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MLS players' union counters

We heard from the players Friday about the contentious labor talks. We received a response from MLS on Saturday. And in an e-mail to the Insider on Sunday, union executive director Bob Foose replied to the league's claims.

It would take a team of mathematicians and economists to sort all of this out, but here goes.....

In response to MLS President Mark Abbott's claim that the league is prepared to increase spending by $60 million over five years of a new collective bargaining agreement, Foose said:

The current CBA contains no required per-team salary budget figure. It instead sets a leaguewide minimum. Even without a contractual requirement to increase the salary budget, however, over the past five years those budgets increased by a total of 33 percent and an average of 5.9 percent per year. The league's current offer to the players would significantly slow the growth of this salary budget. Under their proposal, the budget would increase only a total of 26 percent and an average of 4.8 percent per year over the next five years. Despite this slower growth, under MLS's math, it characterizes this proposal as representing over $35 million in additional spending over the course of the next five years. The league arrives at that figure by assuming that the salary budget would otherwise stay completely flat, with no adjustments even for inflation or increases in the cost of living. So, in "costing" its proposal to the players, the league uses the 2009 salary budget of $2,315,000 as a baseline for each of the five years, and also adds full costs from that baseline for future expansion teams despite the fact that those teams weren't even in existence during 2009. This type of accounting is used in several other areas to come up with the $60 million figure.

Foose also said that, numbers notwithstanding, "respect for some basic player rights, not economics, is the real driving force behind the players' proposals. This negotiation is not about huge raises for players or massive new expenditures for owners. It is also not about unrestricted free agency. Rather it is about basic fairness for our members, and our ability to make improvements to a player system that is one-sided and unfair.

"It is unfortunate that MLS doesn't see the modest changes we have proposed as being good for the league, especially since until these changes are made, more and more quality players who should be playing in MLS, will not be doing so. It will also be a shame if the league's refusal to improve its system results in a work stoppage."

The union might elaborate on its proposals in the coming days, Foose said. Talks are scheduled to resume Monday in Washington.

Mr. Garber, you are on the clock.....

By Steve Goff  |  February 21, 2010; 8:37 PM ET
Categories:  MLS  
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Next: Dear Mr. Anschutz

Comments

"MLS executive director Bob Foose"

That's an error. He's the players union executive director, which is what you meant to write, but didn't.

Posted by: Sultano | February 21, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

They've had a 33% salary increase over 5 years? Maybe they should continue playing under the old deal!

Posted by: Elmoe | February 21, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

34 days until United's first 2010 league match!

Posted by: Curious99 | February 21, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

You know this is bad when the negotiations are handled publicly.

Posted by: redskinsux | February 21, 2010 9:30 PM | Report abuse

It's a predictable stage in negotiations as each side tries to bring as much pressure as possible to bear on the other side. This could end up being interesting.

Maybe it's more than 34 days until United's first 2010 league match?? Maybe United and Union's player end up scheduling a benefit match in Baltimore during the lockout (or strike)?

Posted by: Curious99 | February 21, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

I smell a sequel to The Replacements. Can we find a worse actor than Keanu?

Posted by: UnitedDemon | February 21, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

Figured that the $60M increase that the owners had banged their chests about was pretty much BS.

I don't think that the players are going to give on this free agency issue. I hope that this is just last minute posturing on both sides before a deal ultimately gets done.

Posted by: Phil_McCracken | February 21, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

The owners' $60 million plan ". . . also adds full costs from that baseline for future expansion teams despite the fact that those teams weren't even in existence during 2009."

What a load.

And fischy was all over it in the last thread.

Posted by: benonthehill | February 21, 2010 10:24 PM | Report abuse

whatta drag. I hope these guys realize there's plenty of other football to watch if they decide to act like a bunch of spoiled brats and pick up their balls and go home. It'd be very hard to come back for teams who are trying so desperately to stay afloat.

Posted by: DadRyan | February 21, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

What's odd about this, to me, is that historically, the value of the cap has *never* been a part of the CBA process. The investor/operators have always decided on the cap amount amongst themselves -- it hasn't been a part of the CBA. So I'm surprised it's even come up in these CBA negotiations.

benonthehill -- Foose's reply was first reported elsewhere much earlier today, hours before Goff's report here. At the time, I tried to get an answer re: the portion of Foose's comments you're highlighting, and I still haven't figured it out.

