Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Elephant in the Room

I've been ignoring the big gigantic elephant in the room regarding the MLS collective bargaining agreement for a little while now, hoping that if I ignored it it'd work itself out and go away. But it hasn't gone away, and it's time for me to pull my head out of the sand and realize this is a very big issue. The twice extended labor talks between the league and the MLS Players' Union are coming close to their deadline of February 25th and it appears the two sides are still far apart on one key point, free agency. Apparently the latest set of talks have broken down as neither side wants to budge on the issue. The owners are dead set against allowing it, while the players don't appear willing to settle without it. The Wizards player union rep, Jimmy Conrad is quoted at length in an ESPN piece about the issue saying that unless things change, a work stoppage appears inevitable.

Each side is now trying to win the battle in the media it would appear, as in response to the players' comments, the league has come back with counter claims to what the union says is going on in the meetings. There are a lot of quotes from MLS President Mark Abbott about the negotiations in that article and what they are trying to do. Based on what the league is saying, it appears that if there is a work stoppage, it will be from a players' strike, not a lock out. That's based on the news that the league is willing to start the season under the rules of the expired CBA (which the league can do based on the rules of the current CBA that state the terms remain in effect from year to year unless the other side is notified in writing 60 days prior to the expiration or renewal of the agreement. (page 9)). What that means for the players, is that they'll have to be the ones that walk out, and in doing so they will likely keep themselves from being able to play in other leagues as they'd still be under contract to MLS.

That could really hurt players like Jimmy Conrad, Roger Espinoza, Chad Marshall, Robbie Findley, and multiple other players who have hopes of making their countries World Cup team for this summer's tournament in South Africa. A work stoppage could kill any of the players' chances of making the cup, and certainly something that weights on some of those players' minds.

Right now it would appear that the league is the one holding the better cards after the statement that they're willing to work under the old CBA, but the union has come back again with another response to the league's statements. With more of this out in the media now, this looks like it could start to get really ugly as each side tries to win the media war. From what I've read by fans, there seems to be a fairly even split on which side people support, but all definitely don't want a work stoppage. The next 4 days will be very interesting.


Reepicheep said...

This is a very difficult issue to discern and address for the league and the players.

On one hand, the players have very little freedom and rights the way things are set up. One can understand their frustration concerning the lack of free agency, etc.

On the other hand, very frankly, the level of play in MLS hasn't risen enough to garner more fans and more money. I know that hurts to hear but it's true. Bottom line, if the players were playing at a higher level more fans would come and more revenue would come in. Business 101 suggests the players would have more of a bargaining chip of such was the case. There are very few players in the league that draw fans in and of themselves. More players have to achieve such a status in order to realistically expect free agency to be granted. The problem is, when players do reach such a status, they leave for other leagues.

I love MLS Soccer and my season tickets. At the same time I have to acknowledge the level of play just isn't where it needs to be to see the league ascend to the next level of maturity, which I think will include better rights for the players including free agency.

I hope the players agree to a CBA that allows the season to start as schedule. Stoppage will seriously hurt league momentum. Frankly, stoppage hurts the player more, I don't see how they can really afford to let it come to that. Without a stoppage and the continued momentum of the league perhaps a better CBA with free agency as part of the package is possible in 5 years. With a significant stoppage, I think they'll set back a realistic shot at free agency 7-10 years.

I wish things were better for the players, I really do. The product just isn't there yet, that's the bottom line.

J said...

Thanks for the update, and your analysis of the Owners' proposal about being willing to go forward under the old CBA is a good one. I am normally be inclined to come down on the the players/union's side, but their (public) offer is great negotiating that will be difficult to counter.

Ron Bishop said...

I don't know the business issues, but I hope they get it resolved.

Conrad is correct about a looming season sharpening the mind.