringing up the terrible effect that MLS has had on the careers of some players who had the potential to make millions elsewhere but weren’t allowed to transfer…

      • CoconutMonkey

        December 1, 2009 at 9:38 am

        Re: 1

        Oh man, if the Cubbies won the World Series there wouldn’t be an upright car from Addison to Halsted!

        Anyway, I see your point though. It’s tough to START supporting your local team when you know that they suck. Us Cubs fans have the luxury (or curse I guess) of being from a long line of fans. It’s a lot tougher to say, “Hey! come watch your 5 year old hometown soccer team! We SUCK!”. Well, that might get ME to buy a ticket or two. SAGANTOSU FTW!!!

  10. Jack

    November 30, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    The basic tenet of your argument against de-centralization of contract management from the league to the clubs is weak. You presume that the Euro clubs receive no compensation from the ‘predatory clubs.’ Many of the clubs in smaller markets make a substantial gain by discovering and signing diamonds in the rough and selling their contracts shrewdly.

    Of all the opinions set forth, confusing ‘parity’ with ‘mediocrity’ in a sports league is a horrible error. American fans, like all other sports fans, want excellence from their teams and their league. If every team were to finish around a .500 record as a result of elevated excellence within the league, that’s fine by me. But when the USSF engineers and imposes ‘parity’ on the MLS and its clubs from the outside, then the result is varying levels of mediocrity. Essentially the league is asking the fans to support (i.e. pay for) a league that penalizes merit.

  11. Charles

    November 30, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    “The league does not need parity…as long as there are no perennial losers.”

    Amen. That is what most mean by the parity I think, not so much that every team in the league finishes 15-15, but that the best and the worst aren’t so far off they can never recover. Maybe an LA last to second is extreme, but over a few years, there has to be hope. Americans ( outside of Clippers fan, of which there aren’t many ) won’t put up with it.
    Your example stinks however, I think the KC Royals won a World Series in the last 30 years however and lost at least one too. Which is above average, as there are more than 30 teams.

  12. Charles

    November 30, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    So the 5 team AL East = the 20 team La Liga ( plus other divisions as they have a chance to right ? ), with two teams winning most of the years, I will give you that, but it is exactly what I don’t want in the MLS. I want to be able to go to an MLS game and enjoy when the Sounders win every game, not expect they win every game, except for the a few challenges.

    Ummm, Matthew, I don’t care that you ramble, I like the discussion, but you don’t follow American sports much huh ?
    The Patriots a dynasty ? They stunk almost the whole existance of the NFL, when they finally made a SuperBowl they lost by 40 points. The Raiders have won 2 or 3 SuperBowls and had the best team about 5 years ago when they lost on the tuck rule to the eventual champs. The Pirates have had plenty of very good teams, including World Series wins and the Browns while pathetic now, were incredible in the 80s. Never winning it all, but very good, could have type teams.

    I think that I know you are arguing there is NO parity, but your points are making the case there IS parity. 2/3 of the LA Liga championships were won by two teams. In the worst case of non-parity for American sports….The Yankees with huge dynasties in the early years, have only won 1/4 of the World Series…I know baseball is embracing it, they should be solving it.

    • Matthew N

      November 30, 2009 at 6:56 pm

      Yeah, those kind of thoughts were running through my head as I read my post afterward. I guess a better way to say it is: there will never be true parity because, even in American sports, there are teams every season that are an absolute mess, and teams that expected to challenge for the title. Your points about the cyclical nature of team dominance are noted, but still.. it isn’t as if every year there are 32 teams in the NFL who all have a chance. The Browns, Raiders, Rams, Lions, etc.. all will take years to rebuild, while the Patriots, Colts, Saints, Vikings (depending on what QB replaces old man Favre) will be great for a few years. Yeah, things change over time (different from the “Big 4” of England and the noted big clubs in other leagues), but does it really matter? If England, you can expect 4 teams to challenge for the total. 4/20 = 20%. If I let you pick 6-7 teams from the NFL (20% of 32 is 6.4), would you be able to pick a winner almost every year? I’m certain most analysts (and many fans) would be able to. Even if the teams change from year to year (or decade to decade), the fact of the matter is that there is no parity. There are good teams, bad teams, and so-so teams. In other words, if I suffer through the “bad years” that many teams will go through, you may eventually be in a position to cheer for a good team if they make a few good acquisitions/draft picks, but it isn’t a guarantee.

