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Earthquakes investor speaks out

Before we get to Lew Wolff, who operates the San Jose Earthquakes, I can tell you that the two union representatives (players) from each of the 16 clubs will begin gathering in Washington on Thursday and plan to stay as late as Sunday, depending on how labor negotiations unfold.

Meantime, Wolff has decided to add his voice to the MLS dispute, becoming the third executive in recent days to do so:

We are less than two weeks from the start of Major League Soccer's 15th season. Sadly, the players and their representatives say they will strike unless a new collective bargaining agreement is reached by the March 25 season opener. Being a relatively new MLS owner, I truly enjoy and appreciate our players, but I believe a strike would not be in the players, fans and owners best interests.
A strike will be a set back to the dedicated efforts of our players, coaches, management and ownership in seeking to maintain a MLS team in the Bay Area. Without labor being a cooperative partner, our plans for a new venue and expansion of our youth program will be set back for a period that certainly does not benefit the current or future players.
I feel very close to the players and I am at a loss as to how to respond when I am told that the player's union suggests that they are being treated unfairly.

There's much more.....

The MLS is seeking to build a strong league for all players, fans and owners. The Earthquakes and the majority of MLS teams did not generate a profit in 2009, nor do they expect to generate a profit in 2010. I believe that the profitability goal should be as much of a concern for the players and their union as it is to the owners.
All North American sports leagues are facing financial issues due to the economy. MLS is still a young league that is not a fully established yet. To lose the benefits that have been gained to date and to risk League stability is, in my opinion, a risk that the players and their unions need to fully consider.
Our entry into MLS was to be part of a growing and family friendly international sport, a sport that should be able to grow and thrive in North America. We do not support or even think about a "lock-out" and we hope that the players will not assume that a strike will be to their benefit or to the benefit of the sport we all love.
We, along with all MLS team owners, are deeply committed to soccer. I am hopeful that the players and their representatives will carefully measure the importance of having labor peace and recognize the negatives to the sport that a work stoppage will cause.
The collective bargaining agreement between MLS and the players union expired at the end of January 2010. I am pleased that discussions and negotiations between the players union and ownership are continuing.
The players have focused their demands on greater freedom of movement within the league and guaranteed contracts. It is my understanding that there has been some movement toward an agreement. However, it has not been enough to guarantee that the 2010 season will begin on time.
I am hoping that the importance of having a positive opening for all MLS teams and the security of a total season will be realized by the players. I believe both sides should continue negotiations without a strike. I cannot predict the negative impact of a strike on the players, fans or owners, but I am very confident that any stoppage will do more harm to all parties, especially the players, than any perceived benefits of a strike.
Our Earthquakes look very promising as the season nears. A strike will, I suggest, reverse the positive growth our players and fans have developed since we reestablished our franchise in the Bay Area.
A strike is up to the players. To assume that a strike will achieve some elements that are not being achieved by the current negotiation is a risk that I am hopeful the players and their representatives will carefully evaluate. I know some concessions have been made, but if the adjustments are not enough for the players, a strike will not, in my estimation, be the best way to achieve whatever is desired.

By Steve Goff  |  March 17, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  MLS  
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Comments

While I find this to be a thoughtful and non-inflamatory statement, this does not bode well. When parties (owners, players, etc.) start going to the press to play this thing out, you get some hotheads, some idiots (on either side) who go public and suddenly things get harder to resolve. This is not a good sign.

Posted by: JoeW1 | March 17, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Not a good sign because both sides look like they will not budge. I think about the future and the players really need to take a big swallow and move on. They are NOT going to get free agency this time around, they might when the owners have a solid league and are ready to move on.

Posted by: elfelixg | March 17, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

very well put, and a warning call to future investors.

Posted by: nairbsod | March 17, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Does this statement (and this entire scenario) feel like a negotiator trying to talk a guy down off the roof to anyone else?

Posted by: VercengetorixII | March 17, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Lew Wolff is living in fantasyland. The players are threatening to strike right as the season opens because that is when they have the most leverage. If they cave in to the owners and agree to play, they lose their leverage.

Worse, whenever an MLS suit refers to the "family friendly" aspect of the game it makes me cringe. It's a sport. It's about passionate fans. Improve the quality on the field -- by luring better players who enjoy better working conditions -- and more fans will come.

Posted by: jhgodfrey1 | March 17, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

"Improve the quality on the field -- by luring better players who enjoy better working conditions -- and more fans will come."

People like you constantly try to prove that by assertion. And nothing else.

