Major League Soccer

MLS responds to Players Union criticisms over labor talks


Just a day after members of the Major League Soccer Players Union publicly criticized MLS officials over their handling of labor negotiations, MLS is defending itself against claims that it is not taking talks over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement seriously.

MLS president Mark Abbott responded on Saturday to criticism from players that MLS hasn't done enough to help make a labor deal happen, telling SBI that the league has done quite a bit to try and get a deal to happen.

"They're mis-characterizing the scope, extent and seriousness of the proposals that the league has made," Abbott said. "We can't compel them to accept those proposals, we can't compel them to appreciate those proposals but I can tell you that they are significant. To say that the league is not serious is a complete mis-characterization of what has happened over the past few weeks, or months for that matter."

"There was some sense that the league hadn't been taking the negotiations seriously, and had not made serious proposals, and nothing could be further from the truth," said Abbott. "In terms of economics, the league has agreed to increase its spending on players by over $60 million.

"Obviously the country is going through some tough economic times, and our teams continue to have a lot of financial challenges and our owners continue to lose significant amounts of money, and we are still able to put a very, very significant economic proposal on the table."

Members of the Players Union ranging from Pat Onstad to Jimmy Conrad to Joe Cannon have stepped forward to criticize the league about not making concessions in negotiations, but according to Abbott, the league has made proposals on every issue being discussed, with the exception being free agency.

"Our proposal isn't just limited to economics," Abbott said. "We've made a proposal to guarantee a significant number of contracts. We've made a proposal to limit the number of options, unilateral options, the league has in player contracts.

"There have been some discussions about what happens to a player whose team no longer wants him and how the right of first refusal works. We've made proposals on those areas too, to address some of those concerns.

What we haven't done is made a proposal on free agency," Abbott said. "We can address some of these right of first refusal concerns without having free agency. Free agency is not something we think is good for the league."

Abbott stated that the league has negotiated openly to discuss several key issues, but insisted that free agency was not an option.

'When we first established the league we spent a lot of time studying other efforts to launch professional soccer leagues in the U.S. and unfortunately those have failed,' Abbott said. "We have studied some of the pitfalls of some other professional leagues, not just soccer leagues, but other leagues in North America, and we came up with a structure we thought gave us the best chance to have a league that is sustainable for the long term.

"We just don't see free agency being a part of that structure or something that would be good for the league. And so that's not something that's in the proposal or something we're prepared to do."

What happens next remains to be seen but the deadline for labor negotiations to continue is Thursday and it doesn't look like a deal will be hammered out in the next five days.

  • KJ

    Everyone involved needs to compromise a little bit; they’re only hurting themselves, especially if they don’t reach an agreement and there has to be a work stoppage. The stoppage is going to do more damage to the league than anything else, especially if the season is to start in a month. Also, with the world cup this year, MLS has a chance to capitalize on the interest if the USMNT does well. A work stoppage needs to be avoided at all cost.


  • davidaubudavid

    I don’t understand this whole better product thing. What is so bad about the mls? Is everyone angry because it isn’t the best league on earth? Yes, the mls could be better, but it has gotten quite a bit better in just the last few years. Honestly it is probably better than most leagues you could possibly see. Just because it isn’t as good as the top handful of European leagues doesn’t mean it is that bad.

    Considering how little we pay players in the mls, we should be extremely excited about the product on the field. I guarantee you the average mls player is making half of market value of his foreign counterpart. Seriously when a player is making 15,000 (not to say this is average, but there are players who make very little like this) a year living in LA’s pricy economy and he comes on and is capable of playing I am extremely impressed. I live in missouri and at my waiting income of about 10,000 plus rooming with 3 people I find it difficult to afford even basic necessities. So yes I am impressed when a player making that much can come on the field and not look malnourished let alone actually play the game with any ability.


  • Manny F

    Everyone knows that MLS is just trying to break even at this point right? Sports isn’t a supposed to be run like a business. That is why so many European teams are so close to going into administration over there. You can’t make money off of a sport really. Breaking even and or gaining profit to reinvest into it is the point of the game.

    MLS is just trying not to go under. But they really need to pay these guys better. How can a player concentrate on being a professional when they need to concern themselves with an “education” or a “job”? As well as get rid of these rights issue. How can you keep someone chained to a franchise when you don’t even want them and still demand compensation for them to sign with another team. Last time I checked, that was why we had the Bosman ruling in Europe.

    And these are both products of American sport leagues. You can run a league that deals with an International sport that competes with other leagues the the way you would run a league where it is only played in a few countries like baseball.

    I’m siding with the players on this one. For starters I buy the tickets to see them play. And the league came up with all the rules that piss me off like the allocations, drafts and lottery bullcrap that they come up with.

    If the League really wanted parity, they would never have let Landon and David play on a team if they both weren’t DPs even after Landon signed a new contract. While teams like Dallas can’t sign Nguyen just because they don’t think he commands whatever Dallas and Lee were okay with.


  • Moose

    I know it is hard to realize, but they do get paid more than just their salary for playing. Alot of players I know get paid for appearences and what not. Even my friend LaBrocca was living the good life in Colorado and he only made 13k a year.


  • Moose

    Not at all. You prefer him to play against quality players. Something which MLS cannot provide.


  • Moose

    This is crazy to me, because MLS owns the player’s contracts not the teams. Thus, the playres should be allowed to move from team to team when they are out of contract.


