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MLS

MLS may avoid lockout, get season started April 3 after tentative agreement

Major League Soccer may be looking at another season without fans in the stands in 2021.
Major League Soccer may be looking at another season without fans in the stands in 2021.Alex Menendez/Getty

Major League Soccer and its players’ union reached a tentative deal Friday night on amending the collective bargaining agreement, a major step in avoiding a lockout and opening the season on time.

MLS’s Board of Governors and the full player pool still must vote on on the matter, but in all likelihood, training camps will open Feb. 22 and the season will start April 3.

Neither side was willing to comment, beyond terse statements confirming the tentative deal.

Hopeful of striking a deal with the MLS Players Association, the league had extended negotiating deadlines twice in the past eight days. League owners were adamant about extending the CBA by two years, through the 2027 season. The players countered with a one-year extension.

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The owners got their way, and in exchange, the players were expected to receive a greater percentage of national TV revenue in the future, improved free agent parameters, and no salary cuts.

Unions prefer shorter deals in order to negotiate more favorable terms sooner. By agreeing to the 2027 date, the MLSPA would not only have to wait longer for new talks; it would miss out on potential increases in the value of the league and the sport following the 2026 World Cup, which will take place in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

With the threat of a lockout looming, the sides beat the league-imposed deadline by about three hours and announced their third accord in the past year. They also avoided the first work stoppage in MLS’s 25-year history.

Last winter, the sides agreed to a five-year collective bargaining agreement, through 2024. However, the financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic prompted the league to seek revisions before resuming the season last summer.

The players agreed to 7.5 percent pay cuts and other concessions, and the CBA was extended by a year.

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Claiming losses of almost $1 billion in 2020 and facing stiff headwinds again this year, MLS in December exercised the force majeure clause in the CBA, which required the sides to return to the bargaining table within 30 days.

The league’s primary concern was the inability to welcome large numbers of spectators — if any in most markets — for the foreseeable future. Last season, MLS held a six-week tournament without fans at Disney World, then a condensed schedule with limited or no crowds in home markets.

Without major income from national TV contracts, MLS relies heavily on game-day revenue. MLS collects about $90 million annually in its deal with ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision; the NBA, by comparison, earns $2.6 billion.