Just a year after MLS started, the players association of the NFL stepped in to help the MLS players. Where is that help today as the MLS players’ collective bargaining agreement with the league nears expiration?
In reality, the NFL players weren’t looking out for anybody but themselves in 1997. And don’t expect them to get involved with this year’s turmoil.
Acting on behalf of the MLS players, the National Football League Players Association filed suit against MLS in 1997, accusing MLS of violating anti-trust laws. At issue was the single-entity structure of MLS, a ground-breaking concept that scared the NFL players. In the new MLS and still today, players don’t have the opportunity to negotiate among teams for compensation; they negotiate with the league, and the league assigns them and their salaries to teams.
As an MLS player, your leverage is to play in another league or not play at all. You don’t get to seek bids for your services among MLS teams. The NFL players wanted this model outlawed. They called MLS a monopoly and wanted the federal courts to ban it.
The NFL players were concerned that the NFL could go the same way since the NFL’s revenue sharing plan was just a hair shy of a single-entity situation. They were concerned that one day the NFL might eliminate the player’s opportunities to seek better compensation from other NFL teams. The players lost the suit, allowing MLS to continue negotiating pay as one structure, not several competing teams.
This arrangement has enabled MLS to grow without the escalating salary problems of the NASL and other major sports leagues. Of course, it has also caused some of our best players to play in faraway lands in foreign leagues.
Jamie Clary is the author of The First American Soccer Trivia Book, which is available on Amazon.com and at www.soccerprofessor.com.