Although the prospects for Major League Soccer (MLS) appear to be bright, it still faces significant obstacles, including its business structure, player acquisition rules and free agency, a report said.
Average attendance was an all-time high in 2014 and a new eight-year TV deal with ESPN, FOX Sports and Univision Deportes will begin this season, but the league’s single-entity structure is still restricting growth, Bleacher Report said.
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MLS defines its system on the Press Box page as “a single, limited liability company (single-entity). In the single-entity business structure, club operators own a financial stake in the League, not just their individual team.” It sounds, and actually is, very confusing, the report said.
Commissioner Don Garber said that the league wants to be more transparent beginning this year. However, Garber also indicated that the single-entity system wouldn’t change in order to accomplish that goal, the website said.
Also, it appears that Garber will have a serious fight on his hands during the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations. According to Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated, the players are willing to go through a work stoppage in order to gain free agency, according to the report.
It’s understandable that the players are pushing for free agency. Their contracts are owned by MLS and they want to have freedom to choose their team. However, the league doesn’t want to go down this road, the website said.
This isn’t the only issue in a single-entity league. The ridiculous and confusing player acquisition rules are hurting MLS’ reputation. Regulations dictate that a U.S. international who wants to sign with a team has to go through the allocation ranking, the report said.
The MLS regulations page states that “designated players of a certain threshold—as determined by the league—are not subject to allocation ranking.” However, according to Adam Jardy of The Columbus Dispatch, this was a recently created rule, the website said.
MLS is a very secretive league. Terms of contracts and player deals are undisclosed, which makes it hard for fans to determine whether their team won the negotiations. The supporters are educated enough to form their own opinions, the report said.
MLS insults the intelligence of its fans by not releasing the details of a deal. Supporters cannot fully analyze a trade or signing unless they know what clauses were involved, according to the website.
It’s evident that the single-entity has to change in order for MLS to take the next step. Garber claims that the current structure has been successful and has brought the league to this point in its development. But the executives can’t rely on the system forever, especially if they aspire to be one of the top leagues in the world, the report said.
Meanwhile, with the MLS collective bargaining agreement expiring soon, the league and players’ union remain “far apart” on key issues, increasing the possibility of a work stoppage in March, the Washington Post said.
At a meeting in Washington, MLS officials presented counter-proposals to the union’s propositions. What was planned as a two-day session was cut to one, the report said.
The CBA expires Jan. 31, at which point a clause of no strike or lockout will end. However, both sides have an unwritten pact to allow preseason training and participation in tournaments to proceed as scheduled, according to the Post.
The true deadline is the week of the regular season openers in early March. Five years ago, before the latest CBA was reached, the sides negotiated within days of the opening weekend, the report said.