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MLS CBA discussions: Frequently asked questions

When will the 2021 MLS season start?

The League announced on Jan. 25 that the 2021 season is scheduled to start April 3, with each club playing 34 regular season games, followed by the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. MLS Cup is on Dec. 11. With a full schedule of domestic and international competitions on the soccer calendar in 2021, the April start for MLS benefits everyone involved, including the clubs and players.

Why is MLS in discussions with the players’ union -- the MLS Players Association (MLSPA) – about a new collective bargaining agreement?

The continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating effect on the lives of everyone in the U.S., Canada and throughout the world. Last year MLS and its clubs lost nearly $1 billion, and the pandemic’s restrictions on attendance contributed to a significant portion of that loss. Because of the ongoing effects of the pandemic, we anticipate another year with substantial financial losses.

We met with the MLS Players Association and their player representatives in early January to discuss how to address the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and the impact on MLS for the coming season and beyond. MLS presented a proposal that would ensure that the players receive 100% of their salaries this year in return for a two-year extension of the current MLS collective bargaining agreement. The proposal obligates MLS owners to assume the financial losses from the pandemic this year, while protecting the long-term stability of the League by providing an opportunity to recoup a portion of those economic losses in the future.

It’s essential to note that MLS and club owners have already decreased spending in certain areas in order to cope with losses related to the pandemic. This included salary reductions for League office employees, as well as a reduction in the overall workforce.

Why did MLS invoke the Force Majeure clause?

MLS and MLSPA agreed last spring to a “force majeure” provision that could be invoked in December 2020 in the event the pandemic continued beyond the 2020 season. The League invoked that provision on Dec. 29, 2020, which required MLS and the MLSPA to negotiate for 30 days to address the continuing impact of COVID-19 on our League, after which the CBA is subject to termination absent a new agreement.

MLS did not take this step lightly. However, our League faces the unfortunate reality that the impact of the pandemic is certain to continue well into 2021, and that current government restrictions and public health directives and guidance make it likely that MLS will not be able to schedule and conduct regular season matches without significant limitations on the number of spectators who may attend.

What is the status of the talks between MLS and the MLSPA? Is there a deadline?

MLS remains in discussions with the MLSPA regarding how we can work together to address the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we remain far apart on some fundamental issues, we are hopeful we can finalize a new collective bargaining agreement.

Given the impact of COVID-19 on how clubs will need to operate during preseason, we must finalize an agreement soon in order to provide teams and players adequate time to prepare for the opening of training camps. A 30-day negotiating period between MLS and the MLSPA recently expired on Jan. 29. MLS agreed to extend the negotiations for one week to provide every opportunity to reach an agreement and avoid a work stoppage.

MLS and the MLSPA met on Jan. 29 and 31 and are committed to meet regularly this week. The MLS Labor Committee voted unanimously to authorize the League to terminate the CBA and institute a lockout if we are unable to finalize a new agreement by 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 4. 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.

MLS is committed to getting a deal done this week and is available at any time in any format to meet with the MLSPA and players.

Are players involved in the CBA discussions?

MLS and its clubs have enormous respect and appreciation for everything players have done helping build the League and the sport throughout the years -- and they've gone above and beyond during the pandemic. In addition to their contributions on the field, our players have been involved in the labor discussions. We have a group of players who are smart, and they think strategically. They have been firm in their views, and we have created a proposal that allows us to work together and solve this together.

We know everyone -- MLS, clubs, club owners, and players alike -- wants to get back to the game, and we are hopeful we will be able to finalize an agreement soon.

If the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is expected in 2021, why is MLS requesting a two-year extension of the CBA and not asking for salary reductions?

Based on our discussions with the MLSPA and players in the spring of 2020 and throughout last year, it was very clear that the players were not willing to accept salary reductions in 2021. After listening the players, we came up with a thoughtful, fair, and simple proposal to seek no salary reductions from the players in exchange for a two-year extension of the CBA. With this proposal, MLS owners assume the financial losses from the pandemic this year, while protecting the long-term stability of our League by providing an opportunity to recoup a portion of those economic losses incurred in 2021.

What is the rationale behind the League’s request for a two-year extension of the CBA?

The two-year extension, through the 2027 season, provides players, clubs, and fans certainty during an important time of growth for the sport in the U.S. and Canada. This extension puts MLS’s CBA in line with some of North America’s most successful leagues -- the NFL, NBA, and NHL -- all have collective bargaining agreements that range from 7 – 11 years. In fact, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to extend their CBA by 4 years in 2020 during their 2020 negotiations to address the impact of the pandemic. This extension allows all of us to focus on the long-term health of our League while providing stability for the future and an opportunity to recoup a portion of the economic losses caused by the pandemic in 2021.

MLS clubs are owned by wealthy individuals. Why do they need to have the players help reduce their losses in MLS?

Our owners have been in investment mode for many years in an effort to establish and support professional soccer in North America. They have built this League from the ground up -- stadiums, training facilities, player development and youth academies, etc. The owners’ commitment has included assuming substantial financial losses that were made significantly worse last year because of the pandemic. While MLS owners have offered to assume additional losses in 2021 due to restrictions on attendance for MLS matches, we believe that it is certainly fair and reasonable to ask the players to contribute to the League’s long-term stability by extending the CBA .

Does this mean owners will decrease the investment in players, stadiums, and other infrastructure in 2021 and beyond?

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, MLS club owners remain committed to growing the League and sport. This year three new soccer stadiums will open, and more training facilities will debut. Owners are also investing significantly in player development programs such as the recent launch of MLS NEXT. Despite knowing that they will incur financial losses, the owners are deeply committed to continuing their investment. The certainty that comes with an extension of the CBA provides the opportunity will help ensure the long-term success of professional soccer in the U.S. and Canada.

Regarding player compensation, MLS’ proposal provides players with 100% of their salaries in 2021, and there is no change in discretionary spending so clubs can continue to sign Designated Players, Homegrown talent, and secure players utilizing Allocation Money.

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