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MLS and Players Association Agree on new CBA, Season to begin as scheduled

MIAMI, Fla. (February 6, 2020) —

Major League Soccer and the MLS Players’ Association announced on Thursday morning that they have reached agreement in principle on a new five-year deal pending ratification by the MLS Board of Governors and the MLSPA membership. The old agreement had been extended through tomorrow by mutual agreement.

The new collective bargaining agreement spans five seasons, beginning with a start date of last Saturday (Feb. 1) and extending through Jan. 31, 2025.

The 2020 MLS season will thus begin on time and teams involved in the Concacaf Champions League, the region’s most important club tournament, will not be adversely affected.

With twenty-three days to go before the start of the 2020 campaign, the new CBA has been agreed to with significantly more time to spare. Back in 2015, the league almost incurred a work stoppage as players voted to strike, but came to a compromised agreement only the night before the season was scheduled to begin.

Highlights of New CBA

Players receiving a share of media revenue for the first time in history
Increased investment in player spending
Greater salary budget flexibility across rosters
Expanded free agency
Increase in charter flights

“Players have secured an agreement that will substantially change what it means to be an MLS player,” said Executive Director of the MLSPA Bob Foose in a statement. “Over the past two years, we have engaged in a substantive, comprehensive negotiation process with the league. We believe that the sweeping changes and increased investment in this agreement will not only be integral to the league’s continued growth, but will also move MLS closer to the systems in place in overseas leagues with which we aspire to compete.”

“As we prepare to celebrate our 25th season, we are very pleased to finalize a new five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement with our players,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “This agreement addresses key strategic priorities for the league and our players while also retaining the basic player compensation structure that has been the foundation for the growth and stability of Major League Soccer. We had constructive, positive discussions with the leadership of the MLSPA and the players’ bargaining committee during the negotiations over the last few months and I would like to thank them for their collaboration in concluding an agreement that will serve as the foundation for a new era of partnership with our players.”

I plan to follow up with a detailed report on the new agreement. For now though, this new CBA appears at first glance to contain much of what the players were bargaining for: expanded free agency, increased player spending, more flexibility in how teams construct their rosters, charter flights, and more.

Less changed is the overall structure of how teams spend money on player acquisition and salary, but what is changing is a higher salary cap and more allocation money. The cap will gradually increase from $8,490,000 in 2020 to $11,643,000 in 2024. The minimum senior player salary will also go up to $109,200 in the final year of the deal. Players will benefit from bigger contributions to their 401k and other improvements.

On the issue of allocation money, the new CBA affords teams more budget flexibility. Targeted Allocation Money, a total of $1.2 million that MLS teams can use to buy players or buy down their salary cap charges, will be combined with General Allocation Money.

A key area of the new agreement is in relation to how it accounts for media rights fees. MLS’ current broadcast rights contracts with ESPN, Univision and Fox expire after the 2022 season. The new packages are expected to bring in higher rights’ fees, and one new benefit from the players’ perspective is receiving a share of those media rights fees, with a portion of the revenue going towards player spending. The league agreed to spend 25% of the increased media revenue, plus an additional $100 million, beginning in 2023 with their next media rights contract.

From a quality of work conditions standpoint, the issue of the use of charter flights was one the players placed great importance on. Under the old agreement, teams were only allowed to use charter flight four times per season, and the use was not mandatory. The rest of the time, players flew commercial flights in economy. The new deal requires teams to use charter flights for eight road trips in 2020. The required number jumps to 16 charter trips by 2024. Teams will also be required to charter their teams to and from all MLS postseason matches, as well as Concacaf Champions League matches that involve international travel.

Players won increased free agency also, beginning next offseason. Ppreviously, players had to wait until they were 28 and had spent eight years in the league. Now, they will be eligible for free agency if they are at least 24 years old and have at least five years of MLS service, regardless of how many teams they played for. Players can still only bargain for a 15% or $25,000, whichever is greater, as a maximum raise if they made less than the budget maximum. The minimum raise goes up for TAM level contracts and designated players, who are now also eligible for free agency. An explanation can be found here.

The number of Designated Players remains unchanged at three per team. Players in a DP slot can continue to have a salary that exceeds the maximum salary budget charge.

Additionally, teams will be allowed to sign up to three players 22-years-old and younger on a reduced salary cap charge with more details coming at a later date.

The 2020 MLS season will begin as scheduled on Saturday, February 29, 2020, without the fear of a work stoppage.

By Ken Russo

While my background is in the legal industry, the skills acquired and fine-tuned in law practice are now applied to focus on the sport of football. Russo Soccer aims to inform, educate and engage on news and relevant issues in the game.

Um advogado por formação, concentro meu trabalho nos negócios, comunicações e operações de equipes no futebol mundial. | Abogado con fundación avanzada en comunicaciones, enfocado en los negocios del fútbol y las comunicaciones. | Je suis un avocat experimenté dans les affaires de football.