MLS and the Players Need to Get Serious

Since the law now requires at least one half of all written material to begin with the words "In these tough economic times..." I figure there must be something to all this gloom and doom talk. Maybe I should stop focusing on internet soccer news and watching Law and Order reruns (how many of those damn things have they made, anyway? 50,000?) and look into it, but since most of my net worth is invested in solid blue chips like real estate, major banks and automakers, what could possibly go wrong?

A couple months ago there was a breathlessly posted "super-secret, insider-only, read-and-then-eat" copy of an email smuggled out of MLS HQ, on a microdot cleverly disguised as a beauty mark, at great personal risk and then forwarded to a site whose name rhymes with PMSTumors stating - shockingly - that there had been "a meeting" at the league office where people actually sat in chairs around one of those big, meeting-type tables and discussed - are you sitting down? - the current economic situation and how it might affect their business going forward.

Great day in the morning! What are the odds of that? Do you suppose any other businesses might consider holding one of these "meeting" thingies to discuss, you know, business? I hope this doesn't catch on.

I figure that, in the great constellation of "stuff I can falsify that are pretty safe bets to actually be somewhat true" that ranks right up there with the memo claiming that Don Garber occasionally uses the seventh floor mens room.

Be that as it may, there's a lot of talk going around these days about how these "tough economic times" have shut down Arena football, have caused major US sports leagues to start slashing personnel, folding teams (WNBA) and how, maybe, this isn't the best possible time to be starting a new professional league like WPS. (see Loney, Daniel )

Well, I may not be Alan Greenspan (he's very old and wrinkly anyway) but I think there are some things we can say that are generally true, and among them is this old bromide that was first uttered by John Maynard Keynes:

"When the shit hits the fan, the first ones to take the pipe are the businesses that already had one foot on a banana peel and the other foot in the grave"

I'm paraphrasing.

A league like the AFL only survives when there's so much money sloshing around the economy that they can hardly help but have some of it land in their boat. When the oceans of cash suddenly become slow moving stream, borderline leagues can't stay afloat.

And now I'm done abusing that metaphor. You're welcome.

All of which brings me to THIS PIECE OUT OF DALLAS THIS MORNING headlined: "MLS fat-trimming strategies just a sign of the times"

(Isn't it a pity that CONCACAF doesn't adopt some "fat-trimming startegies"? Chuck Blazer would be the first one to go under the knife)

They opine that cutting the developmental roster and cancelling the Reserve League were strictly cost-cutting moves prompted by the current financial situation.

Perhaps they're at least partially correct, but you also have to believe it's a measure aimed at positioning themselves for the looming negotiations with the Players Union.

Because the fact is that MLS is uniquely postioned to weather all but the most calamitous of economic catastrophes - although expanding by four teams and thereby salting away $120 million would be a nice, soft little Rainy Day Fund - with their tight, centralized financial controls and bare-bones administration (well, except for the million dollars plus they pay Don Garber, but that's another discussion). They look to be well able to batten down the hatches and weather whatever storm is on the horizon.

(Just when you think you've finally killed a metaphor it rears it's ugly head again. I apologize)

Unfortunately, you can turn down the office thermostat and demand paper clip re-use all you want. You can even cut a bunch of helpless $12,5000 a year employees. They've mostly got college degrees. Surely Bed, Bath and Beyond has some openings, right?

But what will kill this league deader than Caesar is a lockout or a strike.

In good times, while you definitely take a beating, a solid, viable sports league can usually manage to survive a labor-problems shutdown.

But "in these tough economic times", that's not so clear. On almost every front, including - maybe especially - momentum towards getting more stadiums built, MLS could be on very unsteady ground. How long can the players, who haven't exactly been able to sock away large sums of case on their less-than-lavish salaries, go without a paycheck? How long can a league that's already losing money go before the costs force them to lay off the entire office staff and default on their leases?

It was always going to be a tense situation, and the fact that the MLSPU is absolutely furious at the league while the league points to the fact that they aren't profitable and can hardly afford to raise salaries did not bode well for a harmonious round of negotiations.

Now, however, with the economic climate we find ourselves in, the consequences of a failure would seem to be ever so much more dire. Once a less-than thriving league shuts it's doors during a severe economic downturn, how can you be sure it's going to be able to start up again?

How about the league and the players sit down now, right now, and start finding some common ground? Give the fans, the sponsors and the soccer world in general some real confidence that we're going to get through this without the kind of bloodletting that could put MLS out of business.