Major League Soccer notifies MLSPA of intent to invoke Force Majeure clause, setting the stage for tense negotiations

Major League Soccer informed the MLS Players Association today of their intent to invoke the Force Majeure clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

First reported by ESPN‘s Austin Linberg, triggering the clause would force both parties to negotiate “in good faith” for 30 days to modify the existing CBA. If no agreement can be reached, the CBA, which was agreed to this past July, would be terminated.

When early reports surfaced that MLS was considering triggering the clause, MLS Players Association director Bob Foose said “this would be a mistake.

After today’s ESPN report, the MLSPA issued a statement saying that the league has notified them of their intent, and calling this action “tone-deaf”, and saying it “discredits the previous sacrifices made by players and the enormous challenges they overcame in 2020.”

The league and players had agreed to a new CBA last February, but the deal had yet to be ratified by either side when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, ultimately leading to re-negotiation before the league resumed play in August.

CBA negotiations this past summer left players frustrated, disappointed, and most importantly, lessened their trust that the league will negotiate in good faith.

“What we were shown from the league frankly was not good enough,” Nashville SC’s Dan Lovitz told Broadway Sports last June. “It was an insistence on making the discourse adversarial. It was disrespectful at times.”

“Actions speak louder than words. I don’t care what Commissioner Garber said earlier. When the time comes and you have to act, that’s what you’re defined by, and we were shown their true colors in that moment.”

Those negotiations left players with a 5% reduction in 2020 wages across the board, and a $5 million cap on bonuses and incentives.

On the league side, Commissioner Don Garber has said that league revenue is down $1 billion from last year, with additional expenses incurred to host the MLS is Back Tournament at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex, as well as securing charter flights for teams in the latter phases of the season.

MLS has combatted these losses. Staff (including Garber) took pay reductions up to 25% early in the pandemic, and the league laid off 20% of their full-time employees at their New York headquarters in November.

Garber confirmed in his state of the league press conference that MLS still plans on starting the 2021 season in their typical early- to mid-March window. According to Yahoo‘s Doug McIntyre, though, fans may not be allowed in stadiums in close to full numbers until 2022.

For a league that gets most of their revenue from ticket sales, and does not have a sizable TV contract to fall back on like the NFL, MLB and NBA, playing in front of empty or scaled-down crowds will continue to severely impact their revenue for 2021.

Once the Force Majeure clause is triggered, the league and players will have 30 days to modify the existing CBA before it can be terminated altogether. With trust among players at an all-time low, and the league hemorrhaging money, it’s almost certain that the 2021 season will look different from past years.

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