Posted by: stan chelney | February 22, 2010

The Real Reason MLS Won’t Accept Free Agency

MLS negotiators have drawn a line in the sand on the most important collective bargaining issue, free agency.  Even in the face of a threatened work stoppage, MLS President Mark Abbott stated that free agency “is something the league is not prepared to do.”  He added, “If the players choose to strike . . . [it] will be because [they] continue to insist on changes in our system that we simply can’t make.”

Some commentators have criticized MLS’s resistance to allowing a player to freely negotiate his contract with the team of his choosing.  They have argued that free agency (perhaps even in restricted form) will not harm MLS economically, particularly in light of the league’s hard salary cap. This argument misses MLS’s primary concern.  Free agency — in any form — is antithetical to MLS’s ‘single entity’ structure under which the league, not the teams, owns and negotiates all player contracts. Read More…

Posted by: stan chelney | February 21, 2010

MLS and Union Cannot Risk Mutually Assured Destruction

Harsh words were spoken over the weekend on both sides of the MLS collective bargaining table, leaving many to fear that a deal will not be struck by the February 25 deadline.  And, indeed, the parties may push their respective negotiating postures to the brink of a work stoppage or even walk away from the table altogether come next Thursday.  However, fans can rest assured that MLS players will be on the field for opening day — no matter what happens over the next four weeks.  The alternative is mutually assured destruction.

The players still want all contracts to be guaranteed and remain intent on gaining free agency. Player representative Pat Onstad led the charge saying on Friday that he has been mentally preparing for a strike for months.  Jimmy Conrad added “[if a strike] happens, then we’re unified on what we’re passionate about and what we think needs to change.  We will stand by that until it does.”

The league’s chief negotiator, MLS president Mark Abbott, responded Saturday that MLS will bend on contract guarantees (though not for all contracts) but that free agency is off the table, stating, “That is something the league is not prepared to do.”  In other words, the parties have made progress on some issues, but are miles apart on the biggest issue, free agency. Read More…

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled on Thursday that Togo is not entitled to an emergency ruling reversing the two tournament ban imposed on it by the African Football Federation (CAF).

Togo had argued that an immediate ruling was necessary because the draw for the preliminary rounds of the 2012 African Cup of Nations tournament will be held this Saturday, February 20.  The Court of Arbitration for sport ruled, however, that there is no urgency because the qualifying games will not begin until September 2010 and a re-draw could be conducted if Togo prevails in its appeal.  The Court stated: “The CAF has indeed admitted that there would be no material obstacle to the organisation of a new draw in the event that [Togo’s] appeal is upheld.  In view of such guarantee, the CAS has considered that, at this stage, there was no risk of irreparable harm for [Togo].”

The case will now be resolved on the merits on a more standard time frame, likely over the next several months.  For a detailed discussion of the case, click here.

Posted by: stan chelney | February 18, 2010

A Legal Analysis of the Togo Case

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (the “Court”) has announced that it will make a provisional ruling on Togo’s appeal of its suspension from the next two African Cup of Nations tournaments no later than this Saturday, February 20, 2010.  The expedited treatment is necessary so that Togo’s status can be determined in time for Saturday’s draw for the qualifying rounds of the 2012 tournament.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) suspended Togo from the next two African Cup of Nations tournaments and levied a $50,000 fine when the Togolese government refused to allow the team to participate in this year’s tournament following an ambush on the team’s bus, which killed three people.  The facts are discussed in detail here.

The CAF’s decision to suspend Togo in the wake of the tragic attack has been unpopular for good reason.  But, from a legal standpoint, it is far from clear that the decision was a misapplication by CAF of the Regulations of the Orange Africa Cup of Nations Angola 2010 (the “Regulations”), which governed the tournament.  It is important to remember that the Court does not have carte blanche to right a perceived wrong on Togo; rather, the scope of review will be to “decide the dispute according to the applicable regulations and the rules of law chosen by the parties,” which in this case will require the Court to decide whether CAF correctly applied the Regulations to Togo’s situation. Read More…

With the current Major League Soccer collective bargaining agreement set to expire on February 25, 2010 (as twice extended), it is now clear that one major issue stands in the way of an agreement: free agency.

