Thursday, August 7, 2008

Just Something To Keep In Mind When Things Do Go Wrong

Maybe the folks at MLS are smarter than we think. Sure signing an international superstar would certainly raise the profile of the league, but Darren Huckerby really isn't enough to take the MLS to that next level by himself.

No, if the MLS wants to get to that place where its stars can start populating communities with enough babies to open an elementary school, they need to go where only the big boys go. Yeah, they need a labor dispute.

It's a ways off until the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expires at the end of next season (2009), but with the SuperLiga as the backdrop—and we promise this is the last SuperLiga post—MLS and commissioner Don Garber might have not only found themselves a camel, but gone ahead and placed the first straw on its back.

Just prior to the start of the SuperLiga competition, the league told the players that the winning team's share of the $1M prize money would be $150,000.

That didn't go over too well with the players, who probably thought that, because they were playing in a million dollar tournament, they would be receiving a million dollars. That might have been unrealistic, but the resulting spat has given the average fan a bit more of a window into the autocratic iron gloves the league brass likes to don.

God, that's an awful mixed metaphor.

But as a result of the spat, MLS Commissioner Don Garber started talking. And, while he might not have been wrong in anything he said regarding the CBA, he certainly has shown he's no Carnegie protege.

First, he pointed out that Pachuca C.F., the 2007 SuperLiga winner, only gave its players $300,000 of the prize money. Actually, Garber just said that someone else said that's what happened. Here's the quote:

“According to the president of Pachuca, their players did not get $1 million dollars; they got $300,000. There’s bad information to begin with. So it would be in everybody’s best interest if the facts were promoted instead of rumors. It’s frustrating.’’

Fair enough, but I couldn't find any source (in English or Spanish), where that was substantiated by or attributed to Pachuca chairman Jesus Martínez.

Second, Garber pointed out how fucking magnanimous MLS was being in the first place by unilaterally deciding to cough up half of what their non-union Mexican equivalents offered. According to the league's collective bargaining agreement, MLS isn't required to even pay players for SuperLiga at all. Again Garber:

"Within our CBA, there is a separate agreement on bonuses for compulsory tournaments and it is up to the league's discretion to even pay bonuses for non-compulsory tournaments. SuperLiga is non-compulsory... We opted to pay, of the million-dollar prize money that goes to the winning team, $150,000 to the winning club [players], which we thought was fair and reasonable, matching the prize money for the MLS Cup."

Third he said, "Nanny nanny boo boo."

That's not actually true. But you can almost picture it.

Anyway, the tournament proceeded without much incident. Then prior to last night's final, in a show of player solidarity the Houston Dynamo and the New England Revolution came to their own agreement about the players' share of the money, specifically that they would pool the first and second place player payouts and split them.

Then Garber, showing the kind of deftness one only acquires with a degree from the Stalin School of Public Relations replied, "No, you're not." Actually he said the following: "That's not something that is permitted in the CBA, it's not something we are going to allow... We will pay the prize money as it was originially dictated as determined by MLS ownership."

The strange thing is the decision by the players to pool the money wasn't that big of a deal, at least financially, and had to be more of a symbolic gesture than anything else.

Do the maths: It's $150,000 to the winners and $100,000 to the runners up. So by pooling the $250,000, the winning team is giving up all of $25,000, which amounts to less than $1000* per player.

That seems like a pittance for Garber to risk pissing off the entirety of the league labor pool over, especially considering that CBA is going to be re-B'ed after the 2009 season.

Okay, there's a CBA in place and for better or worse, the players agreed to it and the league is going to proceed without violating the law at all (I think, I'm not a labor lawyer) but maybe upsetting the people who play the actual games. But then Garber says something peculiar. When asked about where the $1 million goes—and excuse me for quoting Garber so extensively but when someone is starting to dig his own grave, it's kind of hard to show proper retraint—he explained:

[The $1 million] goes to the club owner. It's no different from a NASCAR tournament where the team owner wins prize money and the team owner has a driver under contract, and whatever his agreement with that driver is is what that driver receives.

That's peculiar because according to this NY Post blog, that's exactly what two of the MLS teams (players) involved in the SuperLiga tried to do—negotiate an agreement with their owners. But Garber and the league put the kibosh on that.

The Post reports that DC United and the Dynamo (both AEG owned) tried to cut separate deals, deals in which the teams offered the players 50% of the purse money. MLS blocked that and the players filed a grievance.

So if NASCAR is MLS, the team owners are the MLS clubs, and the drivers are the players, then what is Garber in this analogy, besides an idiot? Correct me if I'm wrong but by Garber's example what MLS did would be like if NASCAR instead told its team owners how much they could give their drivers.

Again, the CBA is up at the end of the 2009, and if there is a dispute that results in an interruption of play, then you might find the seeds of it in the 2008 SuperLiga pay kerfuffle.

Any thoughts this might be wiped away with the good feelings after last night's top quality match where the Revs beat the Dynamo 6-5 on PKs died pretty quickly with the trophy presentation. Steve Ralston took the cup from Garber and couldn't get off the podium and away from him quickly enough. The message from the players couldn't have been clearer: "Give us the trophy and go fuck yourself."

*Correct me if I'm wrong but the full first-team squads in MLS is 28 players.

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