Doing the Deal - CBA / MLS

In general, I’m a fan of unions, barring corruption, even at their most difficult to deal with and understand, they are necessary, not a necessary evil, but necessary, because it’s the only leverage labor has against management.

The only thing mildly interesting about this off-season, aside from taking bets on whether the Chicago Fire can manage to obtain more points than NYCFC and Orlando (and I’m betting not), is the ongoing CBA negotiations.  And I truly sympathize with the guys who make up a majority rosters, because you’re not making enough that you won’t be making a very nervous transition around your late 20’s to early 30’s from a job running around a kicking a ball to one that involves a collared shirt and maybe a tie.  But definitely one that involves a schedule more like the rest of America deals with and where you hope that degree you may have got doesn’t become obsolete or your job doesn’t get offshored.  And I’m also glad that labor and ownership have already brought in mediation to help get this sorted out.  It would be one thing if both parties had strong bargaining positions because there could be some give and take and everyone would feel good about getting what they got. Or if one was weak and the other strong, any stoppage would be either averted or settled quickly because the weaker party HAS to get it solved.  No, whether the MLS Owners and MLS Players Union realize it or not, they both have pretty weak positions when it comes down to it.  The only advantage the Owners have is that they aren’t going to starve to death waiting out the players.

The Owners, aside from having hundreds of millions to billions in assets, at the end of the days, are still just owners in a domestic club soccer league.  And while the popularity of soccer has grown exponentially in the last 25 years since the US became regular and expected participants in the FIFA World Cup, the desire of fans to plop down their disposable income for season tickets has grown at a substantially slower pace, not to mention, park themselves in front of TV’s and be the coveted eyes for advertisers to try and lure them to purchasing Continental Tires or Quaker Oats or Dewalt tools or anything else.  This is a problem that the other professional sports & their amateur feeders have little to no problem documenting and demonstrating and they are rewarded for that popularity by lavish TV contracts and sponsorship dollars.  No, professional club soccer in the US is still a long term investment that will not produce short term returns by either spending several orders of magnitude more on the currently available domestic and small allowable foreign talent pools, or dumping the protections for domestic talent and unloading millions for the talent available on the global market.

The Players Union, while hoping to present a very united front to get their demands, suffers from the same thing the Owners do.  It’s still club soccer and people have to care more for their local team than some club they grew up with or much more likely, some club they started following to impress someone. We know they want better salaries, a pathway to free agency, and at best for them, to obtain more guarantees that players in established and stable foreign leagues enjoy because their skilled labor is both in demand by the spectators and generates profit, or at least substantial revenue for club owners.  But professional club soccer in the US is still not just a money losing proposition, it’s overall a 100 million dollar or more per year money losing proposition. 

If professional club had proven to be a reliable way separate the average American from his disposable income, there would be an 80 team four-tiered professional soccer league based in Oklahoma sited at our network of Indian Casinos. 

It hasn’t proven that, in the slightest. And that united front is going to be even more difficult to maintain when the majority of the roster knows they’re a couple of missed paychecks from ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  And that is the division that the Owners will exploit, because at the end of the day, there are more than a few hundred guys willing to pull on the jersey for the $40-50K that a lot of these mid to end of the roster that a lot of these guys are playing for, hoping to improve enough to either wrangle a good payday, or at least a 10 year MLS career.  It’s sad, but this generation of MLS players just isn’t the one that’s going to go to from no names to household names.  Players whom the fans are going to value their effort more than they value the effort of their own jobs and spend their income accordingly.  Maybe the generation of players following this CBA, or the next, but not this one, because the fans just don’t care enough.

So I urge the Players Union to extract every additional salary dollar and guaranteed roster spot they can out of this CBA and let the “free agency” be your concession to avoid a stoppage.  You want free agency, you have to create demand and only the players can do that by being better than other players on the roster and giving up noble thoughts about playing for the same club for your entire career.  Until the players make the Owners compete with each other for the pride of winning, free agency and players moving wherever they want in the league is just a pipe dream.