If Foose is saying that the $60m figure will include raises not only to teams that exist now, but expansion teams coming online, and thus isn't as impressive as you might think (because it's not $60m / 16 teams), well, yeah. I don't have any problem with that, and I'd be kinda stunned if the players really want to press the point that their salaries aren't going up as much as they used to at a time when most people are lucky to have a job and most teams aren't turning a profit.

But if, on the other hand, he's saying that the $60m figure includes the full startup salaries of the expansion teams, as we discussed yesterday, then that's an appalling PR blunder by the League to imagine that they could put that one over -- just ridiculous.

I'm still trying to get an answer to this.

Posted by: christopher_a_metzler | February 21, 2010 11:18 PM | Report abuse

Goff,
IMHO, you need to talk to Caps Insider. Taken from his US v. Canada in-game chat:

TarikElBashir:
World Cup soccer = great. MLS soccer = curling.

Posted by: KireDCU | February 21, 2010 11:24 PM | Report abuse

I hate to say this but... I'm getting bored. I stick up for MLS all the time with other soccer fans but... I'm bored of it. I live in richmond va, I've got the Kickers and UVA. It cheaper anyway.

Posted by: pmk000 | February 21, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

@christopher_a_metzler
"an appalling PR blunder by the League to imagine that they could put that one over -- just ridiculous."

At least to the 613 people on the face of the planet who pay attention.

Posted by: benonthehill | February 21, 2010 11:35 PM | Report abuse

benonthehill -- fair point.

Posted by: christopher_a_metzler | February 22, 2010 12:04 AM | Report abuse

What's odd about this, to me, is that historically, the value of the cap has *never* been a part of the CBA process. The investor/operators have always decided on the cap amount amongst themselves -- it hasn't been a part of the CBA. So I'm surprised it's even come up in these CBA negotiations....

But if, on the other hand, he's saying that the $60m figure includes the full startup salaries of the expansion teams, as we discussed yesterday, then that's an appalling PR blunder by the League to imagine that they could put that one over -- just ridiculous.

I'm still trying to get an answer to this.

Posted by: christopher_a_metzler | February 21, 2010 11:18 PM

--------------------------------------------------------

I imagine that the reason the league is bringing it in is because they're trying to make this about money instead of the issues the players are concerned about. Maybe they are hoping the union will counter with a proposal that would actually raise the salary cap noticeably, abandoning the contract guarantees and freedom of movement planks to their proposals.

Second, I suppose Foose could have put this in plainer English, but he is saying that teh $60 million includes the addition of the full current 2.315 million salary baseline for expansion teams. Based on the calculations I offered before, I'm fairly certain that $35 million would consist of the roster salaries for the 3 expansion teams already in the pipeline. What's not clear is how much if any of the difference includes salaries for one or two other expansion teams (Montreal and TBD). I wonder if the union even knows. Has MLS proposed specific cap increase increments or just an overall increase in roster expense? If it's the latter, I think the projections of a 4.8% yearly increase may actually be overly optimistic.

Posted by: fischy | February 22, 2010 12:09 AM | Report abuse

A secondary problem is that most of the salary cap bump will probably go to bringing in aging international stars after this World Cup and maybe the next one, too -- especially if it doesn't correspond to increases in mimimum salaries. Does the league seriously think the union cares about the high-priced contracts that will go to players who aren't even represented right now by the MLS Players Association? They're fighting for their own rights, not Thierry Henry's.

Posted by: fischy | February 22, 2010 12:13 AM | Report abuse

Tarik El Bashir has a point, but I generally feel the same way about hockey. The international game, with its bigger rinks, tighter officiating and higher caliber of play makes the NHL look brutal and plodding. The greatest sporting competition I've ever seen was the first Hockey World Cup. Occasionally a playoff series rises to a an exciting and skillful level that is absent from most NHL games, but the Olympics and World Cup blow the NHL away. Remember, like the World Cup of soccer, these are the best players, reflecting a fraction of the the total of players even in the NHL.

Tonight's USA-Canada game was thrilling. The NHL doesn't approach that level of skills and thrills.

