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(Reuters) - With a possible players strike or lockout on the horizon, Major League Soccer on Friday fined one of its team owners for making public comments on negotiations with the players' union (MLSPU).
Real Salt Lake investor-operator Dell Loy Hansen was handed an undisclosed fine by MLS for comments made during a radio interview this week. "The comments made by Mr. Hansen are not permitted under the league’s constitution," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. "We are engaged in constructive negotiations with our players and such comments are not appropriate nor helpful to the negotiations.” The league's five-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) ran out on January 31 and with the new MLS season due to kick off on March 6, the prospect of a delay to the start of the campaign is looming.
The main sticking point is over free agency. The union wants the rights to free movement after a player's contract runs out while the league wants to stick more closely to the regulations currently in place. Unlike most soccer leagues, MLS is a 'single entity' with the clubs operating as franchises and not fully independent bodies.
Hansen's comments to ESPN radio in Salt Lake rejected free agency in strong terms.
"The perennial issue is that 'we want free agency', but that can't exist where everyone's employed by the same employer," he said.
"That's not going to change. That's a 'go-nowhere' conversation. When you look at all the owners, they've all been in pro basketball, baseball, football, and that was the one thing they all vowed they'd never do is go through that again," he said.
Major sports in the United States have differing versions of free agencies, in most cases won after legal challenges from players.
(This version of the story refiled to correct date in dateline)
Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami, editing by Gene Cherry