Recent reports are that MLS has budged on the salary cap, agreeing to increase the cap from $2.3 million to $2.6 million in the new agreement.  That concession will help address a primary union concern, that certain of the league’s players are badly underpaid, making as little as $12,000 a year.  While an additional $300,000 to spend on salaries will have a modest effect on the average player salary, the league can persuasively argue that, unlike certain other American sports, professional soccer is not yet profitable enough to warrant a higher wealth distribution to players.

The 24th Minute blog also reports that the league has compromised to some extent on the issue of guaranteed contracts for players.  MLS’s ability to cut underperforming players who are still under contract has helped to keep the league’s labor costs down, but has also led to dissatisfaction among players who naturally desire increased stability in their employment contracts.

These concessions, however, do not ultimately resolve the real dispute between MLS and the players union — players’ ability to move freely among MLS teams after their contracts have expired.  Under the present system, because every MLS player contracts with the league, rather than an individual team, out-of-contract players require the league’s consent (i.e. through a trade) to play for a different MLS club after their contracts are up.  This system prevents teams from bidding for “free agent” players and thus drives down salaries considerably.  It is unsurprising that implementing free agency in MLS sits at the top of the players’ list of demands in the collective bargaining process. Read More…

Posted by: stan chelney | February 13, 2010

Landon Donovan’s Contract Conundrum

Landon Donovan is the most accomplished US international in history.  He is the leader of the U.S. National Team and the single greatest factor behind American success or failure in South Africa 2010.  He is also the best player in Major League Soccer not named David Beckham (and maybe outright).

It should surprise no one, therefore, that Donovan’s loan to Everton is proving just how our of place Landon has been in MLS from a pure soccer talent standpoint.  In just six games for the Toffees, Donovan has established himself as an effective and dangerous Premier League midfielder.  It is no coincidence that Donovan’s insertion into the starting eleven at Everton has sparked a run of good form for the club which has included wins over Manchester City, Wigan Athletic, Sunderland, and most recently, league leaders Chelesea, whom Everton had not beaten in ten years.

From a pure soccer standpoint, there is no question that Donovan belongs in a top flight league such as the Premiership. At 27 years old, Donovan is in the prime of his career and he will continue to develop only when consistently competing against the best players in the world.  Staying at Everton beyond the term of his current loan makes sense for Donovan’s career (not to mention the US National Team’s prospects at the World Cup and beyond); returning to MLS’s L.A. Galaxy, in economics terms, would not optimize Donovan’s soccer utility.

The complication, of course, is that Donovan recently signed a contract with MLS to stay with the Galaxy for the next four years.  While the full terms of that agreement are not disclosed, it has been widely reported that Donovan’s representatives anticipated the possibility of a full-time transfer to Europe and negotiated a buy-out clause into the contract, meaning that Donovan would be free to sign with another club so long as a minimum transfer fee were paid.  Exactly how high is the transfer price in Donovan’s contract?  No one seems to know. Read More…

Togo’s Football Federation filed an appeal on February 12 with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) challenging its suspension from the next two African Cup of Nations tournaments, which was imposed after Togo elected to abruptly withdraw from this year’s tournament following a fatal terrorist attack on its team bus last month.

On January 8, Togo’s team bus was ambushed by Northern Angolan rebels, killing three people and injuring six others.  The team, which features Manchester City star Emmanuel Adebayor, was en route to its training facility in preparation for the start of the tournament when the separatist gang opened machine gun fire on the bus.  Adebayor was unharmed in the attacks.

Clearly shaken, the Togolese players first determined that they could not continue with the tournament, but reconsidered in the next several days, stating that they would play.  It was then that the Togo government ordered the team to come home.   In response to the nationalist intervention, the African Football Confederation (CAF), levied a $50,000 fine on the nation and banned it from the next two African Cup of Nations tournaments.  The CAF explained: “The players publicly expressed their willingness to return to the Nations Cup to compete. But the Togo government decided to call back their national team.”  The CAF highlighted in its ruling that “There was an interference by the Togolese government, and that we can not accept.” Read More…

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