Posted by: fischy | February 22, 2010 12:27 AM | Report abuse

I'll second that.

Posted by: DadRyan | February 22, 2010 12:45 AM | Report abuse

I'll third it.

Posted by: Wendell_Gee | February 22, 2010 6:39 AM | Report abuse

Goff, can you clarify some math? Are the players counting the expansion teams in their math on recent salary growth?

(If so, it's unfair for them to complain when the league does this future looking.)

Posted by: neil_g | February 22, 2010 7:29 AM | Report abuse

I've said it before, but it bears repeating. "Math is hard".

Posted by: J_S_F | February 22, 2010 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Math (including statistics) can usually be interpreted to provide support for any position you'd care to advocate. It's all in how the question is framed.

Posted by: Curious99 | February 22, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Like I said in the last thread...

The league is losing money. How much can the players expect? Seriously. I took a 50%+ pay cut last year, and I am just happy to have a job right now.

To all the fans that are taking the side of the union, why not do your part by paying your team double for your season tickets this year? Or pay to be a sponsor? Or buy a TV contract?

Posted by: DCU4LIFE | February 22, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse

I was an Orioles fan until MLB went on strike. And I never came back. The same for NHL. For both leagues I was a paying fan. After they went on strike, I sort of felt disrespected, as it is the fan that really pays all the bills. I went to the first DC United home game way back when. I feel more invested in this club than I have in any other club in any other sport, but I fear that if MLS goes on strike/work-stoppage, I will not come back.

Posted by: alan19 | February 22, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

The MLS rules that inhibit a player from changing teams within MLS when his current team no longer wants him just will not pass the team of the rule of reason as under federal anti-trust laws. Some reasonable system must be in place. Courts have recognized the unique nature of sports leagues and how they operate in allowing some restrictions to be in place which govern the movement of players among teams and the power of selection by players as to where they work. Example: The NFL and NBA drafts. Another example: NFL Players must accrue 4 years of service before they are unrestricted free agents (six years currently now that the NFL/NFLPA CBA enters an uncapped year).

The MLS system would not be upheld in court and the players would well consider abandoning its bargaining and think about going into federal court and suing MLS just as the NFLPA did in the McNeil case in the late '80s. That landmark case cracked open the system and has given NFL players substantial freedom to move among the teams subject to a salary cap. The result: continued massive prosperity and growth for both the teams and the players.

Posted by: lgm6986 | February 22, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

DCU4LIFE, you could be right, but I think we really don't know exactly how the league is doing; although it's obvious that a number of the guys who have invested in the league are either not losing too much money, or else think they are in on the ground floor of a league that will pay off in a reasonable amount of time.

The other explanations are that losses are a beneficial tax writeoff, but I don't know if that situation would last 13 years; or that the investors are soccer philanthropists, happy to burn money paying players; or that the teams are shiny things that make the losses worthwhile because of all the respect the investors get from hockey writers et al; or that the teams are an afterthought to their real goal, which is tapping into the big SUM cash gusher -- but the commenter who argued that last week ended up backing off.

It could indeed be the case that the players are being greedy/shortsighted and will sink their ship. The only person with all the details about that is . . . Powerboater. But sorry, I think the investors have an incentive to pat us all on the head and say "That's right boys, we're losing millions, now run along." Do we really know? The only apparently-reliable numbers I see regularly are PLAYER salaries as posted by Goff.


Posted by: fallschurch1 | February 22, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Honest question -- can anyone come up with a player that hasn't been able to move to another team when his contract expired, if he wanted? I suppose that this lack of bargaining power keeps salaries low, but the salary cap does a good job of that, anyway. Besides, I see good, young players getting rewarded -- like Pontius.

Posted by: Reignking | February 22, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

DCU4LIFE -- I can't speak for anyone else but me, but I'm not upset over the amount of money being offered by the League to the players. In this economy, with business revenues and personal salaries depressed, and with most MLS teams still not turning a profit, and most MLS long-term investor/operators not yet having come close to recouping even a pittance of the total amount they've sunk into the League over its history, I wouldn't expect MLS salaries to grow that much. I'm not bugged by that at all. What I *am* bugged by is the idea of the League trying to put one by me. If things have deteriorated to where both sides are trying their case in the media, and I'm the audience/jury, they both better be honest with me and not try to fool me.