      I find the mid-table/bottom of the table sides in the Premiership MUCH more interesting to watch than the piss poor teams in American sports. Full disclosure: I am a Cincinnati Reds fan (MLB), Cleveland Browns fan (NFL), Cleveland Cavaliers fan (NBA), and Toronto Maple Leafs fan (NHL). The leafs lost something like their first 10 games this season. The Browns have scored the least points in the league and are looking to go 1-15. The Cavs are actually good. The Reds were a powerhouse before I was born, won a fluke World Series in 1990, and have been god awful since. With all that being said, I get much more enjoyment out of watching Hull City, Burnley, and Fulham in the Prem. Unlike the non-competitive Browns/Leafs, Burnley and Hull actually pull out some wins. People can lament the disparity in European football while praising the parity of American football (throwball), but the fact of the matter is that in American sports there may be parity over the long term, but there is NO parity in the short term.

    • Matt

      November 30, 2009 at 8:50 pm


      The Patriots have been a dynasty…a dynasty doesn’t mean they were the top team for their whole existence, it means that for a sustained period of time they were the best of the best. Since 2001, New England has been consistently great…four Super bowl appearances, three wins, five appearances in the AFC championship game, ten or more wins in a season seven times…um, yeah, the Pats are a dynasty, just like the 70s Steelers, 80s 49ers, and the 90s Cowboys.

  13. Matthew N

    November 30, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    I thought about this a bunch this morning and I have to say that I now disagree with it completely. There is no difference between the contracts, it is just the reality that there are multiple top-level soccer leagues that are competing with each other through a hybrid competition. The NFL doesn’t have to buy out contracts from other organizations because all the money is in the NFL and all the good players end up there anyways. Same thing with MLB. Anyone who is good enough to be there wants to be there (and they will get paid the highest there). You’re already seeing some NBA players willing to leave the NBA for better money in the European leagues, but I still think this is few and far between just because the NBA is much more glorious and I think the average salary still blows away Spanish/Italian average salaries (would have to verify, but I think that is true).

    And lastly, I completely disagree that salary capped leagues like the NFL, NBA, and uncapped leagues like the MLB have parity. Ask anyone who is a Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, LA Clippers, or Pittsburgh Pirates fan about “parity.” Parity doesn’t have as much to do with money as it does with competent management. The NFL/MLB/NBA give the illusion of parity because they have a de facto monopoly on top-level talent in each sport. Thus, there is enough talent to spread out to each team to make each one at least look competitive (they might not make the playoffs, but they have Chris Paul, etc.) European soccer is hamstrung by the fact that there just isn’t enough talent to go to every team, so the big fish in the pond swallow it all up. They spend this big money to play in the Champion’s League (top league in the world in an economic sense), then in their spare time they plop down into the little ponds in their home country and beat up on the little fish. The Prem, La Liga, may look less equal than American leagues, but only if you look at it the precise way. The Cleveland Browns are the newly-promoted side that is going right back down every year. The New England Patriots are the Manchester Uniteds of the NFL.. even when Tom Brady was hurt they still went 11-5… perennial title contenders. The only reason no one makes these comparisons is because the Patriots got to where they were by good management, and United did it with money (and good management). The only place to use this argument is as a counter to this piece, which is good, but I just disagree with it on nearly every point.

    I’m pretty sure at some point that turned into a halfway-coherent ramble where I probably made little sense.

  14. Charles

    November 30, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Most Americans don’t even know what unbalanced is. They are up in arms about baseball. Saying the Yankees winning again after a 10 year drought seems unbalanced. With World Series winning stops at the Marlins, Diamondbacks, WhiteSox, RedSox, Angels, Phillies…
    I am probably not exact on the list as I did it from memory, but the point remains true…..hardly the ManU/EPL stuff that should be avoided at almost all cost.
    Plus the NFL is the most successful league in the world by far…with extreme parity. The 10-0 Saints play the Patriots tonight one of the biggest games of the season, hardly dynasty teams, in fact mostly the opposite being true…. doormats for most years.

