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MLS reaches labor agreement with players

Seattle Sounders celebrate after winning the MLS Cup championship Nov. 10.
The Seattle Sounders celebrate after winning the MLS Cup championship Nov. 10. The league and its players have reached a five-year collective bargaining agreement.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Major League Soccer and its players association reached agreement in principle on a new five-year collective bargaining agreement Thursday, one that eases rules on player spending, expands free agency, increases the number of charter flights each team can use and give the players a share of revenue generated from broadcast rights.

The agreement, a major victory for the players, must be ratified by the league and union members but both sides expect the deal to be approved, averting the possibility of a strike or lockout that would have delayed the start of the league’s 25th season later this month.

“This agreement addresses key strategic priorities for the league and our players while also retaining the basic player compensation structure that has been the foundation for the growth and stability of Major League Soccer,” said commissioner Don Garber, who called the CBA something that “will serve as a foundation for a new era of partnership with our players.”

Negotiations for the last two contracts nearly led to work stoppages. Five years ago federal mediators were called in and the union held a strike vote before an agreement — one neither side was totally comfortable with —- was reached days before the season began.

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With last Saturday’s methodical 4-0 rout of Southampton, the Liverpool Reds (24-0-1) have dropped just two points in 25 EPL matches.

The players were again ready to walk out this winter, but both sides came to the table early and talks appeared to progress amicably.

“We were certainly prepared for a stoppage,” Bob Foose, executive director of the MLS players association said during a conference call.

“The solidarity demonstrated by the players throughout this process really drove the agreement, drove the process and put us in a fantastic position,” Foose added. “We think this really is a historic step forward for the sport and for the league.

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“We got a deal that’s going to significantly change what it means to be an MLS player.”

The key changes in the CBA include increased spending on salaries, greater budget flexibility and expansion in both in free agent eligibility and in the use of charter flights, which goes from a limit of four in 2019 to 16 for the 2024 season, the final year covered by the new agreement. It also makes charters mandatory for MLS playoff and CONCACAF Champions League matches involving international travel.

MLS is the only major professional sports league in the U.S. whose teams regularly use commercial flights.

“This agreement represents broad progress for all players,” said Minnesota United midfielder Ethan Finley, a member of union’s executive board. “Every player is affected by it directly.”

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The new CBA will raise spending on salaries to more than $11.6 million per team in 2024, an increase of more than $2 million from last season. Minimum salaries will also rise substantially, from $70,250 in 2019 to $109,200 by 2024.

Teams can spend even more on salaries by investing in designated players and through allocation money, which can now be spread across the entire roster. Under the previous CBA, each team had $1.2 million in targeted allocation money, but there were limits in how it could be used, something the union opposed.

The players also won concessions on free agency.

Under the old CBA, which expired last week, players had to be at least 28 with at least eight seasons of MLS service time to be eligible. The new deal drops those numbers to 24 and five seasons while also extending free agency to designated players and those earning more than the maximum salary, more than doubling the number of players who would be eligible.

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Players also won the right to share in media revenue for the first time. The league’s current broadcast deal, worth $90 million a season, expires after the 2022 season and when a new accord is signed, the league will grow player spending by 25% of the increased revenue, after the first $100 million.


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