After a negotiation process that lasted the better part of three years, Major League Soccer and its players avoided a work stoppage. And the players got virtually everything that they were asking for, potentially putting the league on a positive trajectory for the foreseeable future.
MLS and the league’s players association tentatively agreed Thursday to a new five-year collective bargaining agreement. The new CBA, which awaits ratification from the league’s Board of Governors and the MLSPA, ends after the 2024 season and brings significant changes to player compensation, free agency, charter travel and several other areas the MLSPA felt were important to the continued growth of the league.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Nick Besler, who is one of the club’s player representatives, didn’t push back when asked if the league’s players got everything they wanted in negotiations. He said as a whole, they’re happy with the new provisions in the CBA.
“Just based on how the league’s grown, especially in the last five years, I think we were in a position that we kind of deserved a lot of these things,” Besler told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Under the tentative agreement players will now reach free agency much earlier — at 24 years old and at least five years of MLS service. Under the previous agreement, those numbers were 28 and 8.
Teams will also be allowed to spend more under the new CBA. A club will now be able to spend more than $11.6 million by 2024 — an increase from about $8.5 million in 2019 — in player salary for non-designated players.
The agreement converts the $1.2 million clubs were given each season in targeted allocation money into general allocation money, giving teams more uses for it.
The minimum salary for a senior roster player will also increase through the life of the deal and culminate in $109,000 by 2024. For reserve players, that figure will increase over the same time span to $85,000.
RSL general manager Elliot Fall told The Tribune that the influx of money and relaxation of restrictions on how clubs can use it not only puts higher quality footballers in play, but creates more opportunities for the club’s own players.
“As there are added funds, as there is added investment in salary in the league, it will continue to open doors to different higher-quality players throughout the world,” Fall said. “But another important point is it will continue to increase the funds that we have available to us to invest in our own developed talent and will allow us to keep those players here longer or more flexibility in how we structure those deals and how we structure the roster around those players as well.”
In a historic move, the league and the players will for the first time share media revenue. The league’s current media right deal expires in 2022. When a new deal is reached, the league will “increase player spending by an amount equal to 25% of the increased media revenue above the amount generated by the league in 2022, plus $100 million,” the league says. That revenue sharing will start in 2023.
The league also significantly increased charter flights. Each team is now required to take eight charter legs in the 2020 season. The number of required legs will increase to 16 by 2024. In the previous CBA, it was up to the team to decide whether it wanted to use its four allowed charter legs.
While free agency, salaries and travel obviously highlight the agreement, there are some less sexy elements that were also important that players receive. One of those, Besler said, is the new monetary bonus players will receive for making the game-day roster of 18. In the previous agreement, only players who made an appearance in the game or made the starting 11 received a bonus.
“I think that’s a big win for us,” Besler said. “I think it rewards players that the coach trusts to have a chance of playing even if they don’t get in.”
Both sides were able to get a deal done three weeks before season starts, a fact not lost on those involved. The last negotiation ended in March of 2015, just days before the start of that season, and wasn’t ratified until the summer. The league and the MLSPA extended talks one week this time around to get the deal across the finish line.
“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,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “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.”
MLS CBA HIGHLIGHTS
• Expanded free agency. Players now eligible at 24 years old and five years experience, and no cap on number of free agents a team can sign
• MLS teams mandated to take eight charter legs in 2020, will expand to 16 by 2024
• Increased performance bonuses for players, including new bonus for making the game-day roster
• 55% increase in player salaries
• Shared media revenue beginning in 2023
• Annual influx of $1.2 in targeted allocation money converted to general allocation money