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Report: MLS to invoke force majeure clause in CBA

This could lead to a number of changes for the upcoming MLS season.

Seattle Sounders FC v Columbus Crew SC: - MLS Cup Final Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images

Major League Soccer is set to invoke the force majeure clause in the collective bargaining agreement that the league and players agreed to in June. This comes from a report from ESPN’s Austin Linberg.

MLS is reportedly looking for concessions for the 2021 season as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will extend into the new season. The league could also look to renegotiate the revenue sharing arrangements agreed to for future seasons.

According to the report, the force majeure clause does not initially nullify the existing CBA but will allow changes. The ESPN report says that the clause would require the league and Major League Soccer Players Association to “negotiate modifications to the existing collective bargaining agreement in good faith for 30 days.” If an agreement cannot be reached, the CBA could be terminated.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended daily life across the world, including sports. The league shortened the 2020 season to 23 games, a reduction from 34, and changed the playoff format, in addition to the MLS is Back Tournament that took place in Orlando, Florida over the summer. Games across the league had significantly reduced attendance, including some being played in front of empty stands.

The net effect was a significant loss of money to the league with Commissioner Don Garber claiming revenue was $1 billion lower in 2020 than in previous years.

The players and league agreed in principle to a CBA in February of 2020 that avoided a work stoppage but was not been ratified when the pandemic hit the United States in March. Both sides renegotiated the agreement with the players taking pay cuts for the 2020 season and saw a capping of performance bonuses. The league and the MLSPA agreed to the revised contract in June.

MLSPA executive director Bob Foose was direct when discussing the force majeure clause with reporters earlier this month, stating “this would be a mistake.”

The MLS Players Association released a statement on Tuesday afternoon confirming the report and calling the move a “ tone-deaf action by the league.”

Relations between MLS ownership and MLS players are increasingly rocky as the pandemic took its toll on the league. The league threatened a lockout during the late spring renegotiations when players gave back some of their negotiated gains in light of the new economic realities. The move angered the players after they had offered concessions totaling $150 million in the MLSPA’s estimation.

There was also the direct cost of the pandemic. Nearly 20 percent of the league’s player’s contracted the coronavirus. The Columbus Crew had a significant outbreak during late November that lasted through the MLS Cup Final as nine players were sidelined over that span.

In the near term, the league and the MLSPA will be going back to the negotiating table/video conference for the third time in a year. If the sides can’t mutually agree to terms, a work stoppage looms.

It also likely delays the publicly stated goal to start the season in March of 2021, as MLS was trying to avoid overcrowding the 2021 soccer calendar. Long term, this further hurts the relationship between ownership and players and makes a work stoppage more likely in the future.