Posted by: very_clever_username | March 17, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

I can't imagine what impact Wolff hoped to have with this; it does not directly address any pertinent issues, nor add anything new to the discussion. It's also vaguely insulting to the whole process, as though he can't be bothered to actually learn what the dispute is about. Strange, coming from a franchise operator.

Posted by: Godfather_of_Goals | March 17, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Hey Lew,
Good luck, maybe some idiots will read your crap and buy your sob story BS.

To the players I don't care what you have to say either.

Figure it out the season is supposed to start next week. We are in no position to assist you, no matter how much you tell us about your perceived sorrows.

Posted by: csd1 | March 17, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Bordeaux off to a fast start.

Posted by: Reignking | March 17, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

zzzzzzzzzzzzzz Wake me when this is over either way. If there is a strike..Hope Philly and New Jersey enjoy their new concert venues.

Posted by: DCU_VW | March 17, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I'm in Denver for work. I was at the Wiz/Nuggets game last night. I sat right next to Jeff Larentowitz. I had to ask his response was that a strike was "most likely".

Posted by: jsm3 | March 17, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

And I'll take that captained Messi goal, thank you...

Posted by: Reignking | March 17, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I think the players are screwed here, no matter what because of the legality of single entity. Even if they get free agency, there's nothing stopping the league from colluding to not sign free agents or not bid against each other.

Face it, going from living on $50,000 a year in a townhouse in Kansas City to $60,000 a year in an apartment in Northern New Jersey, is going to be a loss for the player just on cost of living increase.

Posted by: IamAM | March 17, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

he was making some sense until he got to "Our Earthquakes look very promising as the season nears", then he lost me.

Posted by: VTUnited | March 17, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

a year in an apartment in Northern New Jersey, is going to be a loss for the player just on cost of living increase.

Posted by: IamAM

Well, just from living in NJ it is going to be a loss.

Posted by: Reignking | March 17, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Face it, going from living on $50,000 a year in a townhouse in Kansas City to $60,000 a year in an apartment in Northern New Jersey, is going to be a loss for the player just on cost of living increase.

Posted by: IamAM | March 17, 2010 4:16 PM
-----------------------------------------------------

I suppose, based on your preface, that's a comment about free agency and suggestive that players won't benefit. What about the guy who grew up in KC, starred at Kansas or SLU, bought a house there, and found himself traded to NJ...with no recourse and no prospect of a cost-of-living increase? MLS is peculiar in the soccer world for allowing players to be traded without their consent.

There are reasons why the players want some freedom to eventually have a chance to market themselves to an MLS team besides the one that drafted them.

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Goff, perhaps if YOU asked, people would stop slipping references to currently televised games into threads about something else entirely. SOME of us can't watch until we get home to our DVR/TiVO etc.....

Posted by: DCUSince96 | March 17, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Why insist on trying tell players they're crazy or stupid and misguided to be demanding some form of free agency for veterans? Does anyone really think they know something about the players' circumstances they haven't thought of themselves?

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Goff, perhaps if YOU asked, people would stop slipping references to currently televised games into threads about something else entirely. SOME of us can't watch until we get home to our DVR/TiVO etc.....

Posted by: DCUSince96

I'm not watching it.

Or, perhaps if he had a game thread.

Messi just scored 5 more goals ;)

Posted by: Reignking | March 17, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone really think they know something about the players' circumstances they haven't thought of themselves?

Posted by: fischy

fischy this is the internet - we all know way more than the players do about their own circumstances, just like the folks on the skins blog know how to run a football team way better than dan snyder. ok, bad example.

Posted by: VTUnited | March 17, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

While we're on other subjects. Robbie Keane's wife is keen on a move to America. She mentioned the Galaxy, but wouldn't the Revs, Bulls, Union or even DCU fancy the draw the Republic of Ireland striker would be in their hometowns?

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

I still think the Union screwed the pooch on the Free Agency thing.

If they had gone out to establish a minimum salary for ALL players at 45 or 50k and then asked for the cap to be increased, oh, a million (One Milllllioonnn) dollars, they would have gotten it and saved Free Agency for the next fight, which should be about the time that MLS has 18/20 teams with 17 stadiums (sorry DC, New England and Chivas) and all teams owned by one investor.

Posted by: VirginiaBlueBlood | March 17, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Bordeaux off to a fast start.

Posted by: Reignking | March 17, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

==========================

. . . but hopefully a powerful, long, earthy, and intense finish.

Posted by: OWNTF | March 17, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

. . . but hopefully a powerful, long, earthy, and intense finish.


---

Yes.

