Originally Published March 13, 2015
Host 1: This year’s Major League Soccer season almost didn’t start.
Host 2: Last week, players threatened to strike over their contract. They finally reached an agreement with the league just two days before the season’s opener last Friday.
Host 1: And while the new agreement increases players salaries, Charlotte Gibson reports that some still question whether the league will survive.
About a quarter of MLS players earned less than $50,000 playing soccer last season. About half earned less than $100,000.
Players say that makes them the lowest paid professional athletes in North American team sports.
Some players said they didn’t mind starting at the league’s minimum wage of $36,500 because they loved the sport.
Davis Paul felt that way when he started playing for the Chicago Fire in 2011.
Paul: From my experience it wasn’t ideal for living super comfortably, you weren’t necessarily living in like a penthouse in a top floor in Chicago, but it was a sacrifice that you had to make in the hopes that you were going to make it big. (00:21)
Other players have left the sport because of the salaries.
Demitrius Omphroy earned the minimum wage when he played for Toronto FC. He says he got by because he had roommates and worked during the off-season. After a while, that was too much effort.
Omphroy: You know I love soccer but I am better off going back to school. We were super underpaid and like it almost made more sense to go back to school and finish out your degree because your most likely going to get paid a higher paying job. (00:12)
Players say the league’s salaries are low because of its unique business structure. Most players actually work for the league not the teams they play for and the league owns a majority interest in every one of its teams and sets the salaries for almost all of its players. Teams can pay as much as they want to so-called designated players the big name European players like NYCFC’s David Villa and American stars like Seattle’s Clint Dempsey, but the league limits most teams to having no more than three.
Soccer writer Charles Boem says that makes the structure pretty unpopular among players.
Boem: You have a strict salary cap and there’s a lot of limitations for what you can do because the league is the final arbiter rather than the clubs themselves. (00:06)
The league and the Players Union hadn’t agreed on a new contract by the time the old one expired at the end of last year.
Two and a half months later, they still hadn’t. Just a week before the season was supposed to start, union representatives voted overwhelmingly for a strike.
But mood shifted and twenty-four hours later, player representatives voted in favor of a tentative agreement which guaranteed the season would start on time two days later, according to Boem and ESPN FC.
But the 12-7 vote was proof according to Boem that a lot of players might still be unhappy.
Boem: The players improved their lot but they didn’t necessarily get an ideal contract and that made some significant concessions and there has been some grumbling. (00:09).
The five year deal allows players to become free agents but its conditions make only 10 percent of the league’s players eligible.
The contract also increases the league’s minimum salary by nearly two thirds to $60,000 a year.
But that’s not good enough, according to Patrick McCabe. He’s an agent who represents more than 70 MLS players. Even with these imporvements, he thinks that it is not enough for the league to hold on to players who know their careers aren’t going to be long anyway.
With this new deal on the table, the biggest question for the league right now is if they can keep and acquire talented players in the U.S.
McCabe: The best thing about the CBA was that it was just a five-year term so we can have another chance to get a crack at this in five years and hopefully really make some improvements from the players, some real improvements. There’s still a lot to be done and to be fought for. (00:16)
MLS players are expected to ratify the deal but the vote has not been scheduled yet. The deal will last until the 2019 season.
Charlotte Gibson, Columbia Radio News.