By Stefen Lovelace
A few weeks ago, I chronicled how much of a mistake it would be if Major League Soccer (MLS) had a lockout this year. At the time, players and owners were far off on labor-contract negotiations, and there was a very real fear of the players going on strike.
Luckily for the MLS, news came out this week that both sides have agreed to a new five-year labor contract.
Negotiators began intensive talks Thursday in Washington, D.C., and the deal was signed shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday, about 5½ hours before the opening of $200 million Red Bull Arena, the league's latest showpiece stadium.
This is obviously good news for the league and all soccer fans. My biggest concern for the MLS potentially not playing this year was it would miss out on drawing fans to its league during a time when all eyes will be on soccer - with the 2010 World Cup being played in June.
The new contract has its positives and negatives. The reason that the lockout was looming in the first place is that the MLS markets its players as legitimate professional athletes, yet hardly treats them like ones. Salary and player rights were the main reasons for the dispute.
MLS Players Union head Bob Foose said a majority of players will receive guaranteed contracts for the first time and there will be increased player rights within the league when contracts expire. Still, the union did not achieve its goal of free agency.
"From our perspective, these negotiations were always about players' rights," Foose said, with his members wanting to bring their rights "more in line with leagues from around the world."
"Soccer is a global game and we were adamant that these changes were necessary to make MLS as competitive as possible," Foose said.
MLS players certainly made some gains with this deal, but the lack of free agency needs to be considered a significant blow. Not having the ability to increase your value and move to different teams as you please after your contract is up is one of the most lucrative rights a professional athlete can have. The full details of the labor deal can be found HERE.
Ultimately, it's great that the MLS will get a product on the field this year, and the league has made important strides with this deal.
But the contract also proves that the MLS has a long way to go if its ever going to be considered a major player in professional sports.
Stefen Lovelace is an Associate Account Executive. Contact him at email@example.com.