Posted by: christopher_a_metzler | February 22, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

The union's four poster children for this situation in 2010, Reignking, are: Kevin Hartman, Steve Ralston, Dave Van Den Bergh, and Adrian Serioux. All of them are: (a) old; (b) paid a lot; (c) no longer under contract with their old club; (d) old club maintains rights and insists on compensation for those rights despite not wanting them.

Of course, another way to look at it is that the player is still wanted, just not at a price the player is willing to accept.

Posted by: VercengetorixII | February 22, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Even VDB got what he wanted last time.

If anyone should be complaining, it would be the club that wants to sign them.

But those are players affected this year. What about in previous years -- are there any players that languished in no-man's-land because their "new" team couldn't trade a draft pick to the old team?

Posted by: Reignking | February 22, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Reignking -- the two classic cases that illustrate how disgusting the Reserve Clause can be are Dante Washington and Eric Brunner.

I'm having trouble remembering the details, but my memory is that in 2003, the Crew decided not to re-sign Dante Washington. They satisfied the requirements of MLS regulations by making him a token offer. He then wanted to move to another team (DC United was a major player in trying to get him); but although the Crew weren't interested in re-signing him, they demanded more for his rights than anyone was interested in paying. This was unusual -- most teams will accept something like a sixth-round draft pick (that is, a Supplemental Draft pick) or something equally worthless -- but not this time. Washington ended up going to Virginia Beach in the USL because he wasn't able to work in MLS. After a couple of good years in Virginia Beach, the Crew changed their minds about him and called him back up.

Eric Brunner's case wasn't quite the same as a contract expiration, but it's still relevant. He was on the NYRB senior roster. When NYRB signed Andrew Boyens, they tried to move Brunner to the developmental roster (and, necessarily, have him take a big pay cut to the developmental salary range). Brunner didn't want to be a developmental player, and NYRB wasn't interested in him as a senior player anymore. The Crew were interested in picking him up; but even though NYRB were no longer interested in him, they still wanted significant compensation for his rights. Brunner ended up spending a season at Miami FC until Columbus could come up with something NYRB would take.

That's my memory, anyway. Hopefully someone here will correct me if I remembered something incorrectly.

Posted by: christopher_a_metzler | February 22, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Do all the players have to strike or just some?

Posted by: Norteno4life | February 22, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Personally I think both sides will correctly perceive a work stoppage as the end of MLS as we know it and therefore won't let that happen. I suggest as a last resort that Drew Carey host a special MLS winner-take-all edition of the Price is Right between players and management. DCU can send Fischy, Black and Red Devil and Joe Doc as arbitrators. If a work stoppage ensues and replacements are needed, I will volunteer. Back in the 70s (the 1870s) I played left back for the Arlington Eagles. If you think Marc Burch is bad, you aint seen nothin' yet!

Posted by: dcarmy | February 22, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

metz: thanks. I remember reading about, and being confused by, the Brunner situation last year.

I just hope the minimum salaries increase.

Posted by: Reignking | February 22, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Reignking:

You could be correct about that, but the governing element in determining whether or not a player moves from one MLS team to another is compensation for the team giving up the player that it not longer wants. Another good example is Justin Moose. DCU told him he was no longer wanted at the end of 2007. Real Salt Lake expressed an interest in him and he in them. DCU insisted on a draft choice in order to allow RSL to acquire him; RSL thought that price was too high for a player that DCU no longer wanted. Moosey had to go to the USL to play, which is all he wanted to do with RSL; he knew there were no riches for him in MLS at this point in his career; he just wanted to play. Kasper and DCU were empowered by the inequitable MLS rules to keep him from doing so, at least in MLS.

Posted by: lgm6986 | February 22, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Even without a contractual requirement to increase the salary budget, however, over the past five years those budgets increased by a total of 33 percent and an average of 5.9 percent per year. The league's current offer to the players would significantly slow the growth of this salary budget.
___________________________________________
So the salary budgets were VOLUNTARILY increased by 33%? And this FACT is from the union boss man? Which side is he on?

