And here we go… Players union wants guaranteed contracts and free agency from MLS owners

From Sports Business Journal (which is increasingly required reading for MLS fans) and WVHooligan.

I am less intrigued by what is in the article than by what isn’t – salary minimums. It’s probably a bit dangerous to read too much into negotiations this early on, and especially since we haven’t heard a proposal from the owners’ side, but could this be a sign that the players union is prepared to “sacrifice” the needs of the lowest-earning players in exchange for the mid-level players with mid-level salaries who see themselves most hurt by not having guaranteed contracts? That is just rank speculation on my part, I’ll grant you that. It’s just a question that popped into my head as I read that.

Returning to the substance of the article, I think free agency is fairly unlikely, considering as the article says that it entails almost complete reshuffling of how the league does business with players. That said, I could imagine the owners agreeing to some kind of concession regarding guarenteed contracts. It might not be that 100% of MLS players’ contracts are 100% guarenteed, but it might be a move in that direction.

This all sounds fairly par-for-the-course with the negotiations. Also, the SBJ lays out a good timeline for knowing when to panic.

Again, I see no reason to worry but I am operating under the assumption that the owners and Garber are not going to go “hard-line” towards screwing the players. Remember, this is MLS, as it compares to most other American sports league, and just American employees in general, the players are already pretty “screwed.”

I may be wrong in my optimism but we have no evidence that a “screw-job” is the goal here, unlike with the run-up to the NHL lockout where many owners made it abundantly clear that they were going to wring cost-certainty out of the NHLPA even if it cost multiple seasons of labor stoppage.

Unrelated to my optimisim, I ask a completely hypothetical question out there of my readers more attuned to US labor law. If MLS players were to strike, could the owners just signup loads of foreign guys as “replacement players” including both big and small names? Does this option exist as leverage for the owners against the players?

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2 thoughts on “And here we go… Players union wants guaranteed contracts and free agency from MLS owners

  1. There are degrees of free agency and no US league has anything at all like Europe. My guess is that the league could agree to let players shop themselves around after a certain number of years in the league. This doesn’t hurt the MLS bottom line very much because players on the downside of their careers usually are the ones who get screwed in a salary cap system. There’s a whole lot of veteran MLS players who are getting paid more than they would be worth on the open market, mostly because they are so-called “fan favorites”.

    As for the threat to bring in foreign players, this would be kind of hard to do since most players in the world are under contract during the time when MLS training camps open. Most likely, replacement players would be of the amateur and recreational league level. Just the thought of that kind of ugliness is probably enough to keep negotiations happening. Plus, replacement players would probably trigger a fan boycott which would be very bad news for clubs that aren’t Toronto or Seattle.

    In short, let’s all hope a strike doesn’t happen because it would be a disaster for both sides.

  2. The implied sacrifice in the article seems to be the players’ union asking for some form of free agency, but giving it up in exchange for more guarantees.

    I think minimums are a different issue, perhaps one SBJ didn’t deem it sexy enough to report on. In the strange twists of CBA negotiation, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was the owners who offered salary minimums, as a way of buying a lot of relatively cheap votes at the bottom of the payscale and avoiding conceding something more expensive.

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