Tuesday’s Column: MLS Must Loosen Purse Strings

I’ve tried to avoid writing about the new collective bargaining agreement the MLS Players Union is negotiating with the league if only because those three little words tend to make most readers’ eyes roll back into their head.

Yep, nothing says a compelling story like the phrase “labor agreement.”

But in this case the average fan should care because MLS spending more money will increase the quality of play on the field and after some of the mind-numbing games I watched last year (and yes, I’m well aware you sometimes can say the same for your typical Wigan-Hull EPL game, too) we could always do with a few better players and better teams.

That’s the thesis of today’s column, which is helped considerably by the comments of the thoughtful and articulate Chris Klein and Todd Dunivant of the Galaxy.

I tried not to get bogged down with the details of the main points of contention under negotiation, but I though Dunivant summed it up best when he said:

“It’s about basic rights that players in this league don’t have that every other soccer player in the world has.”

Lastly, here’s Dunivant expanding on a comment he made in the column on the pros and cons that come from just a handful of teams dominating some European leagues year in and year out and whether that’s just as bad (or worse) as MLS’ much vaunted parity:

“In our league they go for absolute and utter parity where every team is the same and there’s not a lot of interest in that either. Some people might like that, but there are going to be people who want the Yankees, who want the Man U’s, the teams that really want to try to go out and win and get the best players; that draws a lot interest. … You’ve got to draw a balance because it is difficult when you just have your same four teams always (winning) – you can more or less predict what’s going to happen at the beginning of the season…. It can become a bit predictable.”

What do you think? Is parity over-rated? Or would you rather see something like Spain’s La Liga where the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona dominate?

And do you back the players in the labor negotiations? Or should they simply feel fortunate a league exists and they have jobs?

A reminder: not only is David Beckham and AC Milan facing his old club Manchester United on Fox Soccer Channel at 11:45 a.m. in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, but Landon Donovan’s Everton play Sporting Lisbon at 9:45 a.m. in Europa League action on DirecTV channel 462.

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  • UCLABZ

    It is not clear in the article how you create more disparity without too much disparity. A larger salary cap, with profit sharing?

    I think one thing is certain. MLS has to be more open to player movement. More and more college stars are choosing to begin their career overseas because they are afraid MLS will stifle their growth potential as a player. The MLS needs to make sure players view it as a good stepping stone to the EPL.

  • Inigo Montoya

    For me, quality and parity are two different issues. I want both, and the long-term record of the NFL shows that can work. I don’t think they’re in conflict with each other.

    I hated to watch the Galaxy lose the final, but I was thrilled that nowhere Salt Lake could raise the cup. I like it that there’s no favorite for next year. The league will draw more fans if the soccer is attractive and we know anybody can win.

    Full disclosure: I was raised to be a Yankee hater, and unless my team is on the field I always support the underdog. I hate to see the same two or three teams dominate any league year after year. Who wants to cheer for Microsoft?

  • Tacoma

    I think we all want to see a better product on the field in MLS. With that said, comparing the MLS to some of the other leagues around the world: EPL and La Liga and even the Yankees in MLB, is a perfect example of what we don’t want to be.

    How many of the teams or the leagues themselves are financially solvent? Not many. Soccer/football is not a profitable enterprise in most countries. This is an unsustainable business model and is destined to fail at some point.

    We are a young league and growing slowly and prudently is the best thing in the interest of the league and the players.

  • Jason

    Methinks you haven’t written about it largely because you haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about. Unless MLS is going to break the bank (and break the league), you’re not going to see a decrease in mind-numbing games. Americans play a certain way. Sometimes it’s tough to watch. Paying them more at age 22 isn’t going to make them appreciably better players, or make the games they play more fun to watch.

    And, oh, by the way, then you go on to quote two players who aren’t even talking about salaries, which was the headline and thrust of your column.

  • PZ

    Why does everyone look to the EPL as the model? Why not look at the Bundesliga? After all, they are financially successful (we don’t hear about teams going in debt trying to keep up) and they have the highest average attendance of any “soccer” league in the world. Oh, and how many different league and cup champions have they had recently? Yeah, Germain clubs haven’t had as much success in Europe lately….but give them time.

    After all, it’s not like the EPL isn’t looking at trying to add some kinda playoff system or anything. Oh wait… http://bit.ly/adp7vX

  • Kingsnake

    At the very least, MLS players must have the following:

    1) A decent minimum wage. Expecting a “professional” athlete, indeed *anyone*, to survive on $13k/year — literally what you make starting at McDonald’s — is ludicrous. The minimum should be $35k.

    2) Freedom of movement when out of contract. If a player is out of contract, no MLS team auto-magically continues to hold his rights. He is free.

    3) Both parties — the player and MLS — hold equal rights under the contract. If MLS can (as they frequently do) cancel the contract at any time, then the player should be able to as well. If the MLS wants to bind the player for the length of the contract, then the player should be able to bind MLS as well. (Meaning, if MLS wants to cancel te contract, they must pay the player the remaining balance.)

  • Ben

    the Bundesliga model (with salarycap) is definetley the path I’d go.

    a fairly balanced, yet very strong competition, modern stadiums, cheap tickets, huge attendances, superb media coverage.

    most of their clubs are not only fan/community owned, but also operate within their means and the ones who haven’t (Schalke recently, Dortmund in the early 2ks) are not too deep in the hole to get out.

    the Bundesliga model also allows for a Hoffenheim (long term investement by owner), Bayer/Wolfsburg (company supported club) or Bayern (carried by 2-3some big companys partially) models.

    the Bundesliga does have some stronger and better known clubs, but it’s certainly much more balanced competition, more surprising/exiting and obviously also more desirable than having a just same 2-3 horse races with Barca/Real, the ManUtd/Arsenal/Chelsea or Milan/Inter.

    Klein thoughts are very reasonable unlike many others of his colleagues.

  • Studs Up

    If I support a team then I sure want a league that gives my team a fresh start and an equal chance to succeed every year. Parity baby!

    I am a strong unionist but these are very difficult times for any unions to win concessions. So, I say to the players, accept any upward adjustment offered for a two year period. You will not get gauranteed contracts. Not in this climate. Baby steps while we ride out these uncertain times. Let’s keep the league alive to fight another day.

  • Kingsnake

    Parity means a team doesn’t have to be good, just lucky. But this is not about parity, or even sticking it to the billionaires who own MLS, or even getting UAW-type rolling-in-dough contracts, it is about 1) giving the players a decent (not even good) wage, and 2) equal contract rights. I frankly can’t believe any MLS contract, as unbalanced and one-sided as it is, could possibly hold up in court …