    • Lars

      November 30, 2009 at 3:41 pm

      So tell me, how many times have teams advanced to the World Series out of the AL East that were not Bo Sox or Yanks in the past 10 years?

      • sjquakes

        November 30, 2009 at 7:32 pm

        that’s like saying how many teams have advanced to the world series in the last 10 years from the AL West that aren’t the Angels. by limiting your pool to one conference you are creating an artificial result that doesn’t show the whole truth. The truth is that MLB has way more parity than the epl/laliga/serieA. also, there is more to success in baseball than going to the world series. getting to the playoffs is like making it into the EPL top 6. While the EPL top 6 doesn’t change much, the MLB/NFL/NHL top 8 change often.

        ps: the devil rays made it out of the AL East in 2008.

  15. Charles

    November 30, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Come on Kartik,
    Money isn’t the issue for the players !?!?!
    Why do they want free movement ? And any other issue they bring up for that matter….For more money !
    If they double the salary cap, ( with an increase in min pay, both team and player ) I have a feeling all the other problems are put by the side for the time being.

    IF true that is very exciting. There will always be the many people ( aka Euro-lovers ) who want the MLS to fail/struggle, but if MLS is ABLE to raise the salaries paid like that, most of the “soccer lovers but not really American soccer lovers” are going to be exposed to whether they are on board or not…because the train is actually moving and it could pick up steam quickly.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      November 30, 2009 at 3:11 pm

      I’ve been told they’ve offered the players a deal- raise the cap by 50-75% and drop all the other issues.

      But simply raising the cap leaves MLS completely out of compliance with FFIA mandates and continues until year 20 of MLS a structure which was thought to be temporary at the inception of the league.

      So the players at least thus far, are showing a reluctance to take the deal.

      • Tim

        November 30, 2009 at 6:03 pm

        Does it matter that much if they are out of compliance with FFIA if FIFA hasn’t done anything to the league yet, and said it isn’t going to get in the middle of the labor negotiations?

  16. unionfan

    November 30, 2009 at 11:55 am


    Where did you hear that MLS is willing to double the salary cap?? I’m not sure that is right.

  17. Lars

    November 30, 2009 at 10:55 am


    American sports fans hate parity.

    How many Cowboys/Patriots fans, Yankees bandwagon jumpers, Red Wings fans, and Lakers fans are there in that country. Too many to count. It’s a country which pretends to have parity. It’s a country which thrives on dynasties. To say American sports fans would stop watching if the league was unbalanced is wrong. All the leagues are unbalanced as it is!

    • Robert

      November 30, 2009 at 2:33 pm

      I must agree when it comes to disliking parity. The ethos in America is that those willing to work hard will be rewarded. Sometimes, that means coming from nothing to ultimately topple the established successful persons. This works well in sports too, where the best are expected to win, but the underdogs often have their day. Big clubs have big followings by those who enjoy being linked to a winner. The other fans rally around the upstarts during each season.

      While I was happy to see RSL win the MLS Cup, especially given that they played the better game, I wouldn’t have been too upset to see the Gals take home the trophy. LA (with DCU) is as close to a dynasty as we have in MLS to this point.

      The league does not need parity. Having a range of quality among the clubs works fine — I find the single game match-ups end up being coin-flips anyway (see the NFL) — as long as there are no perennial losers. MLS needs to avoid the likes of KC Royals, Golden State Warriors, etc.

    • sjquakes

      November 30, 2009 at 3:02 pm

      The bandwagon USA teams are not nearly as successful or dominant as man u/barca/chelsea/madrid.

      MLB has had 7 different champions since the yankees last won in 2000. 8 different teams have won the NFL in the last 10 years. NHL has had 7 different champs in the last 10 years.

      I think another factor that Kartik doesn’t take into account, when considering why there is more parity in USA sports, is also that the champion is decided in a playoff. So a lot of times there are mediocre teams that get hot in the playoffs and end up winning it all.

