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MLS reaches labor agreement with players

MLS reaches labor agreement with players

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Fans show their support for the Seattle Sounders during the team's MLS Cup victory parade on November 12, 2019, in Seattle.

Fans show their support for the Seattle Sounders during the team's MLS Cup victory parade on November 12, 2019, in Seattle. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images/TNS)

Major League Soccer and its players association have reached agreement in principle on a new five-year collective bargaining agreement that eases rules on player spending, expands free agency and increases the number of charter flights each team can use during the regular season.

The agreement, a major victory for the players, must be ratified by the league and union members, which is expected.

"This agreement addresses key strategic priorities for the league and our players while also retaining the basic player compensation structure that has been the foundation for the growth and stability of Major League Soccer," said commissioner Don Garber. He called the CBA something that would "serve as a foundation for a new era of partnership with our players."

Five years ago, federal mediators were called in and the union held a strike vote before an agreement - one neither side was totally comfortable with - was reached days before the start of the season.

But this time, both sides came to the table early and talks appeared to progress amicably. When the five-year CBA expired Friday, the league and the union agreed to a weeklong extension to work out the final details.

The key changes in the new CBA include increased spending on salaries, greater budget flexibility, expanded eligibility for free agency and an expansion in charter flights from four to 16 for the 2024 season, the final year covered by the new agreement. MLS is the only major professional sports league in the U.S. that requires its teams to use commercial flights.

The new CBA will raise spending on salaries to more than $11.6 million per team in 2024, up more than $2 million from last season, the final year covered under the old deal. Minimum salaries will also rise from $70,250 in 2019 to $109,200 by 2024.

Teams can spend even more on designated players by using allocation money, which can now be spread across the entire roster. Under the previous CBA, each team had $1.2 million in targeted allocation money, but that was limited in how it could be used, something the union opposed.

The players also won concessions on free agency and charter flights, two issues the union considered vital. Under the old CBA, players had to be at least 28 years old with at least eight seasons of MLS service to be eligible for free agency. The new deal drops those numbers to 24 and five seasons in the league.

For the first time, designated players and those earning more than the maximum salary also will be eligible for free agency.

The number of regular-season charter flights a team can use will double this season to eight, and teams will be required to use charters for MLS playoff and CONCACAF Champions League matches involving international travel.

Players also won the right to share in media revenue for the first time. The league's current broadcast deal, worth $90 million a season, expires after 2022, and when a new deal is signed, the league will grow player spending by at least 25% of the increased media revenue, plus $100 million.

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