Sooooooo....the owners are losing millions of dollars each year(hoping for a pay-off down the road, I know), they have voluntarily increased salaries by 33% (a true union should have fought them not sticking to the CBA) and still the union says it's not enough. If the player don't want to play for MLS, no one is forcing them to stay. Until the MLS is actually making some profits, I'm with the owners.

Posted by: boda-united | February 22, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

It seems the biggest issue in this whole thing is the right for a player out of contract to move to another team without compensating his previous club.

I see a few simple (well, simple to me) options:

1) A flat compensation to the former team (eg $20,000, or a 3rd round pick, etc.)
2) A time limit on compensation (10 games, or 6 months, something like that)
3) Or right of first refusal. So that a new team can offer the player anything they want, and the former team has the right to match it to retain his rights.

Things don't need to be difficult, both sides just need to agree.

Posted by: SoccerVA | February 22, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

I will add that if a MLS team cuts a player, the he ought to be able to go where ever he wants without compensation. That's like charging someone to take that old couch, that you put on the side of the road.

Posted by: boda-united | February 22, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

The league is losing money. How much can the players expect? Seriously. I took a 50%+ pay cut last year, and I am just happy to have a job right now.

Posted by: DCU4LIFE | February 22, 2010 8:30 AM

Of course, another way to look at it is that the player is still wanted, just not at a price the player is willing to accept.

Posted by: VercengetorixII | February 22, 2010 9:43 AM

------------------------------------------------------

I get the point about being fortunate to be employed these days. That's a feeling most of us can understand no matter which side of the employment divide we're on, but the unemployed live that point.

Which is why it's crucial to point out that the union's demands are not primarily financial. They're not expecting more money.

They want contract guarantees, because people get injured and/or cut. I think all of us could appreciate the unfairness of the situation. Players are asked to give their all and risk body and limb. If they do get hurt before July 1, the league can stop paying them.

However, in a league where few players have any choice about their team, even cuts can seem unjust. They don't get to go to a team where they might expect more job security.

Which brings me to the second comment I reposted -- Why do you think it's OK that the players can't go to a team that would want them at a price the player likes better? Why shouldn't the league have a system that makes this possible? In what other field, does your employer have the right to do that even after your contract's expired? The law limits the scope of non-compete agreements to make sure the emloyee can still earn a living somewhere. That's without even bringing up the possibility that players might want to switch teams for other, more personal reasons.

Posted by: fischy | February 22, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

In what other field, does your employer have the right to do that even after your contract's expired? The law limits the scope of non-compete agreements to make sure the emloyee can still earn a living somewhere. That's without even bringing up the possibility that players might want to switch teams for other, more personal reasons.


Posted by: fischy | February 22, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

___________________________________________

I agree and disagree with you.

If I am employed at ACME Corp. (marketing stuff towards Wile)and the accounting department wants me, can't ACME FO tell the accounting dept. to leave me alone, I'm staying in marketing? No matter how much I want to be in accounting, I work for ACME and they tell me where to work.

Now if I'm out of contract, then I should be able to be hired wherever,no compensation. Period.

(Throws down "Instant Black Hole" and jumps in!)

Posted by: boda-united | February 22, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Do all the players have to strike or just some?

Posted by: Norteno4life | February 22, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

and if there was play in that situation, would anyone really notice the difference? :)

forget about all these mentions of "antitrust" issues - they dont apply here. All player contracts are not with teams, they are with one company.

the situation is more like working for Walmart: you may get hired by a local manager to be a greeter but your actual employer is Walmart HQ in Arkansas.

Walmart HQ is NOT going to let its stores get into bidding wars for desired greeters and subsequently drive up personnel costs for the whole system.

There are no "anti-trust" issues because this is a personnel issue within one employer. There are other soccer leagues out there and nothing MLS does prevents a guy from playing for those other leagues.

sorry to disappoint.

Posted by: Section107 | February 22, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I smell a sequel to The Replacements. Can we find a worse actor than Keanu?

Posted by: UnitedDemon | February 21, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse
___________________________________

Owen Wilson?

Posted by: peridigm | February 22, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Obama can host both sides at the White House for another beer- summit?

Posted by: alan19 | February 22, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

I say we organize: Lets let both sides know that the true die-hards are tired of this. We won't show if opening day isn't the scheduled opening day.

PLAY ON!

Posted by: UniteforDC | February 22, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

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