Thoughts On The MLS Labor Negotiations

I am not all that familiar with the history of MLS labor negotiations, but the heated rhetoric and threats of a lockout or strike have clearly raised the temperature to a point where we should all be concerned to a point.

Having followed international negotiations at times in my day job, much of this is following a similar pattern. And I think it’s pretty clear that these negotiations haven’t really started yet.

We are in the posturing stage. With both sides making uncompromising doomsdayish statements mentioning the s-word “strike” or the L-word “lock-out”. Both sides are trying to convince the other of their sincerity in their willingness to blow up the league. While this form of brinksmanship is common and to be expected in negotiations, brinksmanship can also get out of control and that’s what we have to worry about here.

The owners want the status quo, while the players want far-reaching changes as MatchFit notes (read there great primer on the negotiations). Therefore it is in the interests of owners to stall talks, because the far-reaching structural changes wanted by the players, would take a lot of time to negotiate so as you get closer to the deadline there becomes little chance of these major structural changes to the league happening. I think that’s why you are seeing a lot of heated rhetoric from the players and accusations that the League is not really negotiating in good faith – because they aren’t.

Frankly, I don’t think there is anyway the league is going to agree to change their basic single-entity operating structure. But I bet they are willing to compromise on salary issues and quality of life issues and perhaps guaranteed contracts. Therefore, I think if a deal gets done it will be finalized at the last minute in a flurry of activity with the players giving up for now their larger demands in return for significant improvements in wages and overall treatment.

But the danger here is that all this brinksmanship goes awry. One could easily see a situation, in which the owners overplay their hand and the players, extremely pissed that the owners haven’t even considered their larger demands, decide to walk away. The owners really shouldn’t underestimate the willingness of really badly paid and treated players to go to the mattresses on this.

However, there are two big reasons not to panic yet and to believe that a deal will get done.

First, there is a lot of room for compromise on some of these issues, particularly concerning wages and amenities.

Second, neither side is stupid – both know a strike would be devastating and could set the league back considerably. The owners know that a strike would be a financial disaster and could doom the league. They see where the league is going, they see the growth that has happened over the last decade and are excited by the prospect of future growth. It is not worth it to them financially to set league back five years in these talks. The players know the state of the game in this country. They know it is growing and expanding but they are well aware of its shortfalls and limitations.

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