The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many problems for professional sports as leagues stopped play for months in 2020. Some were forced to play within bubbles and revenue decreased as games and attendance became limited. Possibly the biggest issue has been discussions over the leagues’ collective bargaining agreements.
Due to the loss of revenue because of limited fans and games, league owners have been looking to decrease spending through player concessions. While Major League Soccer isn’t asking players to accept any pay cuts in 2021, it is asking for a two-year extension of the current CBA.
This could be the third time in six years that there have been contentious negotiations between MLS and the MLS Players Association. In 2015, fans worried as the start of the season, which included the addition of Orlando City and New York City FC, drew near. In the end, the two sides came to an agreement. The sides again avoided a work stoppage just last year when they came to an agreement in February of 2020 that was supposed to run through 2024. The CBA was never ratified due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, opening the door for MLS to force a renegotiation, which the league has now done.
It doesn’t seem like the two sides are any fonder of each other this time around. Once again, the negotiations are contentious and the league could potentially lock out the players. While it is possible that there could be a work stoppage in MLS, fans shouldn’t worry. There’s one major problem that will ensure this gets resolved.
In the last 30 years, American sports fans have seen multiple leagues experience work stoppages. In 1994, Major League Baseball experienced a strike that canceled the World Series. In 2004, an NHL lockout canceled an entire season. In 2011, the NBA had a lockout that saw the season delayed until December.
The primary reason why MLS has not had a work stoppage isn’t because it has had labor peace, but it has a problem that doesn’t plague the other major American sports leagues. While the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL are the top leagues in the world in those sports, MLS has tremendous competition.
Americans have an abundance of soccer that they can consume in any given week. The English Premier League is on NBC stations, La Liga is on beIN Sports, and Serie A and the Bundesliga have all games on ESPN+. For local prime-time games, all Mexican Liga MX games are on easy-to-access American television. MLS has improved greatly through the years but these leagues are still superior to the top domestic competition.
MLS and the MLSPA will threaten to cause a work stoppage through a strike or lockout but both sides know the situation. They know that fans of the sport have plenty of options and won’t be losing the sport if they no longer watch MLS. While most loyal fans would likely return, many would simply watch other, more prominent leagues.
In 2015, there were threats to postpone the start of the MLS season or cancel games altogether. However, as the season got closer, both sides knew that a work stoppage would undo all the growth that the league has seen over the years. MLS clubs receive a large portion of money through gameday sales and the loss of revenue could cause irreversible damage.
As the 2021 season gets closer, you’ll likely hear more bickering and negotiating between the two sides. Apparently having not learned from the public relations disaster Major League Baseball experienced by feuding publicly in 2020, some of this might be done through the media. It could even lead to deadlines close to the planned start of the season.
But fans should not worry about a work stoppage. In the end, the two sides will likely come to an agreement and the 2021 MLS season will be played as scheduled. This is not because the two sides will have found common ground, but because they have no other choice. The future of the league will depend on it.