Well hello! Back for more I see! I'm shocked that you're so interested in this mundane labor negotiation business, but to each their own I guess!
If you managed to slog through the joy of the first installment in the "Super Fun Guide to the MLS CBA" series, "The Basics", you already know the players (no, not those "Players", I'm talking about "players" as in "the concerned parties", duh!) and what each of them want out of the new Major League Soccer Collective Bargaining Agreement. Good for you!
Since you're so well versed in the essentials, let's move on to a closer look at the demands (makes it sound like blackmail, doesn't it? Not that I'm comparing the labor negotiations to a blackmail plot, that would be irresponsible!) of the labor side of the equation, the Players, shall we?
Demand 1: Free Agency
First up, Free Agency. The Players want it and the League doesn't currently have it. "What is Free Agency exactly?" I can almost hear you asking (speak up, please, all this yelling has me a bit hard of hearing). Essentially, it means a player can sign with any team he chooses when his contract runs out, be it the highest bidder or just whichever team is closest to his favorite burger joint. Woo! Bacon cheeseburger!
As of the moment, MLS rules dictate that the club the player was formerly contracted with controls their rights after their deal runs out. Seem fair? The players don't think so! Because of this rights-retention rule, players who want to sign with another club within the league must find one willing to give up something (other players, allocation dollars*, draft picks, etc.) to their old club for new club to acquire their rights. Deep breath, I'm a little dizzy!
So Free Agency is important to the Players, and they won't take no for an answer!
There's one little hangup though; the Players not only want Free Agency, they want Free Agency plus the decentralization of contract control. Because MLS has that wacky single-entity system, all contracts are owned by the League. Allowing clubs to negotiate their own player contracts would represent a serious change in the way MLS operates.
If you know if the Major League Soccer is ready for that, you're a smarter person than I, that's for sure!
Some people have some pretty interesting ideas as to why the Players are asking not only for Free Agency, but individual contract negotiation. Take the this fella (I think it's a guy, but who really knows?), who goes by the moniker "Fake Sigi" (what's up with that? Does he/she want to be an overweight soccer coach? Does he/she wear a club scarf around town while running errands? If so, that's awesome!):
Let me spell it out, keeping in mind that I'm only speculating as to the union's overall strategy on this point and am not putting forth any kind of legal opinion: Having the individual clubs negotiate contracts could weaken the claim that MLS is a single entity that can act unilaterally to reduce competition under the Sherman Act. As such, the players are toying in a very real way with cutting out the heart MLS and using the change in situation to remove the barriers to taking the league back to court. Even though the appeal of Fraser vs. Major League Soccer was not necessarily won or lost on that point, conceding this issue is something the owners simply would not allow. They couldn't allow it as it would potentially destroy the league.
Just ignore that part about "Fraser vs. Major League Soccer" for now, since we'll be addressing that in Part III, and I don't want you to get confused! For the time being, make sure you bookmark the pretend coach guy's blog, because he's got some crazy good insight! Go on, I'll wait!
More than anything else, Free Agency is a players' rights issue; almost every other league on the planet has Free Agency, so why shouldn't MLS? MLS players are people, too! Let's boil this down to it's essence. When asked why MLS should have Free Agency, radio soccer show guy and blogger extraordinaire Bryan Zygo said this:
(Be)cause we outlawed slavery in the 13th Amendment
Hyperbole? Maybe, but this is serious business folks! Should the Players get Free Agency? Lots of people seem to think so, but the League isn't budging.
So now that we've talked about the Players' first demand, let's move onto another sticky wicket and look at number two!
Demand 2: Guaranteed Contracts
The way MLS writes their contracts right now, any player can be released and his contract terminated whenever the club feels like it! Well, kinda but not really, so to better understand why the Players want fully guaranteed contracts, here's some words from Ridge Mahoney that provide some MLS contract background:
The percentage is not known, but most MLS deals are guaranteed only for the first year and a portion of the second, after which option years kick in. Guaranteed money, not just the higher salaries, helps propel American players to smaller European leagues like those in Scandinavia where the vast majority of contracts are guaranteed for their full duration or at least three years if a longer-term deal. Those that are terminated before their completion of their guaranteed term are usually done so only in cases of extreme player misbehavior or by mutual consent.
