Last weekend, Major League Soccer kicked off its 25th anniversary season with two new franchises bringing the total number of teams to 26. The 25th season is also the first year with a new collective bargaining agreement in place. MLS and the league’s players’ association agreed to the new CBA just last month. The new five-year deal, which still has to be ratified, sees a number of enhancements to player salaries and working conditions.
The most significant development within the new CBA is the increase in each team’s salary budget. It will rise from (US) $8.5 Million in 2019 to just under $12 Million by the time the deal runs out in 2024. And while the projected average wage for each player is expected to be around $500-thousand, the minimum budget charge for a senior roster player will rise above $100-thousand for the first time in league history. Over $55 Million in new performance bonuses will also be available by the end of the term.
One of the added benefits to the players will be a revenue sharing pact on future media rights. Under the terms of the new agreement, 25% of any increase in media revenues will be reinvested into each club’s salary budgets. This a major coup for the players, according to James Grossi, a Toronto-based writer for mlssoccer.com.
“This is where the real growth is in terms of professional sports at the moment,” said Grossi. “Getting a share of media revenue is massive for any players’ union and soccer is following the lead of other players’ associations.”
There has been a slight modification to the designated player rule which allows teams some flexibility with their third DP signing. MLS will have the discretion to limit the compensation for a third DP player to the maximum targeted allocation money (TAM) salary. However, if that player is under 23 years of age, that limit is removed.
“Rather than bringing in older players who aren’t going to see any value on the back end of their careers,” Grossi stated, “the league has encouraged teams, with this initiative of a young designated player, to invest this extra money off the cap in players that have sell-on value and developmental prospects.”
Another innovative player benefit within in the deal is the mandatory chartered flights each team is expected to take. From a maximum of four per season last year, that figure will rise to 16 flights by the end of the deal in 2024.
“One of the issues that came to the forefront last fall,” said Grossi, “was the sight of players being stuck in an airport, with a game in less than 24 hours, and losing out on sleep before a match. There’s an element of this being for player comfort but this is also a nod from the league that they want their product to be as good as it can be.”
In addition to league charters, all playoff matches and all Concacaf Champions League (CCL) matches that involve international travel will see mandatory charters.
The league has also eliminated the cap on the number of free agents a team can sign as well as contract mechanisms that prevented players from reaching free agency eligibility.
All of these adjustments to the CBA should result in a higher quality product on the field as MLS begins a milestone season.