Major League Soccer players on Wednesday ratified a new collective bargaining agreement through 2025 that is intended to restart the league’s suspended season with a made-for-television tournament involving all 26 teams, but no supporters next month in Orlando.
With the deal the league, which Commissioner Don Garber said has taken a $1 billion hit in lost revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic, will get back playing games again. MLS was shuttered March 12, just two weeks into its 25th anniversary season.
A players’ vote extended a collective bargaining agreement that was agreed to in February — but not yet ratified — by a year, to 2025. It also puts in motion plans to resume the season in Orlando with teams sequestered in a Disney resort.
“Negotiations are framed as winners and losers,” Garber said. “The winner here is this league will go forward and the players are going to be able to have security for five years.”
The agreement avoided a labor lockout that Garber threatened when he set a Tuesday deadline and then extended it one day.
“If we didn’t believe we were arguing for and advocating for things really crucial to the future success and viability of the league, I certainly wouldn’t have gone down that path,” Garber said.
Players agreed to a 5% reduction in their 2020 salaries and a sizable one-year reduction in 2023 to a media-revenue sharing plan that starts for the first time that year. Owners agreed to revision in a clause that protects both sides in case of an extraordinary circumstance beyond either side’s control, such as a viral parademic.
They also received the CBA’s extension by a year they sought because it locks in their spending through 2025 and an Orlando tournament that will help recoup some of the league’s steep losses with television and corporate-partner revenue.
Garber said the tournament “at least allows us to get back in front of our fans” and also said, “clearly our absence from the sports scene, it was really crucial to get back. We could have at least a tournament able to deliver to our fans and partners and capture some form of revenue.”
Ethan Finlay, a Minnesota United veteran midfielder and an MLS Players Association executive board member, tweeted about both Wednesday’s ratification and global issues in one tweet.
“I’m proud of our players,” Finlay wrote. “We United when faced with the greatest threat to our careers. Now let’s do the same to Unite against racism and injustice for all humans.”
A MLSPA news release that announced the agreement said it “provides players with certainty for the months ahead” and “allows our members to move forward and continue to compete in the game they love.”
Garber calls his league a “gameday revenue business” that will play without fans during that monthlong Orlando tournament while gleaming almost-new Allianz Field and other league stadiums stand empty, shuttered by the virus and health departments’ physical-distancing guidelines.
When will games be played at Allianz Field — with or without spectators — and other MLS stadiums again? Will they yet be in 2020?
In a video conference call with reporters Wednesday, Garber used the phrase “the key word is uncertainty” more than once, but left open the possibility that games will be played in team’s home markets before the year is out.
“I can’t tell you today when we will be returning to stadiums,” Garber said. “The process started three months ago. I would have told you then the likelihood of returning to stadiums [this season] was zero. I feel today, as more and more states are opening up — or at least appear to be opening up — there might be a likelihood that will happen.
“In how many states and how many teams, we have no certainty at all today. Everything we do will in accordance with local health authorities.”
MLS plans to play the rest of a season in 2020, after each team is guaranteed at least three group games in Orlando that will count in league standings. There’s also $1 million in prize money as well as a trophy that will be rewarded to the tournament’s winner.
The rest of the regular season could stretch well into December and 2020 playoff games and the championship game possibly could be played into 2021.