Monday, December 07, 2009

More On MLS Collective Bargaining Negotiations

There is much talk in MLS circles about the ending of the collective bargaining agreement and the efforts of the Player's Union to come to a new deal with MLS and the team owners. In a previous post, I suggested that the Union seek not a five year deal, but a three year collective bargaining agreement.

My reasoning was based largely on internal league economics, i.e. that within three years the league will have at least 18 teams and as many as 20. With the addition of Phildelphia Union in 2010 and the Portland and Vancouver Franchises in 2011, MLS will see a significant expansion in the next two years. With a CBA that would expire after two seasons of the Northwest trio, it is quite possible that MLS could be looking at a far different internal economic picture than the one they currently see.

But there are three other external factors that will be known within the next three years that could put both the league and the player's union current and likely future demands in a different light.

1. The first is World Cup 2010. Sure, a good U.S. National Team performance is likely to generate some interest in the MLS. How much interest is, of course, the question. With a number of players playing overseas, there will be pressure on the current crop of MLS players on the national team, of which there are few--Landon Donovan being the most obvious. But ESPN will also be looking to translate some of that World Cup interest to MLS interest. Of course, the deeper the U.S. run in the World Cup, the more interest that may be had. By 2013, ESPN and MLS will be coming to the end of their current contract and will be a year away from renewal. These factors can place some attention on a new CBA at a time when MLS will be looking for more money from the sports broadcasting giant.

2. The general economy will, if we dare hope, be on the rebound. The more disposal income Americans have, the more dollars MLS can compete for. A recent article in Parade Magazine by Sally Jenkins noted
While the average cost of attending an NFL game for a family of four is $412.64, it's a staggering $758.58 to watch the Cowboys. (That figure includes tickets and drinks for four people, as well as a couple of caps.)
For that same $758, I can get season tickets for two adults to DC United's 20 game package which includes all MLS home games and five other matches such as friendlies. So as the economy in general is beginning to recover, a concerted three year effort to market the game, both through the leagues, the teams themselves and most importantly the players can translate into not only better game day revenue for clubs, but pressure and incentive on ESPN to pay more and show more games.

3. World Cup 2018 and 2022 will be awarded. The U.S. is in a strong position to be awarded one of these and that means big revenue for soccer in America. The MLS will have between 8 and 12 years to capitalize on the coming tournament to increase not only the quality of MLS play, but to expand the league's player development, reserve divisions, youth academies and other aspects of the game in the game in America.

These three external factors, some longer term than others, can provide a boon for the Player's Union in the next round of CBA negotiations. That is why a three year CBA at this point is a smarter option for the Union.

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