MLS Strike Looming?

MLS Strike Looming?
March 18, 2010, 5:37 am
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Our man Rev is back with some MLS thoughts. These are his words.

Before
I get killed for it in the comments let me first acknowledge the following. 
Yes, the Phillies are in the midst of spring training. Yes, March Madness
is upon us. Yes, thanks to the Olympic break the Flyers are currently
engaged in a sprint to the regular season finish. Yes, the 76ers are
doing their damndest to accumulate ping-pong balls. And finally, yes
the Eagles are five weeks out from the draft and are busy attending
pro days. As a die-hard fan of all of these teams, events, and leagues
I get it. However, I am also a huge soccer fan who has no idea whether
the Major League Soccer season will begin, as scheduled, on March 25th,
when the Philadelphia Union are supposed to play their first ever game
in Seattle against the Sounders.

Why
is there a good chance they won’t be playing on March 25th?
Well, the players union has stated that barring a new collective bargaining
agreement they plan to go on strike on Monday.

Without going into too
much labor-related detail the issues can be boiled down pretty easily.
MLS is organized as a single entity structure. The team owners are investors
in the league. The league owns all of the player contracts. It is revenue
sharing taken to the extreme. Amongst other reasons this structure is
in place to maintain financial stability and to prevent teams from starting
an arms race and pricing each other out of business (like what happened
with the North American Soccer League).

The
players union wants the league to loosen restrictions on player movement.
Currently, a player remains the property of the team to which the he’s
been allocated. Bizarrely, this remains true even after that player’s
contract has expired. How does this work? Well, let’s take Elton Brand
as an example. If the NBA played under MLS rules when Brand’s contract
expires in 2027, or whenever it mercifully ends, Brand would remain
property of the 76ers, and would not be free to sign with another NBA
team. In order to keep playing he’d have to go to Europe or some other
professional league. As property of the 76ers he’d be unable to move
to another NBA club. Yes, this sounds Draconian, but for a start-up
league seeking cost certainty it make some sense.

Now,
I am not here to tell you who I think is right. My sole motivation is
that the two sides hammer out an agreement and the Union actually play
Seattle in front of an already sold out Qwest Field crowd of 27,700.
What I am here to tell you though is that a work stoppage could not
come at a worse time for the Union. Why?

The
Union has steadily built momentum leading to the start of the season.
They’ve done so much right so far. They’ve already sold over 9,500
season tickets. They have sponsors lined up for everything from the
name of their stadium (PPL Park) to their official ice cream (Turkey
Hill). In a down economy they’ve even somehow managed to sign a plumbing,
heating, and air conditioning services company to a sponsorship deal.
They have a 5,000-plus member fan club in place (Sons of Ben). On top
of all of this it’s also a World Cup year. The U.S. Men’s National
Team is even playing their final send-off match in Philadelphia on May
29th. Media coverage of soccer in the U.S. will be at an
all-time high this summer. Everything is in place for the Union to kick
off with a bang – save for the minor issue of their players possibly
going on strike three days before the first game in franchise history.

As
a fan who wants to see the league and the Union succeed a strike is
a frightening and potentially crippling possibility. Hopefully both
sides come to their senses and work things out in time to salvage opening
night in Seattle. Although, I suppose the lone positive thing about
a strike is I’d save a ton of money in fines and attorney fees by
not having the opportunity to assault my USMNT nemesis Jonathan Bornstein
when Chivas USA came to town.

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