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MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement: More than just about Money

But it's mostly about money

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The clock is ticking between MLS and the players' union as this potential new agreement could change the way we know the league. Money is always at the heart of CBA negotiations but this time, the players have the upper-hand. They are the clubs' biggest asset, aren't they?


There has been substantial progress for Major League Soccer since the last CBA was signed. A new TV deal was struck in which ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision will pay 90 million each year, from 2015 to 2022: a total of 720M$ over the eight-year contract. That's more than triple the current rights revenue of $27 million per year.

Add to that enormous expansion fees , a higher interest from outsiders into the league and an accrued value of existing franchises, Major League Soccer is on the rise financially and has grown exponentially since its inception , 20 years ago.

But with "Great Financial Power" come " Great Responsibilities" and MLS players see a much smaller percentage of revenues than other athletes in other sports.  Major North American sports pay within a range 40-60% of revenues to players as salaries. If we add the European Leagues, that number is higher.

Currently, the league pays around 20% of its revenues in salaries. Bu as it wants to be in the top-10 of leagues around the world, it ranks 22nd in " Average Salary Paid". The current 3M$ salary budget is inadequate to attract and keep enough quality players. Though it's not a perfect mathematical formula, higher salaries bring quality players.

The bulk of the spending is going to Designated Players and as much as Kaka is a great player, he is not enough to make a team good on the long run, over a whole season.

Major League Soccer needs to be truly professional and it starts with salaries. A league , aiming for the stars, cannot have players working part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Using MLS Roster Rules terms, quality players are needed from spot 1 to 15 and it requires quality players that cost money. Spending significant money on star players is key but a big chunk of the salary budget has to gear itself towards building a complete squad.

Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake should not be the exception but the rule and sprinkle some star power to have a great league.

"Free Agency"

Free agency does not really exist in MLS, at least not in its purest definition. The current system does not permit players ,who are out of contract, from negotiating with all MLS clubs to find the best fit for their playing careers, their families, their livelihoods.

Giving players the basic right of true free agency is important at this point in the league's development.

Clear, Transparent MLS Player Rules

Call it secrecy, call it discretion but a clearer and more transparent communication of MLS Player rules is required. Not only does it even up the playing field across all MLS clubs but players (the most important asset of clubs) can look for a fair system.

More transparency and less secrecy will improve the relationship of the league with its fans, who are informed, curious and interested in its inner-workings. The Media can deliver more in-depth, accurate assessment of a club's true salary cap, a trade that happened etc..

Perception is everything and currently the application of rules is not seen as fair, consistent and even worse, legitimate. The league seems to selectively enforce rule X and sometimes totally ignores it to achieve a specific goal ( allocation draft, DP signing for e.g)

To Strike or Not To Strike ?

It is a CBA negotiation and both sides must be willing to go to a work stoppage. It's the only recourse when one side is unreasonable. Under the current system, the players are getting the short end of the stick. Changes and a progression that would benefit players would prevent a strike.

But more money in owners' pockets with a big TV deal and tickets sales revenue should be reflected in the pockets of players and not just the perceived stars.