Posted by: Mastodon_Juan | March 17, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Bordeaux off to a fast start.

Posted by: Reignking | March 17, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

==========================

. . . but hopefully a powerful, long, earthy, and intense finish.

Posted by: OWNTF

Bordeaux is no Beaujolais.

Posted by: Reignking | March 17, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

VirginiaBlueBlood: I think your proposal could earn the player's support, but I'm not sure the owners would go for that either. The owners only want to spend money on "revenue generating" players. The rest of the players are simply "raw materials".

Posted by: david93 | March 17, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

I still think the players back down at the last minute and everything starts on time. Hope I'm not proven wrong.

Posted by: Kev29 | March 17, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

I still think the Union screwed the pooch on the Free Agency thing.

If they had gone out to establish a minimum salary for ALL players at 45 or 50k and then asked for the cap to be increased, oh, a million (One Milllllioonnn) dollars, they would have gotten it and saved Free Agency for the next fight, which should be about the time that MLS has 18/20 teams with 17 stadiums (sorry DC, New England and Chivas) and all teams owned by one investor.

Posted by: VirginiaBlueBlood | March 17, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Negotiate much? So the union should have gone into negotiations asking for exactly what they wanted and settled months before there was any pressure on the owners? Should ownership have started negotiations by offering as much as they could have?

The Union asked for everything, will get paid until it might hurt the owners and will most likely get concessions they wouldn't have gotten. The owners offered the status quo to start out and are playing the starving millionaire PR game. Whatever resolution is found they will both start complaining when the new CBA is close to expiring. According to the party involved the players will still be oppressed the owners will still be losing money.

Posted by: csd1 | March 17, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Bordeaux is no Beaujolais.

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

That's the point, isn't it?

(BTW -- For full effect, the above should be read aloud in your best Cockney accent)

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

@csd -- Blimey. You're so bloody smart, aintcha? 'Ere's to ya, then.

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Not fully understanding the salary structure, I'll ask:

If the players are paid by MLS and not the teams, does it really matter if most of the teams did not make a profit?

Wouldn't the better question be: "Did MLS make a profit?"

Posted by: carnack | March 17, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

fischy, there is a press release above from a millionaire basically claiming he runs a soccer team to better society. How does that not get ones cynical juices flowing? It makes it even harder when you find out said millionaire was a frat brother of Bud Selig.

Posted by: csd1 | March 17, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

I understand you push negotiations to the end using your maximum leverage.

However, I also think that the free agency piece is useless - and no amount of leverage fixes that.

Posted by: VirginiaBlueBlood | March 17, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

I like that carnack guy. That is a real question that I haven't seen asked. MLS never wants to talk about that.

Posted by: csd1 | March 17, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

When I absolutely do not want to know the soccer scores, the first place I go is a soccer website.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | March 17, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

VABlueBlood -- My $.02: First off, I think the players think there's an intrinsic value to having the right to become free agents. Secondly, it's a breach and once through there's no going back. When and if MLS becomes more profitable and more competitive in salaries with the rest of the world, having free agency will be pretty valuable. It will create its own dynamic, forcing the league to raise the salary cap to hold onto players who won't take lower salaries to subsidize the top free agents. Which is one of the main reasons the league doesn't want to give in on this point.

@CSD -- I wasn't really tweaking you. Just pulling out out my Cockney for a bit o' fun.

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

There are reasons why the players want some freedom to eventually have a chance to market themselves to an MLS team besides the one that drafted them.

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

True, but with a hard cap, 80% of the teams unprofitable, unwilling investors to spend, and GM's wary of League backlash, a player might actually make less the next year because that's the new team's offer, even if he has freedom of movement.

I just don't think the supply and demand is there for it right now, until the majority of teams are more than $5 in the black. A player so special that multiple teams bid for him in MLS is going to get snapped up in Europe at this point.

I am usually pro-player in these debates, but I am not sure what hill the players should be dying on for this strike.

Posted by: IamAM | March 17, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

And I'll take that captained Messi goal, thank you...

Posted by: Reignking |

You cherry pickin' son of a... ;^)

Posted by: DadRyan | March 17, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

"'Improve the quality on the field -- by luring better players who enjoy better working conditions -- and more fans will come.'

"People like you constantly try to prove that by assertion. And nothing else."

In case it escaped your notice, better players -- which make for better teams and better quality -- have this noteworthy habit of moving 60-80,000 tickets per game every summer when they show up on these shores for mere preseason friendlies. It would seem, then, that there is at least some evidence beyond mere "assertion" to suggest that U.S. residents will actually show up in numbers much larger than MLS can move to see better players and better soccer.

