MLS Avoids a Lockout as League, Players Agree on Return Plan, Ratify CBA

MLS's return plan in Orlando is now set following an agreement between the league and its players and a roller coaster of a route it took to get there.
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The MLS Players Association on Wednesday morning announced the finalization of a revised and extended collective bargaining agreement with the league, paving the way for labor peace through 2025 and a return to the field this summer. MLS can now move forward with its plans for a tournament in Orlando featuring all 26 clubs.

Faced with a noon (Eastern) Wednesday deadline imposed by the league, and the threat of a lockout, the players were voting on the league’s revised proposal received Tuesday. Discussions about returning to play in Orlando and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic evolved into a de facto renegotiation of the most recent CBA, which was reached in February but never ratified. Two primary stumbling blocks reportedly emerged. One was the owners’ attempt to insert a force majeure clause that would allow the league to scrap the CBA if there was an attendance decline in a handful of MLS markets. The other was over the distribution of revenue expected to come from the next TV deal starting in 2023.

ESPN reported Tuesday that the league was willing to revise the force majeure clause, and although the players’ share of TV revenue will decline a bit, collectively that appears to have been enough to placate the union. Players had already agreed to a 7.5% pay cut, according to The Washington Post.

MLS teams will now prepare to arrive in Orlando by June 24, at which point they will train for a couple of weeks or so before games begin at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports facility. MLS hasn’t yet released details regarding the made-for-TV tournament’s name, format or stakes, but it’s been widely reported that each club will be guaranteed three games that will count toward the official regular season standings. The 2020 MLS season was two games in when the pandemic pause began.

From there, 16 clubs will move on to a knockout stage for matches that will not be considered regular season games. The Athletic reported that MLS will furnish a $1 million prize pool, as well as a promise to aid charities in clubs’ home markets. Spectators will not be permitted.

There has been no decision made on when the 2020 regular season might continue following the tournament or when play could resume in MLS stadiums.