  • Moose

    Good 2nd part, but on the first part you have to realize that 90% of the players in MLS are not good enough to go around the world and play. MLS accepts mediocre players and that is why they only get paid 20k/year. PEtke cannot go off to another league, not because of family constraints, but because he is not good enough. So, the world may be an oyster, but not for most MLS players.


  • Arkie

    Why is no one bringing up issues of fairness? owners and everyone make so much more money off these players than what they pay them. That’s a fact, so why shouldn’t players (and people like coaches/trainers etc.) demand a bigger share of the pie since it is their labor that is bringing in money? They aren’t trying to bankrupt the league, just get more of what is arguably largely theirs. Personally, I’m not worried about these guys who are DP and making good money, although the same arguments apply, but I think we really need to see pay increases for the bottom of the barrel. They are integral to a team: no team can not have the benchwarmers, and they are still putting in their labor as much as everyone else (well, minus the games…) It’s just not that fair for some guys to make absolute piddance, making what someone like David Backham makes in a week in a year. Every player is important. I don’t understand really how the mls has a cohesive union at all, you’d think the benchwarmers would be pissed off enough to get things changed.


  • Jm

    Speculation on the variables in this equation are largely false.

    The $60-million in increased player investments come by way of a new league minimum salary for senior players, and a new minimum salary for developmental players. The $60-million is the aggregate total for the term of the proposed CBA, and has an impact on very few contracts.

    The rumored $300,000 increase in the salary cap would be incremental to this $60-million investment. Although, there is a strong possibility the salary cap will remain flat, and the DP salary cap figure will change (reduced) in an effort to incentivize more clubs to use their DP allocation. More DPs = more marketable players, which media partners have asked for.

    Given the duration of the current negotiations, the DP salary cap figure will likely not change until the 2011 season. The core of MLS will remain the Americans out of the college system, but an increase on foreign players is expected as expansion clubs join the league.

    The lockout/strike is going to be all about intra-league free agency. The union want players to be able to move freely within the league; the league maintains its staunch stance against clubs bidding against one another for talent.


  • Joamiq

    I’d be OK with a cap increase of $300k only AFTER accounting for significant increases in minimum salaries, which are an utter insult.


  • Joamiq

    This is, frankly, a stupid argument. That’s like saying sweatshop owners don’t owe their employees a fair wage because they wouldn’t be employed otherwise. The owners didn’t “subsidize” the league in order to do charity for the players. They made an investment with the expectation of making bank down the road. Without the players, there are no profits to be made. The fact is that each side needs the other, but the owners now have the power, and they shouldn’t be allowed to abuse it.


  • Average-Joe

    One thing you all seem to be overlooking is the fact that the 60 million Dollar proposal is all but certain to take place over the entire term of any new CBA. It would be fool hardy to think the league would agree to a new 5 or 6 year CBA and then put all their financial eggs into the first year.

    Today’s players would see hardly any money at all out of this proposal, most of it would be eaten by new teams and players and the players who are still around at the ends of a new CBA.

    This proposal is nothing more than a PR stunt by the league and yet more suckers fell for it hook line and sinker. Why hasn’t anybody here asked how long of a term this “increase” would take place over?


  • Scottie

    How can it drive up player salaries with a hard cap? Teams would still be limited in what they can pay out.


  • Scottie

    Why would free agency kill the league when they have a salary cap of $2.3 million?

    NHL didn’t have a salary cap.


  • Is the MLS it's own worst enemy?

    As it stands MLS offers players vastly inferior opportunity and I would advise any young player to do whatever it takes to play overseas anywhere and stay out of the MLS. This would not be the case if the MLS revised how it contracts with its players in which case it could be an ultra valuable stepping stone the way lower league clubs are around the world; then MLS could be *the* key to a players career.

    As it stands playing for the MLS has got to be a option of last resort for a player and accordingly the MLS neither attracts better players nor benefits the growth of the game here in the US as it would if it were part of the connected, fluid soccer world. It is insular, a soccer ghetto with no hope of escape.

    Frankly the way the MLS contracts players is something I find unconscionable. This is no way to win fans over, it turns my stomach.


  • triplet1

    Sure, it’s about $25 million for each of the current 15 teams over the next five years — more specifically about $115,000 per team per year, and $35 million to provide players for the three new expansion teams, counting each of their entire respective payrolls as “new dollars”.

    Essentially, it’s increasing the salary budget for teams each year at about the same rate as now with with three new teams thrown in the mix.


  • Josh D

    Not when you realize some are playing for 30k or 50k a year with no prospect outside of soccer so if they’re injured, they’re on the streets.

    Fact of the matter is MLS is playing politics. They address all the issues but don’t explain them.

    “We’ve studied past leagues and other leagues and we don’t think it’s right to have free agents.” Umm that’s fine but state why it isn’t when other leagues seem perfectly fine with it and when it benefits your players (i.e. your employees).

    MLS is run like communism and they aren’t letting go. If anyone has a group or petition floating around in support of the players I will happily contribute.


  • Josh D

    This is what the league gets for waiting until the last minute… “We’ve been working on it for weeks, even months!” Well you’ve had YEARS to figure things out…


  • Felix

    a 10k raise is fine for working stiffs like us, but if you can move fairly easily to Denmark, Sweden or Norway and make 10x the amount that you make right now……..

    Then we see why we continually lose players to Scandinavian leagues.

    I can appreciate the position the league is in, it is growing due in part to its strict financial structure, but now that same structure might cause a work stoppage which would set the league back by 5 to 10 years. It and the players better figure something out that will work for everyone. If there is a lockout or a strike, this league which struggles for acceptance even among soccer fans in the US, will have a major crisis on its hands.


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