The recent finalizing of a collective bargaining agreement extending through 2027 provides a foothold for the future of Major League Soccer, commissioner Don Garber said Wednesday.
“This agreement is not about the league and the players winning or losing,” Garber said. “It’s about the game winning. It’s about getting our players back on the field. MLS will have been able to experience 32 seasons without a work stoppage, and that’s unprecedented among the major North American sports leagues. Credit to the players, their union, and MLS owners to create the kind of dynamic that would have labor peace for 32 years.”
The league’s 26th season will begin on April 17, the start delayed two weeks by protracted labor negotiations. A CBA was settled, but not signed, before last season. After play was suspended by the pandemic, players returned to action under a renegotiated deal, then resumed bargaining after the season. Management invoked a force majeure clause in the CBA, arguing the ongoing pandemic made the deal as negotiated economically impractical and giving it the option to opt out of the contract after 30 days, before a signing was completed Feb. 8.
“During the best of times, CBA negotiations are difficult,” Garber said. “Negotiating multiple agreements over the course of a year is unprecedented and was only done because it was absolutely necessary for us to ensure the long-term success of MLS.”
The league’s dependence on game-day revenues means MLS expects nearly $1 billion in losses for the second successive year, Garber said, but the league plans to go ahead with expansion and stadium openings.
The CBA “has allowed us to recoup some of the losses over time, and from the losses that we are going to occur this year,” Garber said. “If you don’t have fans for the majority of your season, it’s just pure math. Our owners have been very, very focused over a long period of time to build the league, but their resources are not unlimited. We have now achieved stability long-term with a new CBA and we’ve got to look at new, creative ways to drive revenue.
“I was pleased to see fans in the stadium at the Super Bowl and MLS Cup. I don’t have any sense that fans are going to be in our stadiums in large numbers for probably most, if not all of the season.”
MLS broadcast contracts remain in effect for the next two years, and the 2026 World Cup in North America is expected to boost interest in the league.
“I’m bullish as I’ve ever been,” Garber said. “I think the next seven years are going to be the most important and exciting time of history of soccer in the US and Canada. All our rights are all co-terminus, so we’re going out with a package that I think will be relatively unprecedented. I’m very bullish about it and looking forward to those discussions.
“We’re deeply focused on academy facility and stadium development projects and expansion, and how we will manage the rollout of our new teams in St. Louis, Charlotte, and Sacramento. The challenge of the pandemic and CBA negotiations hasn’t really stopped our future planning.
“I joined the league in 1999. The league still has those original owners and it’s been expanded to new people that love the game and are committed to it. Our role is to continue to have them invest so the league is bigger, better, and stronger 10 years from now.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.