Major League Soccer owners and players on Thursday announced a new five-year labor agreement that expands players’ free agency and gives clubs more money to spend and flexibility in how to spend it.
The agreement, which runs until the year before the 2026 World Cup comes to North America, raises minimum salaries for players young and veteran, and offers increased benefits for player production.
It also mandates a number of chartered flights for the first time and will give players a share in media revenue when the league reaches new broadcasting deals in 2023.
Minnesota United veteran midfielder and club union representative Ethan Finlay called it “a big deal, a monumental deal” that advances a league celebrating its 25th season upcoming.
“It impacts every single player in our league, every single designation,” said Finlay, also a member of the players’ union executive board. “Whether you’re on the league minimum or you’re a D.P. (designated player), an international, a domestic, this greatly affects you in a positive way. We’re extremely happy how things have turned out for the players.”
The agreement succeeds the previous CBA that expired last week. The league will grow to 30 teams by next year — with its sights aimed at 32 or more — with franchise fees that have more than doubled since Minnesota United paid $100 million in 2015.
MLS commissioner Don Garber, in a statement, said the new deal addresses “strategic priorities for the league and our players while also retaining the basic player compensation structure that has been the foundation for the growth and stability.”
MLS Players Association executive director Bob Foose deemed it a deal that will “substantially change what it means to be an MLS player” while it delivers “fairness, competition and continued investment” in a growing league.
He also said it will move MLS “closer to the systems in places in overseas leagues with which we aspire to compete.”
The deal will more than double the number of players who can become free agents, changing the requirement from 28 years old and eight years’ league service to 24 years old and five years’ service.
Finlay called the previous CBA negotiated in 2015 “historic” for breaking down free-agency barriers, but said this one opens wide the gate.
“This league wants to be a league of choice; that’s their words,” Finlay said. “This deal gets us a lot closer to that league of choice. It allows players from DPs to guys on minimum (salaries) freedom of movement to decide what city that want to live in, what club they want to play for. Playing time, facilities, the culture that a club has, these will ultimately drive the league.
“It also allows every team — Minnesota and all teams alike — the freedom to decide how they build their team.”
Foose said the league now will invest nearly $2 billion in player salaries and benefits. Last seasons teams could spend $8.5 million excluding their designated players. By 2024, that increases to $11.6 million.
A good chunk of what was Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), used by teams to acquire or retain players in a specific salary range, now becomes $1.2 million a year in General Allocation Money (GAM) that teams can use across their roster.
Senior minimum-salary players will make $81,000 this season to $109,000 a year by CBA’s end. Younger reserve minimum players get good raises and opportunity to earn as much as $35,000 more if they achieve bonuses, too.
“I’ve been at the low end where you have to fight for every dollar, every contract,’’ Finlay said. ‘‘We’ve really improved that system.”
The players also for the first time will share increased revenue generated by the league’s new media deals in 2023 and 2024. MLS will increase player spending by 25% of new revenue generated beyond $100 million. MLS’ current local, national and international media rights expire after the 2022 season.
Finlay calls it a new kind of “partnership” with the league. “We haven’t had that type of relationship in 25 years,” he said. “Hopefully, we can share and prosper.”
Also in the deal: Clubs now must charter at least eight flights during this coming season. By 2024, that number grows to 16. In the previous CBA, teams could charter four flights per season but were not required to do so.
Teams now must charter flights for all MLS Cup payoff games and CONCACAF Champions League games that require international travel.
Finlay said he and the players would have liked to have seen more charters at a team’s discretion, but added, “It’s a negotiation and there’s going to be some give and take. You always try to do better. More charter flights will continue to push our league to higher levels, but this is a huge step forward.”