MLS announced that it has once again extended its deadline for negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the MLS Players Association (MLSPA) for 24 hours until 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 5.
The extension is the second one granted by MLS in the last week after the league said on Jan. 29 it would extend talks through 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 4. MLS said that if a deal was not reached by then it would terminate the CBA and lock the players out. But with the two sides locked in negotiations, the decision was made to continue talks.
An MLS statement read: “Major League Soccer and the MLSPA continue to meet daily to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the League in 2021 and beyond. Although we have not finalized a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and remain apart on some key issues, discussions this week have been productive, and we have made progress.
“Since the negotiations have reached an advanced stage, the League has extended the negotiating period by 24 hours to provide every opportunity to finalize an agreement by 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 5.”
The primary sticking point has been MLS’ insistence that the CBA be extended by two years through 2027. This would have the effect of delaying the jump in compensation that typically comes with a new CBA. More importantly, such an extension would provide the league with considerable distance from the 2026 World Cup — co-hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico — and take away considerable leverage from the MLSPA to negotiate improved terms in the run-up to the tournament and the subsequent years after.
Last week, the MLSPA offered to extend the length of the deal by one year to 2026, reduce the salary cap every year from 2022-25, as well as reduce the percentage of revenue from TV rights in 2024 to 12.5 percent. In return, the MLSPA asked that the threshold for free agency in 2025 and 2026 be lowered to 23 years of age and four years of service. The current threshold is 24 years of age and five years of service. Overall, the offer amounts to $53 million in concessions over the life of the CBA.
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Sources tell ESPN that earlier this week, the players authorized the union’s bargaining committee to open up new negotiating points in a bid to extract additional concessions from MLS.
MLS is seeking between $100m and $110m in concessions from the MLSPA.
The threat of a lockout came after MLS reopened CBA negotiations by invoking a force majeure clause back on Dec. 29 due to the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, MLS feels it is looking at another year with little to no fans in the stands. Given its reliance on gameday revenues, MLS feels its finances will be severely impacted, and thinks the players should bear some of the sacrifices.
The union has countered that MLS’ approach to the negotiations wasn’t done out of financial necessity but rather financial opportunism. The MLSPA made $150m in concessions over the life of the deal when it signed the latest CBA last June.
The invoking of the force majeure clause opened up a 30-day window for the two sides to negotiate a revised CBA. Because an agreement wasn’t reached within that window, either side could’ve nullified the CBA.
In January, MLS announced that training camps ahead of the 2021 regular season would commence on Feb. 22. The regular season is set to begin on April 3.