Crazy, isn't it? Young American players are scampering as fast as they can for the land of the Vikings (Scandinavia, not Minnesota) all because their MLS contracts wouldn't be guaranteed beyond the first year! That's not right!
But wait a second...MLS has a salary cap, doesn't it? Of course it does, silly, that's how they keep clubs from going all Cosmos up in this piece! Are there any concerns about fully guaranteed contracts in a salary cap league? Well funny you should ask, because yes there are! Sounder at Heart says Guaranteed Contracts are death (DEATH!) in a salary cap league! Oh no!
That's not all though. The Players say the League is violating FIFA rules (you know about FIFA, right? In charge of soccer around the world, run by a Swiss guy, and for some reason don't mind Jack Warner being around?) with non-guaranteed contracts, meaning they shouldn't be allowed to live! Or something like that. Just wait until we get to talk about all the legal junk and FIFA compliance questions in Part III. I can't wait!
Just like Free Agency, Guaranteed Contracts looks like a players' rights issue, and one obviously really, really, super important to those guys. It's hard to blame them, of course, but remember the while MLS is stable, it's not exactly a cash cow. This isn't the NFL people! Wait, the NFL doesn't have guaranteed contracts? Never mind.
Is guaranteeing contracts a good idea? I suppose that depends on if you're with the Players or the League. No wonder these guys can't get along!
So now that we've talked about Free Agency and Guaranteed Contracts, the two big boys of the demand list, what's left? Is there anything else the Players just have to have?
Well yeah, there is, but those are booorrrriiiinnggg compared to the insanely interesting details of the last two, so let's make it short and sweet! I'm sure you're brain is about to seize from reading all of the exclamation points!
Demand 3: Quality of Life Concessions
You know how sometimes you move to another country to take a job, then they fire you half way through the year and you're left on your own to get home with no help and no money from your mean old ex-employer? No? That's weird, becuase that's what happens to foreign MLS players all the time, apparently, and it's one of the items that falls under this extremely broad demand heading! The Player say maybe the League should pay for those moving costs, because that would be very nice of them and not scare off foreign players or give MLS a bad rep! Gotta keep the rep up homey!
As Jimmy Conrad told some Canadian guys once (wait, that's not right) it's not a small problem. One of the Canucks in question expounded on Jimmy's concerns:
I found the image of the waved Brazilian struggling to get his family back to Brazil in speedy and unexpected fashion to be disturbing. Conrad said that he feared that a story of a cold league treating cut players poorly (by cutting off all contact and support) could be trickling back to foreign shores. He's right to fear that. If MLS is throwing its cut foreign players completely under the bus then that's shameful. If you bring a player in from overseas or South America you have some sort of moral obligation to ensure that they are able to find their way home if things don't work out. Conrad called it a"player's rights" issue and suggested that they were far more important than monetary gains. He's right.
There are other items too, like per diems and junk, but it's all relatively small stuff and probably won't keep a new CBA from getting done, unlike those two monster demands we covered earlier, so let's just continue, okay?
Demand 4: More Money
The Players would like some more money, please and thank you.
Sorry for the short treatment, but this one seems pretty self-explanatory to me! Just bump up those minimum salaries a bit, and since the salary cap figures to go up some anyway (the cap has nothing to do with the CBA, by the way; at least not directly), everyone should be simpatico on this one, right? This isn't one of the major issues, so why belabor it? Good, glad we can agree!
Or, if you don't believe me, how about we get it straight from prominent player Kasey Keller:
We would like a moderate rise in the salary cap, but the major points for the players are: guaranteed contracts, free agency, and the right to negotiate with other MLS teams.
See? I told you!
Moving on? What am I talking about? That's more than enough for now, and besides, we need to rest up for Part III! That's right, it's "The Legal Stuff and Compliance Junk" coming up! You don't want to miss it! It's going to be SUPER FUN!