CBA Negotiations / Featured / MLS

MLS announces details of new CBA

On Tuesday, MLS announced the details of the new collective bargaining agreement. The five year deal still needs the approval of the MLS Board of Governors and the membership of the Players Union.

As we all know, absent from the new CBA is any new agreement on free agency. MLS commissioner Don Garber said on Saturday, “Players will have greater rights at the expiration of their agreements but they will not be free agents within the league.”

What the players got was a “re-entry draft,” the particular mechanisms of which are as yet not clearly defined.

Jimmy Conrad of the Kansas City Wizards said of the new re-entry draft plan, “It’s a way for a player to be exposed to every other team in the league . . . There was a form of free agency we were looking for. There were a lot of concerns. One of the big ones was that when you get waived you should be free. If a team doesn’t want you they shouldn’t get any compensation for you if another team wants you. They met us halfway on some of the rights stuff or ended up giving us what was fair.”

The “re-entry draft” is not free agency. But, if it was clear to we fans through the comments of various owners as the strike deadline loomed near that free agency was not negotiable at this time, surely it was also clear to the players.

So, where are we?

Some may decide that, given all of the talk about “rights” during the negotiations and the absence of free agency in the new CBA, the players have “lost.”

Others may look at the increase in minimum salaries and annual pay increases, both of which were early and obvious topics when discussing the shortcomings of the previous contract, and be more pleased.

There are three important things to remember.

First, the limbo of a player out of contract and his future still being controlled by to his previous club is over, even if the mechanism of the re-entry draft is yet to be defined. This is a significant victory for the players union.

Second, though the players did not win free agency, the players union will continue the process of making its case to the owners and the public for free agency through the life of the new CBA. They will do so in a league that is still developing, still expanding. Where the league will be in five years is anyone’s guess. The players union will continue to lay the groundwork for negotiations in five years time. Free agency will not go away.

Third, that both sides have so easily expressed their satisfaction with the new contract speaks volumes about an admirable understanding that exists between the league and the players union, an understanding that is not just about what is fair in negotiations, but what is possible given the current place of soccer in the American sport landscape.

Throughout the negotiations, a third party, while not physically present, must have been ever present in the minds of negotiators from both sides: American soccer fans, old, new, or as yet unknown. It goes without saying that, in this crucial year in the history of soccer in America – a World Cup year with an expanding and increasingly competitive first division professional league – a strike would have been catastrophic.

Say what you will about whether the owners or the players “won” with the new CBA, the bottom line is that we, the fans, won. Speaking for myself, I come from a union family and have supported the union cause all my life. But right now, soccer in America is more important to me than whether the players have free agency. Whether or not I feel differently in five years is the kind of conflict that I think most of us will be more than happy to encounter.

Here are the key points of the new contract. Let us know what you think.

Guaranteed Contracts: Any player with at least three years of league service who is at least 24 years old will have a guaranteed contract.

Club’s Salary Budgets: Salary budgets for each club will increase by 10.15% from $2.315 million per club in 2009 to $2.55 million in 2010. There will be an further increase of 5% per year for the remainder of the contract. (It is unclear if the 5% increase is based on the 2009 salary budget for each club or will be cumulative.)

Minimum Salary: Senior roster players will see a minimum salary increase of 17.64% from $34,000 in 2009 to $40,000 in 2010. There will be an further increase of 5% per year for the remainder of the contract. (Same as above.)

Player Movement: To prevent clubs from bidding against each other for out of contract players, a “re-entry draft” will be established by the league. While the details of this new draft have yet to be finalized, the draft will apply to players in the following categories:

“Option Not Exercised”: A player who is at least 23 years old with three years of league service will be made available to all clubs in the re-entry draft at his option salary.

“Contract Terminated”: If a player is at least 22 years old with at least one year of league service and is asked to take a pay cut after his contract is terminated, that player will be made available to all clubs in the re-entry draft at his current salary.

“Contract Expires”:

  1. If a player is at least 30 years old with eight years of league service when his contract ends with a club, he will be made available in the re-entry draft unless that club makes a qualified offer to renew the player’s contract. The offer must be at least 105% of the player’s last salary. Offers made by other clubs in the re-entry draft must be at least 105% of the player’s last salary.
  2. If a player is at least 25 years old with at least four years of service in the league when his contract ends with a club, the player will be made available in the re-entry draft unless that club makes a qualified offer to renew the player’s contract. The offer must be at least equal to the player’s last salary. Offers made by other clubs in the re-entry draft must be at least equal of the player’s last salary.

Options in Player Contracts: Contracts for players who are at least 24 years old with four years of league service will have a maximum of two options. Contracts for all other players can have a maximum of three options.

Compensation, Benefits and Bonuses:

  1. If a player’s annual compensation is less than $125,000 and that player plays in at least 66% of his clubs games, the minimum increase in base salary is 10%. If a player’s annual compensation is less than $125,000 and that player plays in at least 75% of his clubs games, the minimum increase in base salary is 12.5%. (It is unclear how “plays in” is defined.)
  2. All players will have full health care for himself and his family at no cost. The league will increase contributions to player’s 401(k) accounts. Appearance fees, per diem when travelling and relocation expense reimbursement will increase.
  3. Players will receive bonuses for wins and appearance fees for international friendliest.

Group License: The group licensing agreement will be extended through 2015, one year longer than the new CBA.

Reserve Division: A joint commission comprised of representatives of the League and the Players Union will be established to study the re-introduction of the Reserve Division. In the event that club rosters are expanded with the re-introduction of the Reserve Division, the salary for those players will be a minimum of $31,250 with additional annual increases.

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