MLS obviously isn't at the point yet where it can afford the best talent, of course. But it should also go without saying that MLS will never be able to lure enough quality talent to make significant improvements to its product until and unless it starts treating its players better -- and that, at the least, means more guaranteed contracts, ditching unilateral option years, and allowing players some option for movement between its teams when their current club cuts them or their contracts expire. With salary caps in place, there's no reason that any of those things necessarily have to cause financial problems for MLS, and the owners are feeding us all a line of B.S. in claiming otherwise.

Posted by: WorldCitizen1 | March 17, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

until and unless it starts treating its players better -- and that, at the least, means more guaranteed contracts, ditching unilateral option years, and allowing players some option for movement between its teams when their current club cuts them or their contracts expire. With salary caps in place, there's no reason that any of those things necessarily have to cause financial problems for MLS, and the owners are feeding us all a line of B.S. in claiming otherwise.

Posted by: WorldCitizen1 | March 17, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

This is exactly right. This issue isn't about "free agency" as it is understood in other American leagues. It is about guaranteed contracts and ownership of players rights after their contracts expire or they get cut.

The players really aren't asking for stuff that will cost huge amounts of money, like an increase in the salary cap would. They are just asking for a bit more control over their careers plus a guarantee that their (modest) salary will be paid if they sign a contract, but then get waived before 9/15 each year.

Lew Wolff's hand-wringing letter would be more convincing if he didn't try to make it sound like "the union" wasn't the same thing as "the players" ("I feel very close to the players and I am at a loss as to how to respond when I am told that the player's union suggests that they are being treated unfairly"). When the players vote 330-something to 2 to authorize a strike, it's clear that the players and the union are the same thing.

If he's so close to the player then he should know what they are talking about. If he doesn't, then he's obviously not and just needs to STFU and negotiate at the bargaining table like an adult.

Posted by: nathanhj | March 17, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Carnack is a magician.

How come I haven't heard that question before? Goff? Grant? Ives? Somebody ask THAT question.

MLS hides behind its single-entity status when convenient, and then talks about individual teams losing money when that message is convenient. It's a crock!

Somebody give Carnack a press pass.....and rescind the credentials of that useless mouthpiece in LA, Grahame Jones.

Posted by: jhgodfrey1 | March 17, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

Hard to find fault in a group of people who have spent 100's of millions bringing us a sport that is probably ranked 5th or , heh, 8th in the sports landscape.

Also, a vast majority of MLS players wouldn't be playing if there were no league. Most just hack the better players anyways. How much is $80k in skill worth on the open market?? I'm willing to bet it's still $80k

It would make more sense to strike over the status of contracts one or two CBA's down the road.

Also, some of you must not realize what nation you live in, but, MLS barely scraped by until probably 4-5 years ago.

You people act like the league is successful and popular and raking in the cash. You guys are funny.

Posted by: Stoprunning | March 18, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Stoprunning writes: "How much is $80k in skill worth on the open market?? I'm willing to bet it's still $80k."

Unfortunately, MLS owners are terrified of that bet you're so willing to make.

Fortunately, the players are pushing ownership to make that bet.

Do I support an open market? You bet.

Posted by: jhgodfrey1 | March 18, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

What hurts the MLS and its investors when they make statements about how they are losing money is that everytime there is a labor issue in pro sports, that's what management always says. It doesn't ring true because none of these otherwise smart businessmen go into any venture without a sure chance that profit will be made. What may be true is that on the strictly soccer end of things, they are not making money, but those losses get made up by ancillary elements, mostly the stadium business and the investor's share through MLS of SUM. They wouldn't be in this business but for the opportunity to make profits on other elements of this business. That's why Victor and Will got into it (and why Victor got out - he got tired of waiting for the real estate side of the DCU investment to come about - Will has more staying power)

Posted by: lgm6986 | March 18, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I think the strike will be averted at the last minute. Looking into my crystal ball I see:

A marginally higher minimum salary.
A marginally higher cap limit.
Limited Free Agency (A player with X number of years of service can leave on a free transfer IF the team cuts them...).
Roster realignment in regards to developmental vs. senior players.
No guaranteed contracts.

From what we've seen in the papers, this seems to be a 'fair' middle of the road position. Nobody is happy, but everyone can live with it for the next 4-5 years.

Posted by: SoccerVA | March 18, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

After reading Lew Wolff's sob story. I think the threat of a strike happening just went up.

Posted by: kanicko | March 18, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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