U.S. Soccer Players union weighs in on MLS labor situation

And they’re totally pro-management! No, no — longtime union rep Mark Levinstein is absolutely behind the players’ push for free agency and oddly insistent that the minimum salary needs to jump to $100,000.

The arguments:

Unlike the history in Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, or the NHL, in this case MLS has protection from any serious adverse financial consequences from the first introduction of free agency because of the existence of an MLS salary cap. The dire predictions from the MLS about free agency causing dramatically escalating team salaries make no sense when owners remain protected by the salary cap – free agency just means at some point in their career players will have some say in where they play, where they live, and where they raise their families.

That’s true.

Players will not have to threaten to play overseas to get fair financial treatment.

Yes … but … there will be losers among the players in a brave new world of free agency. And “overseas” is a vast term that includes everything from the Premier League to countries that aren’t renowned for paying players on time.

Of course, if you’re still touting the possibility of another antitrust suit against MLS, you’re probably thinking Levinstein shouldn’t have mentioned the whole “overseas” option.

But the takeaway here, once again, is the case MLS has not made: Why complain about players competing for slices of a limited pie?

Some media reports of the labor situation point to baseball and how quickly salaries escalated in the free agent era. That’s misleading. Baseball still has no salary cap. And baseball has convinced people to pay an awful lot of money to televise its games or eat hot dogs in their ballparks.

A $100K minimum salary would be an interesting bargaining point. At least then we’d be pretty sure all the players are making more than all the journalists. But we don’t know that the MLS union is actually asking for that. If they were — would it be just for the players who spend the whole season with the senior club? Or will we see squads full of USL players making $100K?

In any case — we still have no evidence that players are pushing for anything unreasonable. And that’s going to be a PR problem for MLS for the foreseeable future.

Published by

Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

2 thoughts on “U.S. Soccer Players union weighs in on MLS labor situation”

  1. No offense, but I think you’ve been suckered. You ask: “But the takeaway here, once again, is the case MLS has not made: Why complain about players competing for slices of a limited pie?”

    What you don’t ask is: Why would the players complain so much about NOT doing that? Why would they lock arms, walk out, and lose paychecks over the ability to. . . take food off each others’ tables??

    The answer to both questions is the same: neither side thinks that will happen, and both sides DON’T just accept the cap as a constant, not subject to manipulation.

    What both the owners *and* the players demonstrate, by their actions, that they believe (and it’s possible they could both be wrong, but I wouldn’t bet on it) is that free agency creates a new relationship between owners, pitting one against the other in ways they haven’t been before. We can already see it happen as a result of the measure of free agency that comes with Designated Players: http://www.torontosun.com/2015/02/10/montreal-impact-owner-joey-saputo-mlse-chief-tim-leiweke-in-war-of-words.)

    The players expect more free agency (because there is some, for the players who can prove they have decent options abroad) to open up more divisions between ownership, which will ultimately mean the players are able to drive their terms up down the road. This division already exists with DPs: small clubs have the incentive to want a higher salary cap, because this is paid for out of shared revenue [that is generated more by the big clubs] while big clubs want more DP-like exceptions, because that’s using your own money on your own product, knowing the smaller clubs can’t take as much advantage as you can.

    If a more substantial part of the league becomes free agents, you’ll see more of that, the bigger clubs wanting to spend more of their own money on their roster, while the smaller clubs want to keep payrolls even and centrally provided.

    But also, active (but not currently in MLS) player Bobby Warshaw has made the point that the “salary” figures embodied by the cap are an oversimplified version of true ‘compensation’:
    ” It’s important to note that the players believe that free agency is a one-fix solution. When teams have to compete for players, teams won’t hold all of the power. They will need to start to care about the interests of the players, who will sign with the teams that offer guaranteed contracts and fewer option years. The bar will be raised for the teams to meet naturally. There’s no need to haggle over small issues when the big one will take care of all of them. Everyone gets what they want and need. The market that once devoured players now appears to be their liberator.”

    Now take another look at Levinstein’s second quote. He’s really giving the game away.

  2. I’m sorry sgc’s comment got held up in the spam filter. It must not like links — which is too bad, because Warshaw’s piece in particular is worth reading.

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