  18. Charles

    November 30, 2009 at 10:39 am

    I think that Garber is smart enough and qualified enough to realize that players salaries need to go up in “THE MLS” 😉 for the league to be competitive for talent.
    It is a balancing act, of keeping the league stable, keeping the owners happy, and keeping the product developing. If it not balanced correctly, it will blow up.
    We will see by January if he, and the owners, get it, there is quite a bit more money with Seattle in the league for salaries to be increased.

    I do think they need to be forward thinking too. By that I mean, say salaries at today’s levels can be increased by $500k per team with the 2009 Seattle money, put a formula in place to say how much they can increase if Seattle sells 5,000 more tickets, 10,000 more tickets per game in 2010. Same with new franchise ticket revenue, Philly, Vancouver, Portland selling out, etc.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      November 30, 2009 at 11:34 am

      MLS is willing from what I can gather to double the salary cap. But that really isn’t the issue for many of the players. Sure more money helps but it is the structure of single entity which restricts player choice and movement and gives the league the ability to dictate where a player plays that is a larger issue.

  19. Joe in Indianapolis

    November 30, 2009 at 2:52 am

    Steed is 100% correct. Manchester United did not have to sell Ronaldo. Ronaldo would not have tanked on purpose for Manchester United if they had not sold him. The same pressure is on an NFL team with a diva wide receiver who demands a trade. You either get what money (a.k.a. draft picks) you can now, or let him leave at the end of his contract term. No one just gets up and leaves mid contract without a deal. That’s absurd to suggest Ronaldo would simply stop playing. Absurd.

    Major League Soccer will change the way it handles player contracts with the next CBA. Our top domestic league has to create better incentives for teams to develop players and sell them at a profit. The single entity ownership model isn’t doing this. PLUS the players hate it. MLS knows this. They will adapt.

    • tg

      November 30, 2009 at 9:24 am

      The problem though with your argument, which is partially correct, is that when players in American sports demand trades or hold out, they are often viewed as bad apples. TO is a prime example.

      In European leagues, it happens to everyone. Cole, Berbatov, Kaka, Ronaldo, Lescott: all were players that had money thrown at them, clubs rejected the deals, the players wanted the deal, and they were eventually sold.

  20. unionfan

    November 30, 2009 at 12:11 am


    If manu didnt want to sell ronaldo, just like the Giants don’t have to trade lincecum. Your argument is seriously flawed in my opinion because the same happens here in MLB, NBA, Nhl, and any other sports league, where a disgruntled player says he wants to leave, and then the team, to avoid a bad locker room situation, most likely would give in and trade the player. But its thier choice, just like it was Man U’s choice to sell Ronaldo.

    a question? how is keeping MLS player salaries down helping the league develop players?? IMO, many future players end up going into other sports or jobs making more money, dwindling your potential talent pool at all levels. I would like to hear your argument.


    nice article.

  21. Eric Altshule

    November 29, 2009 at 10:24 pm


    I don’t agree. In the case of Ronaldo, I am sure that Manchester United would rather have one of the best players in the world than the cash. The loss of Ronaldo is one of the main reasons they are in Chelsea’s rear view mirror. Selling him was clearly not their choice. And this notion that “Ronaldo would have had to see out his contract and play to the fullest of his ability or else they could sue him for breach of contract” is simply not true. Suing your own player for playing badly is a fool’s errand and a guaranteed loser under European labor law.

    CocunutMonkey – As I said above in the case of Ronaldo, the fact that he had a contract with ManU did not matter. He wanted to go to Madrid and Madrid were willing to pay. Not only can he rip up his contract with ManU, but with a portion of the transfer fee going to the man himself, he was paid for the privilege of walking away.

    • CoconutMonkey

      December 1, 2009 at 9:18 am

      Huh, with all the articles talking about United’s 80 million spending spree during the off season, I was under the impression that transfer fees go directly to the club, with salaries/transfer bonuses being handled separately. Is that not the case?

  22. andy in ohio

    November 29, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    The problem is that the league restricts employment rights both ways. Basically the league restricts movement AND wages. If the league owns the contracts and keeps owners from competing with each other, then let the players move from team to team without the discovery player/player rights nonsense. Schelotto is out of contract, he should be free to sign with any team in the league (except TFC), but the way MLS is set up someone will have to trade for him. Its a violation of employment rights/restraint of trade imo(or something like that, I’m no lawyer), if you have at will employment then employees have to have freedom of movement to maximize their earning potential.

