News Matches

MLS agreement a win-win for both parties as league's build towards 2026 World Cup truly begins

4:00 PM EST 2/6/20
Sounders MLS Cup 201
There were no nervy moments like last time around as both players and ownership appeared to walk away with value from these negotiations

In 2015, negotiations over a new MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) nearly ended in disaster. There were mediators, final-hour meetings, a vote to strike. With just days left before the MLS season, the two sides found a way to avoid a work stoppage by agreeing to a CBA that many saw tilted heavily towards the ownership side. 

Compared to last time, the recent negotiations were relatively painless and stress-free. There were no big scares or nervy moments. The season never really felt like it was in danger. In the end, a deal got done with plenty of time to spare and the players have plenty to show for it. In 2015, it all felt pretty one-sided. This time around, it appears to be a win-win.

The MLS and the MLS Players Association (MLSPA)  announced on Thursday that the two sides had come to terms on a CBA that addressed a number of key issues.

Spending will go up incrementally over the next few years. Players will have expanded options when it comes to free agency. Charter flights have gone up, the minimum salaries have gone up and Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) will be converted into General Allocation Money (GAM), allowing teams to be more flexible with how they spend on players currently in or coming into MLS.

“This deal is the culmination of our efforts to engage players from every team to define our goals and push for real progress,” said Jeff Larentowicz, Atlanta United defender and MLSPA Executive Board Member. “Through this work and our solidarity, we have been able to reach an agreement that will provide players with greater rights and increased compensation, and will ensure that the league’s resources continue to be used to create a league of choice for players both on and off the field.”

"It’s been a long journey and could always be better," added Philadelphia Union captain Alejandro Bedoya in a tweet. "However, this deal has many significant gains for players & represents a meaningful step forward for growth of the game in North America. Lot of work put into this from those involved. Now let’s get back 2 business & just play!"

In these negotiations, like any, there has to be give and take. The league's goal is to keep as much power and control as possible by limiting anything that can push costs up involuntarily. The players, meanwhile, push for their own freedom of movement and, of course, a bigger payday.

A new series of owners, meanwhile, are ready to take off the training wheels. Gone are the days of complete parity as ambitions have soared in recent years. Teams can spend money in a number of different ways, and several clubs continue to dictate trends by finding new ways to build a competitive advantage.

Going into these negotiations, the players had a bit more power than last time. Expansion fees have surged in recent years, with the league set to hit 30 teams by the time this CBA is over. Those fees have been proof that this league is a worthwhile investment and they meant that the owners could not cry poor this time around.

Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank told the Athletic recently: "(MLS) has grown and yet maintained, I think, financial integrity and stability. Not all the clubs are profitable, but most are, and most are getting more profitable."

The big picture is that roster spending will increase, meaning bigger salaries for players at both the top and bottom of the player pool. Last time around, the players' fight for a limited form of free agency came at the cost of a number of things. One of those things was money, as the increased push for free agency meant that the players needed to make concessions elsewhere.

In this CBA, they got a bit of it all. Free agency improvements give players more freedom at a younger age. Salary increases and media rights distribution give players more money. The converting of TAM into GAM may be the biggest win of all, though, as money that was almost always spent on new foreign players will now be available to use on players within the league, AKA MLSPA members.

Ownership did just fine too. The training wheels, by and large, are still on. There are still mechanisms that allow the rich owners to be ambitious while keeping costs lower for those less inclined to spend big bucks.

Compared to the rest of the world, players are still very much restricted when it comes to freedom of movement while the new Under-22 Initiative gives clubs a mechanism to buy young players and eventually sell them on for profit. Even with the concessions on free agency, the owners kept a cap on raises, meaning that there will be no major bidding wars over players that are eligible to move.

The overall feeling of this CBA is that it is a starting point, not an ending point. In the coming years, there's reason to believe MLS will take a massive step forward, and the job of this CBA was to put the league in position to do just that.

It needed to put the league in a place where it can take advantage of when a new TV deal is negotiated in 2022. It needed to put the league in a place where teams could continue to sign coveted players from all over the world. And, most importantly, it needed to put the league in a place where it can build towards the almighty 2026 World Cup that many believe will change North American soccer forever.

Because of that, this feels like a win-win, one that keeps MLS steadily on a path towards becoming the "league of choice" it has always wanted to be.