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MLS and Players Union Reach Agreement

The 2010 Major League Soccer season will begin on time after the league and its players union agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on Saturday. The sides agreed to a new five-year deal.

The highlights of the deals are guaranteed contracts, improved freedom of movement by players out of contract (not quite free agency) and improved compensation for players.

MLS Players Union head Bob Foose said a majority of players will receive guaranteed contracts for the first time and there will be increased player rights within the league when contracts expire. Even with those wins, the players union still failed to achieve its goal of free agency.

“From our perspective, these negotiations were always about players’ rights,” Foose said, with his members wanting to bring their rights “more in line with leagues from around the world. Soccer is a global game and we were adamant that these changes were necessary to make MLS as competitive as possible,” Foose said.

Major League Soccer has been opposed to giving the players free agency, but they agreed to creating a re-entry draft for players whose contracts end, options are declined or who reach a certain age.

“We think we have made some real improvements in players’ ability to move,” Foose said.

Getting the majority of players on guaranteed contracts was a big win for the Players Union. Not giving in on free-agency and creating a “re-entry” draft was a big win for the league. But then I guess that is what negotiations are all about. A little bit of give and take so that both sides can walk away from the table happy with what they got.

A couple of other interesting titbits that came out from the negotiations. Player income averaged $147,945 at the start of last season, according to the union. That sounds really good, but is inflated by the large contracts that players like David Beckham and Landon Donovan are on. The median salary for the 323 in MLS last year, the point at which an equal amount make above and below, was only $88,000.

MLS commissioner Don Garber also said that Seattle and Toronto were the only profitable teams in MLS last year. Interestingly these are the two most recent expansion franchises.

Garber also said that teams regular and postseason attendance in 2009 averaged 16,391, down from 16,640 in 2008. Those numbers hide the fact that the Seattle Sounders, who were not in the league in 2008, averaged 30,837 fans per home page in 2009. Without the Sounders, MLS would have seen a significant decline in overall attendance in 2009. Three MLS teams saw their average attendance fall more than 21 percent: New England (21.9 percent), New York (21.5 percent) and Los Angeles (21.5 percent). D.C. United and Chicago also experienced double-digit percentage declines in average attendance

“We also collectively agreed that we need to grow our television ratings and attendance,” Garber said. “Perhaps five years from now we have a league that’s operating with all teams at a profit.”

So we have a labor agreement that both sides can live with and now we can turn our attention to the important stuff for fans and that is the beginning of the MLS season next week.