    Your article is flawed because there is no true free agency in MLS like in MLB or the NFL, the Lincecum example doesn’t fly. If Lincecum was in MLS, in 2012 he would get lowballed like Schelotto or forced to seek a trade rather than calling up the Yankees and naming his price. You also neglect to mention salary arbitration, where players get a raise if they meet performance incentives like Ryan Howard of the Phillies did. If arbitration existed in MLS Stuart Holden would have gotten a raise long ago rather than making peanuts last year. Free movement, one of the players demands from what I’ve heard, doesn’t apply to USA sport notions of player “respect for contracts” because MLS controls a players fate even though there is NO CONTRACT ANYMORE! Apples and oranges. How this is legal is beyond me, the CBA must be changed. I know we in the USA like to have parity in our leagues, but the fact is a former MLS and MLS Cup MVP can get lowballed and have no right to move to another team even though he is out of contract is appalling. I don’t think the idiot owners know how bad it looks when you disrespect a player like that, then tell him “oh well, if you don’t like it go home to Argentina or get a trade”. I hope Garber and the players can work out something more fair.

    In conclusion, if you restrict the salaries you must offer freedom of movement or else you are negatively impacting the players’ rights to make the best living possible using their skills. The way its set up now, every team has a non-compete clause with every other team. This is professional sports FFS, competition is the name of the game! My uncle is a surgeon who quit his practice and couldn’t set up a competing firm in his home city for two years. They didn’t tell him, “you can’t be a surgeon anywhere in the country for two years, work out a trade for another surgeon or leave the country” like MLS does to the players. He moved and started over again, and Schelotto should be allowed the same right, as much as it hurts a Crew fan to admit it.

  23. Justin

    November 29, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    I am not a huge fan of the single entity that is MLS, nor the way the league (rather than team) owns the players. I think this is at the heart of concern of FIFpro and some players. When you look at it from a purely business standpoint, I think it makes more sense to provide the team (as a business) some incentive to develop players, sell them if deemed profitable, and then reap the benefits of the work they put into the player. As it stands now, the team develops the player and MLS reaps the benefit. Let teams compete both on and off the field.

  24. Cavan

    November 29, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Eric you did an excellent analysis. FIFpro has no idea what they’re talking about. They don’t understand or care why our league is the way it is. They see everything from the European perspective. To them, anything that isn’t a league like Spain with its Barca, Real Madrid and bunch of sacrificial lambs is an anomaly and needs to be crushed.

    FIFA has blown hot air about MLS from time to time but it has not done anything any of their proclamations because they know that there are circumstances here that they don’t get (and they’re really lazy). FIFpro needs to stay out and let our league and players’ union hammer it out.

  25. CoconutMonkey

    November 29, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    Can you define “ripping up a contract”? I mean, it’s not like the teams selling these players aren’t getting paid heaps of cash at the end of the deal.

  26. Steed

    November 29, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    I think you are misconstruing the cash market approach of the rest of the world as a weakening of contracts. I don’t feel sorry for manutd when a star player wants to leave and they get $132M for him. The contract obligations go both ways. As you said teams have to pay him if he is injured or he is in bad form, but players also have to play if they are fit and have to give 100%. If manutd decided that the money was not worth it, Ronaldo would have had to see out his contract and play to the fullest of his ability or else they could sue him for breach of contract and he would lose everything.

    Just because they operate under a system where cash is equivalent to a person does not mean that there contracts function any differently. The only danger that would pose MLS is the potential for LA or NY to buy up all the best American players from other MLS teams, but those teams would be free to negotiate higher prices for their players and replace them with foreign talent.

  27. Eric Altshule

    November 29, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    sorry – spell check problem. Have always been a terrible speller. I will correct it.

  28. Gah

    November 29, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    I really think every sports fan, especially soccer fans, should have to take a quiz to see if they can tell the difference between “parity” and “parody”. if they don’t know the difference, they shouldn’t be allowed to follow sports.

    Possibly the worst common soccer related writing error besides calling it “the MLS”.

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