On Wednesday, the MLS and MLSPA formally announced that the collective bargaining agreement, which was formed in principle earlier this year, has been formally ratified, extending through the 2025 season.
Over the past few days, the friction between the league and its players gained a lot of traction online through the work of ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, and as recently as yesterday, the possibility of a lockout seemed realistic.
Both revenue sharing and an updated “force majeure” clause were cited as sticking points in the most recent negotiations, and many pundits were critical of the league for using the current global health crisis as leverage in their labour negotiations.
Ultimately though, an agreement was made early on Wednesday morning, and this now paves the way for a return to play in Orlando sometime in the coming months (early July most likely), after some significant modifications from the initial proposal – including less matches, and more stringent safety measures.
According to ESPN, the new deal includes total economic concessions of over $100 million for the players, and includes an across-the-board salary cut of 7.5% that isn’t retroactive and is set to kick in for the May 31 payroll period.
The league also initially sought out a clause which tied a certain portion of the deal to fan attendance, for additional financial protection against a second wave of the virus, but the players were able to back the league off this proposal. Both sides now have the opportunity to back out of the current deal on 30 days’ notice if unforeseen circumstances come about once again.
In an MLS conference call earlier today, commissioner Don Garber commented on the threat of a lockout, and the fact that this was something which was not pursued lightly, although many close to players and player agents feel as though this threat may have seriously damaged relations between the players association and the league in the long term.
“It’s not something that I did without a lot of thought and without a lot of concern and a lot of understanding as to what impact that would have on our players and on the negotiation.” Said Garber. “But it was something, as the leader of this league that I believed was necessary in order for us to get to the point today,”
From the Vancouver Whitecaps’ perspective – MLSPA player representative Jake Nerwinski opened up about the recent talks in a conference call earlier this afternoon.
“This negotiation process was gruelling and challenging… the tactics that were used by the league over the last couple of days were very unfortunate and upsetting. I’m proud that even though the players had their backs against the wall, we remained unified to get a deal done. I’m happy that we can get back to play.”
Nerwinski went on to explain how the attendance-related clause in the force majeure was something that completely blindsided players, and how that only increased frustrations during negotiations:
“We’ve [now] agreed on a force majeure that matches other North American leagues… the League’s final counter offer included a clause (in the force majeure) specifically related to attendance. We believed that this shouldn’t be part of the negotiations and it was nothing we ever agreed upon or discussed as players.”
Finally, Nerwinski explained the effect these negotiations had on the relationship between the players and the league, as well as the actions which helped tip the scales in order for a deal to be reached.
“Players and representatives have tried to understand both sides. We gave up salary, we gave up a year of our CBA. Going into Sunday, I thought personally we would have a deal done. When the league came back with another counter proposal, in the last hour of negotiations, with the threat of a lockout, it upset a lot of guys. I think that was the turning point in this whole process. A lot of neutral guys were swayed to fight for what they felt was right. We didn’t go to training – it was a tough thing to do but it helped make this current deal possible.”
With a deal in place that leaves both parties at least somewhat satisfied, the players can now focus on what they want most – returning to training with their teammates, and playing in competitive matches once again.
What remains unclear is the exact format of the Orlando tournament, and how these matches will play into the “regular season” and “playoffs”. The league office has promised an update on this matter in the coming days, but to this point, both players and supporters are still in the dark.