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MLS, MLSPA reach CBA deal, approve return-to-play format

MLS is coming back this summer.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Columbus Crew SC Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer is set to a return to action this summer following the coronavirus pandemic and negotiations between the league and the MLS Players Association. The MLSPA met and voted on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and approved a return-to-play plan following the delay.

Since MLS last played games on the weekend of March 7, there have been discussions on if the league will return to action in 2020. Once it appeared safe, discussions between Major League Soccer and the league’s players began about the best and safest way to have games.

In recent weeks, MLS and the players came to an agreement on a World Cup-style summer tournament in Orlando, Florida that would see all teams travel to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex to compete in games. All players and staff would remain on-site and go through coronavirus screening tests to ensure safety. You can read more about the tournament and its format here.

The hold up on returning to play came when MLS requested new terms to the CBA due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the league and players agreed to a new CBA in February and avoided a work-stoppage prior to the 2020 season, the CBA had not yet been ratified prior to the start of play.

Now, with adjustments and concessions made, sources tell Massive Report that MLS and the MLSPA have agreed upon and ratified a new CBA which will allow the players to return to play with the tournament in Orlando.

Following the nearly two-month stoppage due to the pandemic, MLS allowed players to return to voluntary individual workouts at team facilities in May. The league announced teams could train in small groups last week. But with the sides still in disagreement on the CBA and MLS owners threatening a lockout if a deal was not reached, players across the league did not show up for voluntary training on Monday.

The major sticking points had to do with player pay cuts due to the pandemic, a force majeure clause in the case of a catastrophic event and a previously agreed upon revenue sharing plan.

Discussions between the two sides continued despite the league’s threat to lock the players out and came to terms on Wednesday morning.

According to sources, MLS agreed to the players’ proposal of a 7.5 percent pay cut, which is down from the 8.75 percent the league proposed. This pay cut isn’t retroactive and will begin for the pay period starting on May 31. Performance bonuses will also be capped at $5 million.

While there remains the force majeure clause, it will not be tied to attendance figures. In the league’s most recent proposal, MLS wanted the right to invoke the clause if five teams suffered an attendance drop of 25 percent or more from the previous year. The MLSPA, due to unreliable attendance figures, did not want that included. MLS conceded to drop the attendance stipulation and stick with a general force majeure clause.

After agreeing to a new revenue-sharing plan that was set to begin in 2023 to correlate with MLS’s new television deals, the league and players have altered the deal to allow the players too receive 12.5 percent of the broadcast rights fee that was $100 million above 2022 mark in 2023. Originally, the players would receive 25 percent of the TV fees. That number will now jump to 25 percent in 2024.

With a new deal agreed upon, Massive Report was told a tournament in Orlando is a go for this summer. Under these new terms, the league will allow all teams who are able to train in their home markets to do so for a week prior to traveling to Orlando. Teams will make the trip around July 1.

The roughly six-week tournament will feature four groups with the top two teams from each advancing to a single-elimination bracket. Results from the group stage of the tournament will count toward the 2020 MLS standings. Following the completion of the tournament, which will feature a $1 million prize pool, MLS hopes to play 18 games to conclude the 2020 regular season.