BY NEAL MALONE
With the start of the 2010 MLS season a little more than one week away, the Players Union and the league remain far apart in their negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here is a brief summary of the issues being debated…the players union is fighting to increase job security by demanding a significantly higher percentage of guaranteed contracts. They also are looking to increase the average income of players by demanding a higher percentage of the league’s revenue.
On the other hand, the league is having a hard time granting all of the players’ wishes. Remember, MLS is a young league that has perennially lost money up until very recently. You can’t really blame MLS owners for being weary to swiftly give up much of the newly earned money and resources to the players.
The main problem here is strictly financially-driven. The owners have poured millions into this league, and up until recently, they lost money every year. In their eyes, this should be a time where they finally begin to get back much of the money they poured into this long-term investment. On the other hand, the players believe they should be receiving increased compensation now that the league is reaching uncharted levels of popularity and revenue.
When you’re talking about someone’s livelihood, it’s always going to be hard to get each side to budge. Because of this, the negotiations at hand are going to be very difficult to settle before the season, if at all.
A strike would be absolutely devastating to the progress of MLS. The last two seasons have been crucial for the league’s development. Including this year, 10 of the league’s teams have succesfully constructed and operated soccer-specific stadiums. There are 4 more under construction as we speak. The league has added an expansion team each of the last two seasons, and have plans to add another two in 2011. Big name sponsors are showing a great deal of interest in the league and are beginning to sign multi-million dollar jersey deals.
The league is beginning to attract quality international players. Sure, I’m speaking of guys like David Beckham, Freddie Ljunberg, and Juan Pablo Angel. But I’m also talking about younger, more promising talents from South America and Central America. The league has also attracted top European teams to play exhibitions with in the offseason such as Barcelona and Chelsea.
With all of this success and promise, I have no idea why the players would want to put MLS’s development in jeopardy. I understand every player should have reasonable rights and a justified income, but to me, a strike would be the worst option.
MLS has been able to capture a tremendous amount of interest from American sports fans. However, people aren’t “hooked” yet, so a strike could easily cause those fans on the fence to basically say “screw this.” For a league that desperately needs those people, the revenue hits and bad publicity would be terrible.
The word as of today is that the players plan on striking if a deal isn’t reached by Monday. Judging by the stubborn behavior exhibited by both sides thus far, I would say a strike should be expected. I’ll tell you this…the longer the strike drags on, the worse it is for the league. I just hope they can reach an agreement before it’s too late.