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Friday, March 12, 2010
120 Fahrenheit: Why I Think a Strike by MLS Players Won't Be Effective


The players are thinking about striking.  They've voted themselves either the power to hold a strike or they've voted to go ahead and strike, depending on who you believe.  In my opinion it would be a bad idea for them to hold the strike cause it won't work.  Let me be clear, I think what they are asking for isn't unreasonable.  They are not getting some basic rights players world wide enjoy.  I think they deserve most, if not all, of what they want.  But that doesn't mean a strike will work.

The Issues


In essence, if I understand it correctly from my sources, the players are after three things.  (More salary and a higher cap are not one of them.)  The first is guaranteed contracts.  They want to still get paid if they get waived.  Two, they want free agency inside MLS.  And three they want to keep the players 10% if and when they are sold.  Currently MLS makes players sign over the 10% to get a sale. As I say, none of those requests are unreasonable it doesn't seem.

Guarantees

I have heard from sources that the league gave some concessions on the guaranteed contract thing, although I'm not sure what the exact details are.  I don't think it's unilateral guarantees for everyone, but does include a change of guarantee dates and different terms for more veteran players.  Even though none of us in the real world get guaranteed deals, most professional athletes do.  MLS was also going to bump the cap some to raise player salaries to try and appease them, but that isn't really a big player concern.

The 10%

This one on the surface seems only fair.  You'd be pissed to if you didn't get your money.  For some reason this one gets the player leadership real fired up.  Probably because they are the higher plaid players who would get a greater dollar value with the 10% because of the larger sale price they would bring.  However if you're a $30,000 would you really care about this issue?  Do you want to strike so Landon Donovan can have another million when he's sold?

Another consideration is that in Central and South American most players rights are owned by agents and/or investors. The 10% in those cases goes to the agents and investors.  Players from south of here are used to not getting this fee.  It undermines the weight of this issue to the foreign contingent in MLS.

Free Agency

This one is the real kicker and the one MLS ownership isn't going to give ground on.  Do the players deserve to be free after their contract runs out?  Of course they do.  MLS will argue they are free to sign with any other league or team outside MLS, and to a point they are correct.  Should players be able to move inside MLS?  Sure they should.  But it's not going to happen.

By allowing any level of free agency, MLS would be admitting they are not single entity. It would break the business model.  Outside of maybe the LA Galaxy and Seattle, most of the league doesn't yet make money.  Loss of single entity would probably mean the end of MLS.

MLS already won this legal battle against the MLSPA (being supported by the NFLPA), I doubt they will give in now.  The best players might see is some sort of internal MLS auction for out of contract rights or some such.  Some method that allows some movement, but keeps the contract and ownership of players with the league office.

But anything that smacks of free agency and open movement is a non-starter.

Why a Strike Won't Work


None of the above tells you why I think a strike is a bad move.  It just lays the ground out for us in terms of the players demands.  So why is it I believe a strike won't work?

1. To many MLS players can't afford it. Have these young guys making over $100k been saving their money?  Can they sustain their lifestyle?  How about guys under $100k, how long can they hold out?  What if they have families and kids?  How about the guys making $30k or less?  Quite a few of them will have to get another job, and get one quickly, to survive.

In a strike how many players will cross the lines either right away or within a short time frame?  I bet it's more than you would think.  One NASL vet this week said that when there was a strike in his day, most of the Dallas Tornados crossed.  (Texas is a right to work state)  There have been reports that 2/3 of the NASL players voted to strike, and only 1/3 actually did strike.

2. Foreign Players know how good it is here in MLS. Wonderful facilities, a great place to live, the checks show up on time and the clear the bank, good education for kids, safe on and off the field, and a certain amount of anonymity.  How many of them are willing to risk careers and/or having visas getting dropped to strike? (Would visas be at risk?)  How many of them will ignore a strike and show up to play?  A great many of them I would think.  Being under contract they can't just go to some other league  Remember roughly 1/3 of FCD players, most of them foreign players, already voted to accept the first MLS offer, and that was before concessions.

3. Will the audience even notice? At this point it seem probable that MLS will say, "We're playing. If you're here you get paid."  The league already approved playing under the old CBA.  If, as I predict, a large number of foreign players cross, and a bunch of "can't afford it" players cross, the only ones missing with be the upper half of the American talent pool.  MLS will just sign up another 10 or 15 Americans who would kill to get into MLS.  You think it an accident Schellas Hyndman has about 10 of his mid-tier, ex-SMU guys in camp?  You don't think those guys would sign up in a heart beat to try and play in this league, strike or not?  How much of a drop in play will there be?  Not THAT much.

Even if MLS has to field an entire new team of players, do you really think they will have any trouble?  Don't you think the league will just open up to foreign players for a season, bring in a massive haul of talent to prop up the teams.  It might look like the NASL for a time.

Now take a look at the MLS audience.  How many of them are hard core soccer fans that are clamoring for more talent?  10%?  How many are suburbanites with kids or casual fans that are just enjoying a game or two? 90%?  Of the hard core how many will show up and support no matter who is in the kit?  How many fans of the team now can't even name more than 2 or 3 players?  How many will still come with their rec team, their school group, or their family outing?  Most of them I'd think.

I bet MLS has zero trouble fielding teams and playing their season and I bet hardly anyone will notice.  I'll even go further and bet that half the audience at any given MLS opener won't even know there is a strike going on.

4. The monetary impact of a MLS strike doesn't carry enough weight. In the NFL when the players strike the owners lose millions.  In MLS everyone is already losing money. The league isn't being propped up by massive TV ratings.  A dip in the needle of ratings won't mean squat.

Even if it did make a difference, what's one loss compared to another.  If the losses get big enough the league will just go away.  It's not like the owners are going to be crying over the lost cash.  They already are losing cash.  There is no financial incentive for the owners to give in. They lose money already, and giving in will break the business model.  They'll just shut it down before that happens.  Or as I said, they'll just play with a little less talent.

5. It's a World Cup Year. There is a small segment that eventually will cross because they need to be playing to make their World Cup team. You think a foreign coach will give a darn about MLS if they guy isn't playing?  If MLS won't let Donovan or Beckham stay in Europe, will they want to be sitting here in the states?  (Will MLS play that kind of hardball?)  What if you're a fringe guy?  You think a Robbie Rogers, Jonathan Bornstein, or Sacha Kljestan wants to be not playing?  Sure guys can stay in shape, but shape is not game form.  You think Bob Bradley will pick guys out of game form? Not a chance.  MLS players trying to make their various World Cup squads could very well be the first players crossing.

Conclusion


So that's it why I think a strike is a bad idea.  I just don't think the MLS Players have enough leverage.  Striking won't hurt the owners enough and the fans for the most part won't even notice. The ball as they say is in the players court.

It's going to be interesting to watch, that's for sure.