It has been nearly a year since MLS and its players narrowly avoided a strike and got the 2015 season started on time. It’s hard to forget the heated bargaining sessions that dominated the domestic soccer news wires for weeks as the two sides hashed out an agreement. Within days of opening weekend, the two sides were able to settle their differences, leading to a free agency system that, while limited, was a major step in the evolution of the league. The agreement went into effect on February 1, 2015, and will expire on January 31, 2020.
The MLS Players Union was kind enough to publish the agreement in full on Thursday. The 84-page document is a difficult read and full of legalese, but there is a lot of interesting stuff in there.
Player compensation is the most often talked about part of these agreements and that covers much of the MLS CBA. First up is player payments based on club performance. Each club has a pool of money that grows based on their performance. At the end of the season, it is divided up between the players.
The winners of MLS Cup receive $275,000 dollars to their pool. The US Open Cup winners receive almost as much, $250,000. That feels like a lot for the lack of importance of that competition. That leads many to wonder why MLS clubs don’t value the CONCACAF Champions League as much as they should. Well, it’s because the league only pays out $50,000 if one of their clubs wins the tournament.
We know that player salaries in MLS pale in comparison to other major sports in America. The minimum player salary is a paltry $62,500 for 2016 and will rise to only $70,250 by 2019. We also know the salary cap will go from $3,660,000 this season to $4,240,000 in 2019. Working to the players’ advantage, however, is the club’s contributions to their retirement plans. Each player receives 3.75% of their salary into their 401k, regardless of whether they put anything in themselves. This is a fantastic benefit that I would kill for at my job
There are more aspects to player compensation besides salary and performance bonuses. For instance, they have to eat in order to play soccer and they receive quite the chunk of change for meals on road trips. For each day on the road (provided the club doesn’t offer team meals) a player gets $74 to spend on food. By 2019, that number jumps to $100. Cloming from someone who budgets far less than that for food in a day, that sounds quite nice.
Also related to road trips, clubs are not required to charter flights for their players. They can use “regular commercial carriers, when reasonably practical,” according to the CBA, but only for distances of more than 250 miles.
Free tickets are also a perk. Players receive, upon request, four free tickets to each home game, or game played in their home metropolitan area, and two for each road game. They also get allocations for the All-Star Game, if they participate, and for the MLS Cup final.
Players get some benefits if they get traded. They receive a $3,000 stipend within 30 days of the deal and get their relocation expenses taken care of. They also get three days off to “organize their affairs” within two weeks of being assigned to a new team. If they are sold outside of MLS (or a USL affiliate) they are entitled to 10% of the transfer fee.
Professional soccer is a full time job, so laws require the clubs provide health insurance to their players. The coverage isn’t anything special, in fact, their health insurance doesn’t look much better than something the average person can buy through the Obama Care marketplace. They have a $250 annual deductible for individual health coverage, and $500 for their families. There’s also a $25 copay for standard office visits. While they get workers comp for soccer injuries, it still sounds like a rough deal for a professional athlete, if you ask me. For long term disability, they receive 60% of their salary up to a maximum of $10,000 per month. So a long term injury could really hamper some high end designated players from a financial standpoint. They also get a measly $75,000 life insurance policy.
One of the more interesting nuggets I found were several provisions for a non-existent tournament between MLS and Liga MX called the US-Mexico Champions Cup. There are items regarding additions to the schedule and bonus pool payments for such a hypothetical events. This leads me to suggest that this has bee discussed internally within the league, if not also with Liga MX.
Those are the most interesting parts that I could find. There are also sections covering the length of the season (with a clause covering expansion to 22 teams), time off both during the season and the offseason, and rules for the re-entry draft and free agency. In general, all the complicated player movement and roster rules are explained within.
It’s not the most exciting document to read by any means. But if you are at all interested in examining the inner workings of the relationship between league and player, as well as what caused such a fuss last winter, you can check it out here.
Main Photo: Matthew Ashton, Getty Images