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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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The MLS Is Starting Its Season With Replacement Refs—Here’s Why

  • The soccer referees’ union rejected a tentative CBA and no-lockout agreement.
  • The managing referee organization will use replacement refs to start the season.
MLS refs
Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

As the MLS season kicks off Wednesday, it will do so with replacement referees.

The Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) is the union for MLS, NWSL, and USL refs. Its members rejected a new tentative collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), which oversees officiating for U.S. and Canadian leagues. The PRO then locked out PSRA refs and found replacements for them.

The PSRA announced Saturday it held a vote with almost all its eligible members, and 95.8% responded “no” to the new CBA. Leadership said it thinks the vote stems from “PRO’s economic package” not meeting expectations and “a lack of quality of life improvements,” including traveling and scheduling, per the announcement. The union warned that replacing its refs could have a “substantial impact” on the upcoming MLS season, saying that’s what happened when PRO replaced them at the start of the 2014 MLS campaign.

PRO laid out key points of the rejected five-year CBA, including pay increases, first or business-class plane rides for the playoffs, MLS Cup, and Decision Day; physical therapy and some contributions for health care; increased severance; and improved injured pay. The organization said the PSRA also rejected its “no strike/no lockout proposal,” meaning union refs cannot work during ongoing negotiations.

The MLS released a statement saying the CBA would’ve made PRO members some of the highest-paid soccer match officials globally. The league’s EVP of sporting product and competition Nelson Rodríguez called the PSRA’s vote “extremely disappointing” and said of the stand-in ref plan: “We are confident in the comprehensive plan [PRO has] put in place.” He also said the rejection of the no strike/no lockout proposal is “unfortunate.”

The previous CBA expired Jan. 15, with extensions ending Feb. 12. That agreement had first been ratified in February 2019.

The lockout began at 12 a.m. ET on Sunday. Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami squad will host Real Salt Lake at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday to start the 2024 season.

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