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MLS, players agree to new collective bargaining agreement through 2024

Major League Soccer and the Major League Soccer Players Association have reached an agreement in principle over a new collective bargaining agreement that runs through 2024.

The news comes a week after both parties agreed to extend their CBA through February 7, with the additional time aimed at aiding discussions toward a new deal. The previous CBA, which was signed in 2015, was due to expire on January 31.

The proposed deal, which was agreed three weeks ahead of the 2020 season, is subject to formal approval by the MLS Board of Governors and the MLSPA membership, which is now considered a formality. The players have largely gained the workplace improvements they sought, which included increased salaries, expanded free agency, and improved travel conditions.

MLS will significantly increase the amount teams can spend on their players, going up from $8,490,000 in 2019 to $11,643,000 in 2024. The minimum annual salary for senior roster players will rise from $70,250 last season to $109,200 by 2024.

Players will also be able share in media revenue for the first time following the expiration of MLS’s current domestic and international broadcast deals in 2022, and establishment of new agreements. According to MLS: “Beginning in 2023 and 2024, MLS will increase player spending by an amount equal to 25 per cent of the increased media revenue above the amount generated by the league in 2022 plus $100m.”

The league is also expanding eligibility for free agency to include players who are 24 years or older and have five years of service time in MLS. This substantially lowers the age and term requirements from the previous CBA (28 years old with eight years of service time). And the combined requirement of player age and service time is also a marked difference from other major US sports leagues that grant agency strictly based on service time.

The use of charter flights, which had been a prominent issue for players, will also increase. Teams will be required to use charter flights for at least eight games in 2020, a figure which will grow to 16 in 2024. Previously, clubs could use charter flights four times in a season but it was not mandatory. Chartering to MLS Cup playoff and international Concacaf Champions League games will also be required.

Clubs will continue to have the right to sign up to three Designated Players. The league will have the right to limit the compensation for the third Designated Player to the maximum Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) salary, unless the player is 23 years old or younger, in which case there will be no limit.

MLS, for its part, retained the TAM mechanism, which the players wanted abolished.

“As we prepare to celebrate our 25th season, we are very pleased to finalize a new five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement with our players,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber. “This agreement addresses key strategic priorities for the league and our players while also retaining the basic player compensation structure that has been the foundation for the growth and stability of Major League Soccer.

“We had constructive, positive discussions with the leadership of the MLSPA and the players’ bargaining committee during the negotiations over the last few months and I would like to thank them for their collaboration in concluding an agreement that will serve as the foundation for a new era of partnership with our players,” Garber said.

Union leaders cheered the gains they achieved in the new agreement.

“This deal is the culmination of our efforts to engage players from every team to define our goals and push for real progress,” said Jeff Larentowicz, MLSPA Executive Board Member. “Through this work and our solidarity, we have been able to reach an agreement that will provide players with greater rights and increased compensation, and will ensure that the league’s resources continue to be used to create a league of choice for players both on and off the field.”

Bob Foose, MLSPA executive director, added the very notion of a MLS player has now been fundamentally altered.

“Players have secured an agreement that will substantially change what it means to be an MLS player,” Foose said. “Over the past two years, we have engaged in a substantive, comprehensive negotiation process with the league. We believe that the sweeping changes and increased investment in this agreement will not only be integral to the league’s continued growth, but will also move MLS closer to the systems in place in overseas leagues with which we aspire to compete.”