As of January 31st the existing MLS collective bargaining agreement expired leaving the league and the players union without a deal in place for the new season. The now expired CBA was agreed back in 2010 and ran for 5 years ending last week. While most of the details of the CBA came out in various forms over the year it may be worth collecting the key points to show just what is included in a MLS CBA.
Thanks to a document that was from the MLS League Office to each of the clubs in the league back in 2010 we can get a closer look at what was included in that old CBA. It is worth looking at what was included in the old CBA because those same points will likely be part of the discussion for the new deal. We know the battle-lines are being drawn over wages and free agency but what else is involved in a CBA?
The first point of the old CBA was the length for which it would run. In 2010 the two sides ratified a deal that would run for five years from 2010-2014 (expiring January 31, 2015). The new CBA will likely run for a similar period of time as the league will want to ensure stability and the players will not want to be locked in to a longer deal considering how fast the league is growing.
The length of the CBA is probably not going to be the subject of much of a battle but the second section of the old CBA is where things will probably get a bit more heated. The largest portion of the memo regarding the old CBA was spent discussing the issues that surround contracts.
The deal set out who would be eligible for a guaranteed contract (players over 24 with 3 years of MLS service) while other players would be entitled to one months severance if their contract was terminated. It set out the terms for the unilateral options the league relied so heavily on so that players over 25 with with 4 years of MLS experience could only have 2 such years in their contracts while other players may have up to 3. The CBA also set out that players making under $125,000 the minimum increase in base salary would be 10% if they played in 66% of games and 12.5% if they played in 74% of games ensuring that any player making regular appearances for a club would not get stuck making the league minimum for five years while the club exercised three years worth of options.
The unilateral options years may be the first point where the Players Union will be looking to make major changes from the previous CBA. If the players really want to have more control over their fate within the league having a larger say in option years and more guaranteed years in the deals would be important.
Even in 2010 the issue of player movement was the major sticking point. Back then the Player's Union did not have the leverage to really push for what they wanted but it was still enough of a battle that league wound up having to take a hard stance of saying that they would not offer any form of free agency. That will once again be tested by the players who are now saying it is free agency or a strike.
The old CBA did not include any form of free agency but did make some small strides towards improving the system and ensuring that players were not stuck having their rights held by a club that no longer wanted them. As such, the old CBA established three categories of out-of-contract players: players whose options were not exercised, players whose contracts were terminated, and players whose contracts have expired.
Players in all three of those categories would go through some form of waivers with the creation of the Re-entry draft being the main mechanism for helping find these players a new club. The CBA also set things up so that a team holding a player's rights could not hold them for randsom as even if they agreed on a new contract at a lower figure other clubs would have the chance to claim that player through the waivers process.
If a player over the age of 22 has their contract terminated they would be placed on waivers and if they are not claimed they remain on waivers on a first come first, served basis. The same is true for players whose contracts have expired with players over 30 with 8 years of MLS experience going on waivers unless they receive a qualifying offer of at least 105% of their previous contract. Players who are over 25 with with at least 4 years of MLS experience whose contracts expire would be placed in the re-entry draft unless they receive a qualifying offer of at least 100% of their previous salary.
Things then move in to the dollars and cents of the CBA as it sets out a number of different budgetary figures for clubs and contracts. The first figure that the old CBA covered was the salary cap which started out at $2,550,000 in 2010 and rose to $3,100,000 for 2014. Under the terms of the old CBA the cap rose each year along with the league minimum salary.
The minimum salary was set at $40,000 for 2010 and rose to $48,500 by 2014. The old CBA also allowed for developmental players to qualify for this minimum meaning that the first 24 players on the roster would be making at least $40,000. There was also a contingency in place in case rosters expanded beyond 24 players (they did) which meant that players on that part of the roster would make $31,250 in 2010 and that figure would rise to $36,500 for 2014.
The final financial figure that the memo covered was 401k contributions. Under the old CBA MLS would make a contribution based on the players salary. That contribution was 3.25% in 2010 and rose to 3.5% for the final two years of the old CBA.
Under the terms of the previous CBA players were expected to make a minimum number of charitable appearances, 4 team, and 2 personal appearances without compensation. If a player made appearances beyond that they would be entitled to $250 per appearance with a maximum number of appearances being set at 2 in a week and a total of 24 in a year. A player was able to agree to make more appearances though. On top of that a player would receive $300 to appear for a local sponsor and $750 to appear for a national sponsor. The teams were required to give the player their appearance schedule one week in advance.
On top of the appearance fees players were entitled to certain per diems when the team travels. The CBA set out that players would receive $15 for breakfast, $20 for lunch, $30 for dinner, and an additional $10 per day of travel. On top of that teams were required to help cover the relocation costs of newly acquired players. A newly signed player could receive reasonable relocation costs up to $5,000 while a drafted player could opt for $3,500 in cash instead. A traded player would be entitled to a bit more with the club having to cover the reasonable relocation expenses as well as 2 months of rent/mortgage (up to $2,000 per month), 21 days of housing and per diem, 10 day car rental, and two round trip flights for the player and 1 for each family member. The final category is players whose contracts have been terminated who are entitled to relocation expenses as well as the 2 months of rent/mortgage. The CBA also ensured that players would be entitled to 1 day off per week whenever possible with a total of 10 days off in each 10 week period.
The old CBA even covered things like players being involved in coaching roles and running soccer camps. During the offseason players could run camps within their club's market while during the offseason they can operate camps outside of the 45 mile radius around their club's stadium. The players were also allowed to serve as youth coaches within their market.
Under the old deal players would each receive 4 tickets to home matches and 2 tickets to away matches. The only stipulation for these tickets was that they would be in the lower level and within the same section with the section being allowed to vary from game to game.
Bonuses were also something that the old CBA covered. Some examples of the bonuses that were included in the old CBA were $4,500 per regular season MLS win, $200,000 for winning the MLS Cup, $50,000 for winning the Supporters Shield, and 50% of tournament winnings.
The final major point from the memo was the compensation that players would receive for taking part in those international friendlies that we all love so much. The CBA divided teams in to three different groups with different compensation based on those groups. The first group was made up of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, AC Milan, FC Barcelona, and Real Madrid. For friendlies against those opponents players that make the 18-man roster would receive an appearance fee of $2,000. The second group was man up of Club America and Chivas with players on the 18-man roster getting $1,500 for those friendlies. The final group was all other teams and for those friendlies the fee would be based on the number of friendlies played. For the first game players received no fee, $500 for the second game, $750 for the third game, and $1,000 for the fourth game and any additional games. Players would also receive $1,000 for any post season friendlies.
All of that was part of the old CBA and that was just the main points that the deal covered. It gives you a sense of just why it took nearly a year for the two sides to work out the last CBA with things not getting resolved until the end of March in 2010.
Each detail that was in the old CBA will be opened up for discussion again this time around meaning there is a lot to go over. While most of these details will not take long to work out there are still a lot of i's to dot and t's to cross before any new CBA can be completed. The two sides will likely work on a lot of the smaller details to get them in place before they move on to the two main points of contention.
While the real battle will be fought over free agency and player salaries it is worth remembering that there will be a lot more to the new CBA than just those big issues.