In the last 20+ years, every one of the so-called "major" sports leagues in America has gone through some sort of work stoppage. Whether it was the NFL in 1987, MLB in 1994, the NBA in 1998 or the NHL in 2004, every stoppage damaged the respective leagues. Attendance declined, playoffs were canceled, interest levels dropped and it took time (and in the case of baseball, two steroid-fueled power hitters) to get the leagues back to their pre-work stoppage levels of success.
But those leagues were all established successes at the time of their strikes/lockouts. They had a large, broad base of fans and -- ultimately -- could afford to sit out part of the season due to a labor spat. Unfortunately, MLS does not have that luxury. Sure, the league is growing. But it's not yet big enough so that it could quickly and successfully bounce back from a work stoppage. That -- along with the fact that 2010 is a World Cup year -- is why it's so imperative that the Players' Union and the league come to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement by January 31st.
"I think a deal has got to get done for a number of reasons," said Fire midfielder -- and Union rep -- Logan Pause. "I think any sort of work stoppage will be extremely detrimental to this league. We want to play. That's not an issue. It's just about getting things worked out."
Surprisingly, financial issues haven't been a sticking point in negotiations -- which have been ongoing for months. What the sides can't agree on is the extent to which players will be granted simple, FIFA mandated rights.
Namely, players are demanding the following:
- Guaranteed contracts. Almost 80% of players in the league do not have guaranteed deals.
- To be able to enter contracts with their specific team. Currently, MLS owns all the player contracts in the league. This issue has led some to go as far as to call MLS a "cartel."
- To be able to freely negotiate with other teams once a player's contract has expired. Under the present system, clubs can hold a player's rights even if his contract with the team has ended.
- The right to consent to (or decline) a transfer. Under the current CBA, players can be transferred (traded) to another club within the league without his consent. This can occur even if the transfer is international.
So far the league and the players aren't backing down from their stances on these issues. So unless there's some serious progress made before the 31st it looks like the league could be headed for a work stoppage (and I'll say it again, that would be a COMPLETE disaster for pro soccer in North America).
"We're fighting to be treated like players in every other league across the world," Pause said. "All the players in the league are cohesive and staying together. We're ready to have some things change and bring some rights to the players."