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New MLS collective bargaining agreement changes, explained

The deal’s done, but what does it mean?

MLS: Charlotte Fan Fest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

So, we’d talked earlier this offseason about the potential of something like a work stoppage, with the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players association expiring at the end of January.

They extended when the expiration hit, and I think we were all gearing up for a lengthy process.

Instead, it’s done, and now we can tear up everything we knew about how MLS rosters are formed, pick up some of the pieces (not all), then piece everything back together with additional pieces we found in another box.

Read the pieces linked for more details, but let’s go through some highlights.

Free agency: 24 & 5

Players at least 24 years old and with at least five years of MLS experience are eligible for free agency. That’s a significant improvement from the old rule, which required players be 28 years old and have at least eight years of MLS experience.

Previously, teams were allowed to sign only two free agents during an offseason. That’s been uncapped now, and teams may sign unlimited free agents.

This is a huge get for the MLS Players Association, who have long prioritized free agency.

Contract changes

The release from the MLS Players Association indicates the following:

  • “Elimination of contract mechanisms to prevent a path to free agency” — I’m not sure what this means, exactly, and I look forward to learning more.
  • “All player contracts guaranteed in second year” — This is actually a huge change, and it’ll have some rather massive effects in the way teams think about their roster.
  • “Continued investment in youth development and youth player spots” — I’m super curious about this and how it affects rosters. We need more detail here.
  • “Any additional roster spend subject to consultation with PA; minimum 40% into unrestricted money” — this is the Players Association pushing back against what MLS did over the term of the last CBA, which saw a lot of MLS-adds-allocation-money action.

More money

The senior minimum salary’s going up to $109,200 by the end of 2024, which is a pretty big improvement — and a huge change over the last 20 years, when minimum salaries were essentially non-livable. The reserve salary will go up to $85,000 in the same period.

Performance bonuses for players are also growing in prominence, although there’s not a great deal of clarity on how that’ll be the case.

There’s also slated to be an increase in the amount of money to be available to clubs, though initial reports weren’t specific about how that money would be used in a mechanism sense.

Further, MLS is pitching that players will get to “share in media revenue,” but that’s actually a change for team spending and not a way players get a share of it. A bit misleading from MLS, that.

Less TAM, more GAM

So this is huge. MLS clubs got $1.2 million in TAM over the last three years — that money is being immediately converted to general allocation money. Gone will be the days of TAM players, it seems. Some “Discretionary Targeted Allocation Money” will still be made available, but that’s said to be decreasing.

Charter flights

Clubs are now required to use charter flights for “eight legs of travel,” which is a bit too spidery for me, but it sounds like a good thing. They’ll also be required to charter for playoff matches. The eight legs requirement expands to 16 by 2024. This is a win for clubs that wanted to charter flights, but perhaps a loss for some of the cheaper owners. Interesting.