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Charles Cuttone


January 7, 2010
Labor battle can hurt soccer

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

Labor problems have plagued every American sport for the better part of the past four decades. Baseball, football and hockey have endured and survived major work stoppages.

I am not sure Major League Soccer can.

There are rumblings about a potential lockout of the players or a work stoppage if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached.

A word of advice for both sides. Get it done.

Several prominent players, including Landon Donovan and Kasey Keller, have been quoted as saying the MLS players want what every other player in the world enjoys, mainly freedom to move when their contracts are up.

“What we are looking for are the same basic rights that players enjoy in other leagues around the world’, said Kasey Keller in a statement on the FIFPro web site. ‘We have made great strides in developing the game in the United States. But we can’t truly compete internationally, either for players or fans, with a system that is so radically different than other leagues around the world.”

Keller has only played in MLS one year. He is among the lucky handful of American players who have been able to make a lengthy career overseas. Most don’t have that option. While the Major League Soccer Players Union is associated with FIFPro, the Fédération Internationale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnels, it seems like the Union is letting the international organization take up the mantle for grievences that have already been settled in the American courts, such as the claim that MLS is a cartel.

MLS has survived as long as it has precisely because its system is radically different than the rest of the world, and for that matter from the rest of American sports.

Losses over the first ten years of the league amounted to more than $100 million, and while the league has turned the tide in the last few years, it is far from being on completely solid footing.

Teams have invested heavily in new stadiums and in carving out a major league niche in the nation’s crowded pro sports landscape.

Granted, the MLS pay scale could use some re-jiggering, what with players like Donovan and David Beckham making big bucks and youngsters making barely a living wage before, if they’re good enough and lucky enough, being shipped off to Europe at a heavy profit to the league.

MLS should offer its players a decent pay scale and drop the pretense that some players are paid comparably to what minor league ball players make. When a baseball player sets foot on a major league diamond, he gets the major league minimum scale. He doesn’t play even one Major League game without Major League compensation, unlike in MLS, where rookies routinely crack starting lineups early in the season and make major contributions to their teams’ seasons at bargain basement salaries.

Union problems already helped lead to the demise of both the North American Soccer League and the Major Indoor Soccer League. The current crop of players doesn’t need their union’s posturing to help push MLS over the slope.

Long time soccer executive Clive Toye, in his memoir A Kick in the Grass, quotes former Chicago Sting owner Lee Stern on the effect the union had on the NASL, which despite drawing large crowds in many markets was losing millions of dollars.

“That probably had more to do with the demise of the NASL than anything else,” Stern said.

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