Major League Soccer and its players’ union agreed to a six-year labour contract through 2025 that paves the way for a tournament in Florida after the season was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic.
The deal was announced Wednesday following tense talks that led to some players skipping voluntary workouts and the league threatening a lockout.
MLS and the Major League Soccer Players Association agreed 6 February to a five-year labour contract, but the deal had not been ratified when the season was stopped on 12 March after only two matches had been played by each team.
The ratified labour deal was announced in the midst of nationwide protests over police brutality and injustice against African Americans sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Both sides noted the unrest in announcing the contract.
“There are problems we face collectively that are both more urgent, and more important, than competing on the field,” the union said in a statement. “We hope our return to the field will allow fans a momentary release and a semblance of normalcy.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber vowed the league will go further with its public stance for equality.
“We’ve tried to create programs that would address some of the things that are important to our core values. I have to say that it’s not enough to produce ads, it’s not enough just to have programs that talk about these issues,” he said.
Garber said the league expects to take a $1 billion revenue hit because of the coronavirus.
Players agreed to a 7.5% salary reduction starting with the 31 May payroll and a $5 million cap on team and individual performance bonuses, a person familiar with the agreement said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because those details were not announced.
Terms of the deal agreed to in February were pushed back for one year. This year’s planned minimum salaries of $81,375 for senior roster players and $63,547 for reserve roster players will be pushed back to 2021. The gradual rise to $109,200/$85,502 will not be complete until 2025.
One of the sticking points was a provision that allows either side to opt out of the deal because of unforeseen circumstances, like a pandemic. The agreement does not tie the clause to attendance, something the league had sought.
The agreement also changes the players’ share of media rights negotiated in the original CBA. The share will drop from 25% to 12.5% in 2023, but will be restored to 25% in 2024.
“There is no winner in this situation. I want to be clear about that. This is a really terrible situation for all parties involved. Nobody should feel like they won a negotiation in this sense,” Nashville defender Daniel Lovitz said. “But from a solidarity standpoint, given the route that the league chose to take at this time in the negotiation process, we’re extremely comfortable and proud of our group of players and what we’re able to communicate back to the league and ultimately receive what we feel is a more than fair deal.”
Details of the Florida tournament are still being finalised. The league’s 26 teams and limited staff would be based in the Orlando area and matches played without fans at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World.
Garber said the tournament would last no longer than 35 days but he did not reveal additional details. Earlier indications were that the tournament would last some two months.
“I think the biggest issue for me personally is leaving our families during this time, for that long. And with the amount of time shortened it became more feasible. I can’t say that it’s certainly something that I’m happy about, leaving my wife, but I know we have a job to do and I’m certainly happy to be back playing soccer,” Portland Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark said.
The union announced Sunday night that players had voted for an agreement but MLS pushed back on the terms and imposed a deadline for a lockout. As a result, players from teams including Atlanta, Miami, Minnesota and Vancouver did not report to voluntary training Monday.
Garber said it was his decision to threaten the lockout, a move that was criticised.
“It’s not something that I did without a lot of thought and without a lot of concern and a lot of understanding as to what impact that would have on our players and on the negotiation. But it was something, as the leader of this league that I believed was necessary in order for us to get to the point today,” Garber said.