MLS won't ask players to take another COVID-19-caused paycut, instead seeks to extend CBA - sources

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Major League Soccer won’t ask its players to take another paycut to offset the deep losses in gate revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but will seek a two-year extension to the collective bargaining agreement that was signed last summer, multiple sources with knowledge of the league’s proposal to the MLS Players’ Association told Yahoo Sports.

MLS formally made the proposal to the union late Tuesday afternoon. The two sides had initially agreed to a new CBA last January, but the pandemic turned the world on its ear before the players had a chance to ratify it, leaving open a window for the league to renegotiate certain parts of the deal.

The players ultimately agreed to a 5 percent salary reduction and 12-month extension of the CBA, which was originally set to expire following the 2024 season. A force majeure clause was also added to the fine print, giving the league the ability to seek additional concessions if the 2021 season was similarly impacted.

MLS notified the players’ association last week that it was triggering the force majeure clause. It didn’t make any specific asks at the time, but the assumption among players was that MLS would also seek a salary reduction from them for this season, which is set to begin in March.

As was the case last year, the 2021 MLS season is expected to be played mostly without fans in attendance. (Aaron Doster-USA Today)
As was the case last year, the 2021 MLS season is expected to be played mostly without fans in attendance. (Aaron Doster-USA Today)

Instead, MLS wants to extend the CBA again, this time through 2027. MLS commissioner Don Garber claims the league lost more than $1 billion last season, which was interrupted by an unplanned four-month break between March and July, included a successful “bubble” tournament in Central Florida over the summer, and was completed last month in mostly empty stadiums because of the health crisis.

MLS relies on paying customers coming to games to a greater degree than the other major North American sports leagues, which generate the bulk of their money via media rights. MLS expects most of its 2021 campaign to also be played without supporters — or at least the usual number of them — in the seats. The league averaged more than 21,000 fans per game in 2019.

“According to public health officials, the restrictions on attendance at live sporting events will continue far into the 2021 MLS season,” MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said in a statement provided to Yahoo.

“In 2020, despite MLS and its clubs suffering extraordinary and unsustainable losses, players received 95 percent of their salaries. To address the ongoing impact of the pandemic in 2021, MLS is proposing to extend the term of the existing collective bargaining agreement for two years rather than seeking any salary reduction. This proposal will help ensure the long-term health of the league while paying MLS players 100 percent of their salaries.”

Abbott, Garber and other high-ranking executives took pay reductions up to 25 percent last April. Those cuts will remain in place indefinitely, sources said. In November, MLS laid off 25 percent of the staff at its New York City headquarters.

The MLS Players Association didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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