Claiming the league and union remain “far apart” in CBA negotiations, MLS announced Friday morning that if there’s no new deal by the close of Feb. 4, then it will terminate the current labor agreement and lock out the players. That would constitute the first work stoppage in MLS’s 25-year history.
The league’s statement came following the end of a 30-day negotiating window that was opened by the invoking of a force majeure clause in the current CBA. Facing another year of heavy losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, MLS offered to pay players 100% of their salaries in 2021 in exchange for a two-year extension to the CBA through 2027. That would flatten growth, postpone increases the players inevitably would gain in new negotiations and save owners money on the back end.
The league said it was seeking $100 million to $110 million in concessions designed to offset future losses.
The players responded Thursday by meeting the owners halfway, offering to extend the CBA by one year, through 2026 (and the World Cup that’ll be hosted by the USA, Canada and Mexico), along with other adjustments to the salary cap and revenue sharing mechanisms, resulting in around $53 million in savings.
That apparently wasn’t what the league was looking for.
“In our discussions with the MLSPA, we have emphasized the importance of the two-year extension to allow the league and clubs to recover a portion of the losses incurred in 2021 as a result of the pandemic while protecting the long-term health of the league by providing stability which promotes ongoing investment,” the league said Friday.
If there’s a lockout Feb. 5, players would no longer receive their paychecks and would lose access to team facilities. They also would be allowed to play elsewhere, although they’d have to return to their MLS clubs when the lockout ended. The sides could continue to negotiate during a lockout, but theoretically would be starting from square one. At the moment, the real deadline is Feb. 22—that’s when preseason training camps are supposed to open. The MLS regular season is scheduled to start the weekend of April 3 to 4.
“Given the impact of COVID-19 on how clubs will need to operate during preseason, we must finalize an agreement in the coming days in order to provide teams and players adequate time to prepare for the opening of training camps,” the league said, adding that its labor committee voted unanimously to institute the lockout if no deal is reached next week. “To be clear, we are committed to getting a deal done and will make ourselves available at any time in any format to meet with the MLSPA and players. Given the ongoing pandemic, the league will continue to pay the health insurance premiums for players and their families in the event of a lockout.”