By: Taylor Wilson, KCOU Sports
After months of a rumored MLS players’ strike that would have forced a potentially disastrous work stoppage, Major League Soccer announced Wednesday night that a new collective bargaining agreement between the Players’ Union and the league had been reached.
Details are still (perhaps intentionally) murky but the Orlando Sentinel, among others, reported the deal will last through 2019 and include a form of free agency, something players had said was a major sticking point throughout the talks. Unfortunately for the players, that form will be limited exclusively to those aged 28 and older who have at least eight consecutive years of experience in the league. Additionally, the new CBA will see the league’s minimum salary rise from $37,000 per year to $60,000.
Labor negotiations are a tricky thing. Neither side has anything to gain from a work stoppage but players understand, or at least should understand, that striking can be their most powerful asset to ensure fair labor conditions for everyone. Major League Soccer has by no means operated a sweatshop in its nearly two decades of existence, and certainly not over the past few seasons, when player salaries have consistently risen. But it is concerning when minimum-salary players make less than $40,000 annually while several clubs are worth nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. Add to this a domestic television contract fresh out of the oven worth $90 million a year (split between FOX, ESPN, and Univision) and it seems a minimum-salary bump was imperative. It’s hard to argue that the players didn’t win this part of the deal because frankly, a pay raise of over 60% for “minimum-wage” players is pretty awesome.
What’s not as awesome is the decision by the MLSPA to cave on the issue of free agency. We might need to consult an MU economics professor to discuss the extent to which free agency benefits players but at its core, it allows good players to be rewarded by testing the open market between contracts. The league may not be ready for complete free agency, a move that could potentially lead to market inflation and overpaid players but we all thought it would be better than this. Eight consecutive years of play in the league before players can qualify? Or more importantly, free agency only available for those aged at least 28? If we collectively believe that a soccer player’s prime is anywhere from say, 22 to 30, this deal gives players little to no wiggle room to explore open waters while they’re playing the best soccer they ever will. In a time when the league should be doing everything it can to entice young players from around the world to begin and end their careers in MLS, this is a major barrier. While the league can survive on a mix of aging superstars and solid domestic talents, it should realize that this alone will not elevate it to the next step. The players lost their battle on free agency and come 2019, when it will once more be time to revisit the CBA, the league should finally rethink its future.