Are MLS players asking for too much in CBA negotiations?
By Pat Martin, MLS Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
When Major League Soccer began operation in 1996, its chances of sustaining a legitimate, profitable league were considered slim in the crowded American sports scene.
As a result, most players weren't even given the benefits that most American workers receive - health care for themselves and their families, 401(k) retirement plans - while owners lost millions trying to make a professional soccer league work in the North American market.
Over time, MLS began to gain more of a foothold, and after a jury decision 10 years ago ruled against a federal antitrust suit filed by the players against the league's single-entity system, the players formed a union. As a result, those basic rights were conceded in the first Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players union five years ago.
Fast-forward to the present.
That CBA expired on Jan. 31 and the union and league have twice extended negotiations to avoid a lockout while clubs continue to prepare for the 2010 season. The most recent extension set the deadline at Feb. 25 with the season scheduled to open a month later.
But now, less than a week before the deadline, there is still no deal, and some reports suggest one isn't imminent.
The players want more rights - a form of free agency, guaranteed contracts, etc. - while the owners want to keep costs down.
According to Todd Dunivant, the MLS is "trying to slowly raise the bar to make this league better."
You can see the dilemma.
"This league was built around keeping costs down and they've done a good job of that," seven-year MLS veteran Todd Dunivant told the Los Angeles Daily News. "But the league has to evolve if it wants to get better and be on a par with some of the other leagues around the world."
But MLS isn't like other leagues around the world. It isn't the most popular sport in its region - it's probably not even in the top five. The level of play, while improving, is nowhere close to that of even mid-level European leagues, and the pay reflects that.
As it should.
If players want to be paid and have the financial security of those in other leagues, they should improve their skills enough to earn contracts from other leagues - like a recent crop of former MLS players that includes Kenny Cooper, Yura Movsisyan, Chris Rolfe and Michael Parkhurst did.
The average North American worker considers themselves underpaid and under-appreciated in the current financial climate. The only way they are going to get more money is to seek out and earn a better situation. Why should MLS players think they deserve more?
MLS players want guaranteed contacts?
Ask the millions of unemployed Americans if they would have liked guaranteed contracts in their previous places of employment. You earn your money, or you're gone, plain and simple.
As it should be.
What the players also aren't considering is that while franchises like Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders FC are selling out games at record numbers and thriving, the majority of MLS teams aren't profitable. While only five MLS clubs - the Kansas City Wizards, Houston Dynamo, San Jose Earthquakes, D.C. United and Chivas USA - are tenants in their stadiums, and the other 11 own or control their stadiums and revenue streams, profit is something that eludes the majority. The lack of local and national support for the league and sport is a primary culprit.
Until that changes, and the revenues consistently roll in, the league will continue on its current path, with owners footing the bill in hopes of more profitable days ahead.
As they should.
The league can and should make minor concessions when it comes to the salary floor and cap, however.
A third of the league's players earn under $35,000, with a select few earning as little as $15,300. Raise the floor to a more livable wage, around $30,000, and combine that with a modest raise in the current $2.3 million salary cap for each club, and it should be a win for both sides.
"We're not millionaires looking to get more millions, we're just trying to slowly raise the bar to make this league better," Dunivant said.
As you should Todd, but like the average worker, don't expect a pay raise or job security while you do it.