What Is Expected at the 2015 MLS CBA Meetings?


After December and the beginning of 2015, news around a new MLS CBA and its negotiations should start to kick in to high gear. This is the third CBA for the players and the league, and with the foundation laid down in the first two, now is the time to take a leap forward for MLS and its players.

Here are my suggestions at some of the key points that I think would make a difference in MLS 3.0.

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  • The first is guaranteed contracts. Right now all players who are age 24 or older and have 3 years in MLS are eligible for a guaranteed contract.
    In the next contract I like to see no age restriction and 2 years played in MLS. The player must play a quarter of season on the starting 18 game day roster to qualify or is automatically qualified for a year’s service if he’s placed on injured reserve for the year. I’m not sure if MLS has an injured reserve but with this next CBA they should if they don’t. To me this is fair and shows progress for the players from the last contract.

    The salary budget that stood at $3,100,000 at the end of 2014 will be one of two major negotiating points with this next contract. Players will be looking for a large increase in the next CBA as the league has brought in an increase of revenue from the new eight year TV contract. The 2010 CBA five-year plan increased the salary budget by 10% the first year and 5% every year after. With the next contract I would like to see a significant jump for 2015 of 23% for the first year budget and then a fairly modest 10% every year after that.

    The 2014 salary budget ended at $3,100,000, so the increases would look something like this.

    2015 $3,813,000
    2016 $4,194,300
    2017 $4,617,730
    2018 $5,075,103
    2019 $5,582,613

    With the new contract, I would like to change how a Designated Player counts against the cap. Currently a DP’s salary is 12.5% of the salary budget. Three DP’s take up 37.5% of the $3,100,00 budget. Unless of course the team signs a DP in mid-season or they are a young DP; that takes up a huge chunk of the cap space. The current salary budget of $3,100,000 deducts $387,500 for one DP and $1,162,500 for three DP players on the roster. This is before adding in allocation money, which few outside the league know exactly what that number is. This leaves $1,937,500 for the rest of the roster.

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    Since it’s a soft cap, who really knows exactly what teams have to spend on players? This is a huge problem with many of the hardcore fans of MLS. In the next CBA, I want allocation money to be a real number so fans can understand what each team is dealing with. Teams would have to disclose exactly how much they have in the allocation funds and what they have in cap space. I think it would add to the buzz of the offseason when teams trade for players and help with transparency the league gets accused of never having.

    Here are the changes I would make to the DP rule and how it affects the cap. Now make each DP only count 6.25% against the cap for the next four years and be reduced to 5% for the fifth year of the new CBA. A player could make more than a DP salary but their total salary would count against the cap unless they are assigned the DP distinction. This will open up more money for the players, while keeping the overall salary budget manageable for the owners. With this reduction it would let you add more money to the senior roster to spend on the core players.

    With these changes, this would be the dollar amount a player signed to a DP contract  would count against the cap for the next five years and the amount if each team had three designated players.

    2015: $238,312/$714,936
    2016: $262,143/$786,429
    2017: $288,358/$865,074
    2018: $317,193/$951,579
    2019: $279,130/$837,390

    One other change I would like to make to the DP rule is to add a fourth DP. With the recent trend of rewarding players like Omar Gonzalez, Matt Beslar and Bradley Wright-Phillips with DP contracts, I would like see the new fourth DP as a way to keep talent in the league. The fourth DP will be exempt from the salary budget and the league will give $250,000 towards his salary, with the team responsible for the rest of his salary. The only condition is the player must have at least three years in the league before being eligible.

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    With this simple change in accounting to the DP rule, you would have well over a million dollars more to spend on the senior roster, boosting the median income of players. Teams would now have to take on more of the burden of the DP’s contract but it’s still within reason for the operators of teams. Also with smart management of the cap, teams could add more players in the 300 to 400 thousand dollar range to the roster.

    Free agency will be the second big negotiating point with this next CBA. The owners had drawn a line in the sand when they started the league but the last CBA saw the beginning of a move towards the players getting more rights. Although I don’t think they will get total free agency, I do believe we will see the Re-Entry draft begin to evolve towards total free agency for the next CBA. The changes I like to see happen for 2015 would be players rights will no longer be held by MLS after the player leaves the league and a player returning to the league is free to negotiate with any team.

    Players in the league will still enter into a re-entry draft but now they could be picked by up to three teams in the draft instead of just one. Offers must start at 125% over the player’s current contract and teams will make a one-time offer in a sealed envelope with the highest bidder winning the rights to the player. All players out of contract that are not picked are now free to negotiate with anybody in the league. Although though it’s not total free agency, I think it’s better than the current system and a compromise.

    The new senior roster will only consist of 18 players and DP’s are excluded from counting against the senior roster. Players on the senior roster must now make a minimum of $65,000 with a 10% increase every year to minimum salary.  Off roster players will drop to eight and they must now make $42,500. Players who are assigned to USL Pro will still keep their current salary as long as they are part of the team’s roster.

    With these changes, the 2015 season will have a starting salary budget of $3,098,064 leftover for the senior roster if a team has three DP’s. This is a compromise to players and owners as it keeps the overall wages in line, while giving salary to the core players. Operators of teams will be more responsible for covering a DP’s salary, which shouldn’t be a problem for most teams. The new fourth DP should help promote the league and reward the players. The bottom of the roster should improve as the minimum reaches $95,166 in the last year of the CBA. I would consider this good and fair growth for both the owners and the players.

    Well this is my jumping off point and I think it’s practical for both sides as more money becomes available for the core players. I don’t think the numbers that I’m suggesting are out of line and the revenue of the new TV contract should fall in line with them. This gives the league money to continue to grow the league and hopefully increase the quality of play. The big concession for owners and players is free agency; it eliminates players having their rights held if they leave the league. Players still in the league wishing to remain will still have to go through a re-entry draft, but they will have three teams bidding on them.

    The DP rule has pretty much taken care of players returning to the league only signing with LA & NY. There is no need to hold right’s and assign players to teams as they only have three DP slots available per team. For players who fall below the DP level, they will still have to fit in the salary budget, so that should disperse the players naturally. The Re-Entry draft should have a little more meaning now as teams will have a little competition for players but it won’t be an all-out bidding war. I hope to see at least some of these changes and hope they can do it without a work stoppage.