The MLS Players Association offered updates around ongoing negations with the league over the 2020 collective bargaining agreement Thursday, warning that players are ready to strike if demands aren’t met.
Bob Foose, the MLSPA’s executive director, said players have been preparing for the possibility of a work stoppage for more than two years. The current CBA, signed in 2015, expires on January 30. The union admitted to also having multiple conversations with other major sports leagues on a variety of topics to help guide this round of negotiations.
“The players are really serious when they say they will do what is best for the player pool,” Foose said on a scheduled conference call with the press.
Joining Foose on the call were active MLS players Alejandro Bedoya, Diego Rubio, and Jeff Larentowicz, who are all members of the MLSPA – Larentowicz sits on its executive committee.
According to the union, players’ demands heading into 2020 include higher wages for players, a truly open market free agency system putting the league more in line with other U.S. professional sports leagues, and more charter flights for teams.
Bedoya, who is captain and winger for the Philadelphia Union, recounted the events that led to his quad injury in Columbus at the end of September, saying that inconvenient travel arrangements for the team – that included two cross-country flights and a bus ride from San Jose to San Francisco – contributed to his first career muscle injury.
“Charter travel is a huge player benefit, especially with the league being played across two large countries,” said Bedoya. “This stuff has been researched, and articles have been written about how it can help teams recover.”
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Charter flights for players are just one piece of a larger equation, according to the MLSPA. No deal will be done if other requests by the union are shoved aside. And perhaps the most controversial item on the docket short of free agency is Team Allocation Money (TAM), a measure introduced by MLS four years ago to provide strategic funds to teams that help them add or retain players. In the new CBA, the MLSPA would want the individual teams to have full control over spending.
“We have a very negative view of the restrictions in place. MLS turned what should have been a win into a real loss,” said Foose “We should stop being a league where you design a competitive football league in a boardroom. It should be done by the people who know the game.”
Despite CBA negotiations that could prove to become messy, the MLSPA is confident an agreement will be reached. There are 130 players now a part of the MLSPA, representing 20% of the league, according to Foose.
The 2019 CBA discussions also come during another period of off-the-field growth for MLS. The league now has 24 partners, and signed new deals with Captain Morgan, Headspace and MGM Resorts International this year. MLS expansion fees are now $200 million.
MLS will also be signing new media deals deals that will begin in 2023, with the league expecting a large uptick from the roughly $90 million it receives from ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision in the U.S for its current rights.
That commercial growth will be considered by the union in the CBA negotiations- the MLSPA is given full transparency into the league’s business deals.