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CARSON, California (Reuters) - Major League Soccer is growing at a rapid pace but faces potentially fractious negotiations with its players union as it heads into the off-season.
While LA Galaxy celebrated a record fifth title, league and union officials turned to the tricky business of working out the model for payments and contracts for the next five years.
A new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has to be agreed with the players before next season and the union (MLSPA) are demanding significant changes.
While many MLS clubs still lose money, cash is coming into the league with a new eight-year television deal with ESPN, Fox and Univision worth a reported $90 million a year – five times higher than the previous deal.
Two new teams join the league next season with Orlando City and New York City FC taking the league to 20 teams. NYCFC’s ‘franchise fee’ was reported to be around $100 million and with Atlanta and a second Los Angeles franchise joining in 2017, expansion revenue will continue.
Crowds continue to rise with the regular season average of 19,149 a new record and major sponsors continue to be drawn to the league with Heineken recently inking a five-year deal reported to be worth $50 million.
But, as Sunday’s rather scrappy final illustrated, the product on the field still needs improvement while the player pool needs to expand.
Most MLS wages are well below that of the major European leagues and not surprisingly the union wants to address that and contractual issues such as the lack of free agency.
“We can’t be structured so drastically differently from every other league in the world and think somehow we’re going to compete with them,” union executive director Bob Foose told SI.com.
“[MLS has] a system that’s unattractive for players. At the end of the day, we have to be able to attract the players or we can’t be at that level. So the system has to change.”
Club owners will point out they aren’t making profits and are investing in the future.
“We are investing more in youth development today than we were spending on all of player salaries 10 years ago,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said last week.
Both sides say they are confident of reaching a deal – but the history of American sports leagues shows CBA deals can be fraught affairs.
Reporting By Simon Evans. Editing by Steve Keating.