New pact modestly increases minimum salary, team salary cap
By Bruce Constantineau
VANCOUVER — A new Major League Soccer labour deal will propel the league to new levels of popularity and profitability and help it become more competitive with other leagues around the world.
That was the upbeat assessment Tuesday from MLS commissioner Don Garber as he discussed a new five-year collective bargaining agreement negotiated after marathon talks last week, narrowly avoiding a players strike that would have delayed this week's start of the 2010 MLS season.
"I view this CBA as an evolution rather than a revolution of our relationship [with the players]," he said in a conference call. "We still believe we're in the early phases of development of the sport of professional soccer in North America. We have a lot of time in front of us to continue to evolve."
The new deal will hike the minimum player salary from $34,000 to $40,000, increasing by five per cent a year, while team salary caps will grow from $2.3 million last year to $2.55 million in 2010, increasing by five per cent annually during the contract.
The percentage of players with guaranteed contracts will increase from less than 40 per cent last year to 55 per cent this season and a new MLS re-entry draft will take place for players whose contracts expire or whose options are declined.
Garber said that with a new CBA behind it, the league can take advantage of the 2010 World Cup to increase soccer's popularity in North America. The MLS will shut down for the first two weeks of the World Cup this June, with some clubs scheduling exhibitions and promotions during that period.
Garber said the league is negotiating with FIFA and broadcaster ESPN for the right to have viewing parties and major events during the world's most popular sporting event, noting there will be intense interest in the June 12 game between England and the U.S.
He said MLS is considering a rule change that would allow teams to have more than one "designated player" in the future. The designated player rule allows a team to sign a player to a substantial contract, with only a small portion of the contract counting against its salary cap.
Barcelona striker Thierry Henry is often mentioned as a future MLS-designated player, to join the likes of Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder David Beckham and Seattle Sounders midfielder Freddie Ljungberg.
Garber said attracting more designated players will create a "buzz factor" throughout the international soccer community that will prove MLS is serious about building a league that can be competitive with others in the world.
He said he hopes the league can soon announce a deal that would see Montreal join MLS in 2012 — a year after the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers — as recent talks have gone well with Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo and the Quebec government.
Garber said Toronto is a "good prospect" for hosting the 2010 MLS league championship game in November and he looks forward to the possibility of three Canadian MLS teams.
"If Montreal comes in, it will be a very different dynamic and scenario," he said. "I'm very excited about the Canadian market. I know they love hockey and it's in their DNA but they also love soccer and understand the game. It's connected to their roots."
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