Major League Soccer and its players’ union reached an agreement that paves the way for a summer tournament in Florida after the season was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic.
The deal was announced by the Major League Soccer Players Association on Wednesday following tense talks and the league threatening a lockout. Players from Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact, Vancouver Whitecaps and other markets skipped training the last two days as the two sides remained at odds.
MLS and the union agreed Feb. 6 to a five-year labour contract, but the deal had not been ratified when the season was stopped on March 12 after only two matches had been played by each team.
The ratified collective-bargaining agreement was announced in the midst of nationwide protests over police brutality and injustice against African Americans sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Both sides noted the unrest in announcing the contract.
“There are problems we face collectively that are both more urgent, and more important, than competing on the field,” the union said in a statement. “We hope our return to the field will allow fans a momentary release and a semblance of normalcy.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber vowed the league will go further with its public stance for equality.
“We’ve tried to create programs that would address some of the things that are important to our core values. I have to say that it’s not enough to produce ads, it’s not enough just to have programs that talk about these issues,” he said.
Garber said the league expects to take a $1 billion revenue hit because of the coronavirus.
The revised CBA, a six-year deal through 2025, includes across-the-board pay cuts and reduced bonuses.
One of the sticking points was a clause that allows either side to opt out of the deal because of unforeseen circumstances, like a pandemic. The agreement does not tie the clause to attendance, something the league had sought.
The agreement also changes the players’ share of media rights negotiated in the original CBA. The share will drop from 25% to 12.5% in 2023, but will be restored to 25% in 2024.
Details of the Florida tournament were still being finalized. The league’s 26 teams and limited staff would be based in the Orlando area and matches played without fans at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World.
Garber said the tournament would last no longer than 35 days but he would not reveal additional details.
The union announced Sunday night that players had voted for an agreement but MLS pushed back on the terms and imposed a deadline for a lockout. As a result, players from teams including Atlanta, Miami, Minnesota and Vancouver did not report to voluntary training Monday.
Garber said it was his decision to threaten the lockout, a move that was criticized.
“It’s not something that I did without a lot of thought and without a lot of concern and a lot of understanding as to what impact that would have on our players and on the negotiation. But it was something, as the leader of this league that I believed was necessary in order for us to get to the point today,” Garber said.
Nashville defender Eric Miller said on social media that he was proud of the players, “although the process and tactics used by MLS left a mark.”
“Players showed commitment and strength throughout this entire process,” Miller said. “We are all excited to get back on the field and be a positive force for change in our communities.”
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Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press