- Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC.
Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Association appear to be heading toward an agreement on economic concessions for 2020, as well as revised collective bargaining agreement terms, ESPN’s Taylor Twellman reported.
If the agreement is completed and ratified, it will see the two sides avoid a lockout that had been threatened by the league last Sunday. The deal will help MLS gain some economic relief from the damage suffered during the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted the league to shut down on March 12.
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The deal will also pave the way for MLS teams to take part in a tournament in Orlando that will mark the league’s return to play. Teams are scheduled to head to Central Florida on or around June 24. They would remain in Orlando for around six weeks.
Multiple sources told ESPN that the breakthrough came as MLS backed down from having a force majeure clause tied to attendance, and instead opted for an MLSPA proposal that used a more industry-standard approach patterned after the NBA.
Given the way in which attendance numbers can be presented, with local restrictions potentially impacting the extent to which stadiums will be opened, this was a significant move by MLS.
A formal deal is expected to be delivered to the MLSPA later on Tuesday, and a ratification vote would be taken by the players in the next 24 hours.
Sources tell ESPN that the two sides are expected to find a middle ground on the issues of salary cuts and revenue sharing of broadcast rights. The latest offer from MLS was for an 8.75% pay cut, while the MLSPA had offered 7.5%.
On revenue sharing, which was scheduled to begin when a new broadcast right deals is completed in 2023, the original terms in the CBA that was agreed to — but not ratified last February — would have resulted in the players receiving 25% of the broadcast rights fee that was $100 million above 2022 levels.
MLS was offering 10% cut in 2023 while the union countered with 17%. The percentage would increase to 25% in 2024.
The breakthrough was aided by some divisions within the ownership ranks, with one faction comprised of newer teams displeased with the league’s threat of a lockout, with others wanting to take a harder line. That division led the league to soften the language on the force majeure clause.
The two sides have been negotiating for the past two months about pay cuts, the Orlando tournament and CBA terms. The lack of a ratified CBA gave MLS an opening to renegotiate some of the CBA terms.
The extent to which the talks have damaged the relationship between the league and the union remains to be seen.
While the league’s quest for financial relief is understandable given the pandemic, MLS’s heavy-handed tactics will no doubt create some angst within the MLSPA membership.
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