The CBA: Anatomy of an Announcement

As most everyone in the American soccer community knows, MLS and the Players Union reached an 11th hour deal on a new  Collective Bargaining Agreement soon before an announced strike was set to commence.  While we will discuss the details of the new agreement as the specifics “(including the “re-entry” draft) are revealed, we thought we would take a quick look at the methodology used by the league to announce the deal and examine the mainstream media coverage of the agreement.

Mid-morning on Saturday, word started to leak out that a deal was close, with an AP story hitting a couple of websites.  Soon thereafter, about 10:30 a.m., MLS issued a press e-mail alerting media outlets that a 1:00 conference call would be held and that Commissioner Garber, Union head Bob Foose and mediator George Cohen.  In the next couple of hours, the soccer Twitter world went wild, but details of the deal were pretty well contained.

At 1:00, the conference call started with an announcement that a few additional minutes were needed but that at least 100 media were involved in the call (the actual number was closer to 150).  Finally, at a about ten after 1:00 Commissioner Garber announced the news while providing very limited specifics.  Most of his remarks were devoted to thanking the various participants, but he did lay out the framework of the deal.  Bob Foose followed, and after a couple of statements indicating that the Union got they wanted, he too offered thanks and compliments to all those involved.  The final speaker was the mediator, and Mr. Cohen talked a bit about his theory of mediation and appreciate for the hard work shown by all involved.

After that, the media was permitted to ask questions (13) in all and despite the more than 150 media involved, the questions were asked by the usual suspects.   Grant Wahl, Beau Dure, Steve Goff, Reuters and Jeff Carlisle went first, followed by the AP, Boston Globe, Columbus Dispatch, Philly Inquirer and ESPN (again).  The last three came from AOL, SBJ and Sun Media.  Prior to the Canadian outlet’s question, Landon Donovan offered a few words.

That closed out the call, but the story then went mainstream. CNNSI and ESPN featured the news on their front page, as did the ESPN bottom line.  The front page of the Boston Globe carried the story as did other local and major newspapers and plenty of local television.  Not surprisingly, the blogosphere went crazy with fans weighing in on both sides of the issue but collectively relieved.

Late that night, Red Bull Arena opened with a bang (FSC camera issues notwithstanding) and teams around the league finalized their preseasons in advance of First Kick.  It will be interesting to see whether a spate of sponsorship deals get announced in the wake of the CBA announcement, but the timing of the deal achieved maximum effect for purposes of publicity.  MLS is in the news just days before the start of the season, a publicity windfall, especially since most American sports fans were not aware of the labor issues.

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The CBA: What it Means to Mediate

At the end of last week it was announced that the MLS Players’ Union and MLS had submitted their ongoing CBA negotiations to mediation before George H. Cohen, the Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.  The announcement left fans scrambling as they wondered about the ramifications of mediation and the possibility of a resolution.  We thought we would provide some quick thoughts on the process and the mediator.

Most importantly, mediation is a non-binding process. Though often confused with arbitration, mediation is typically much less formal and more importantly, is not binding.  The parties simply engage the services of a non-party neutral (Mr. Cohen) and ask for his assistance in reaching a resolution.  Typically, the parties offer their positions either in written or oral form to the mediator in advance of the sessions to set the baseline for negotiations.

Once the parties stake out their position and address any issues that the mediator needs to be resolved with the entire group , the mediator will  typically engage in “shuttle diplomacy”  by separating the parties and moving from group to group trying to advance towards a resolution. Once this process starts, the parties typically no longer talk to each other, but address concerns and solutions through the mediator who has the power to determine the pitch and mechanism of the delivery.   Ideally, proposals and counter proposals go back and forth through the neutral until all issues resolved.  At the end of the process, none of the proposals are binding unless the parties have reached an agreement.  There is a truism about mediation that a successful mediation means that neither party is totally happy. The process forces compromise and seems like a perfect route for the stalled labor negotiations.

Mr. Cohen’s is an experienced and well thought of labor negotiatior, who spent much of his career as an attorney on the side of labor unions.  He has a high level of expertise in labor law and collective bargaining and will likely lend a fair amount of credibility to the process. Despite his pro-labor leanings, the non-binding nature of the process and the high level personnel involved in the negotiations should obviate any potential bias.   Before receiving a nomination from President Obama  to his current role, he was also an adjunct professor at Georgetown School of Law teaching “The Art of Collective Bargaining.  For more on Attorney Cohen, click here.

Like all fans of MLS and American soccer, we are hopeful that the mediation process is successful and believe that the parties have chosen a good path to follow to bring this matter resolution.

Soccer Business Bits: USL Change, CBA News? & More

broken soccer ballMultiple outlets are reporting that 6 USL-1 teams, including 2011 MLS expansion side Vancouver, have broken away from the USL to form their own six team League for 2010.  Though still waiting for USSF approval, the new league will feature Vancouver, Montreal, Atlanta, Carolina, Miami and Minnesota.  There are also reports that a team from St. Louis will join the new league.

What impact this change (if it goes through), will have is very much in question.  Some MLS fans are prematurely excited at the prospect of MLS teams essentially operating farm teams in the new league, while others think that this move is a precursor to an “MLS2”.  Frankly, we think neither is likely. If this division holds, it will likely have the impact of weakening USL and the new league, especially when Vancouver and Montreal (probably) bolt for MLS and Portland does the same. The lower leagues have already lost a strong team in Seattle, and despite the prospect of new teams in New York and Baltimore, further division is not in USL’s best interest.  Strong lower divisions are important for the survival of soccer in the US and this move seems simply to weaken the overall product.

American soccer fans have marked January 31 on their calendars because it is the date the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires.  The parties have started negotiating, and this is certainly a story we will religiously follow.  For now, we think it a bit early, but since there have been a couple of early shots across the bow, check out this story at MatchFit for details.  One hidden impact of the labor situation will be the decisions faced by college players eying a career in MLS as part of the January draft.  Will players be less willing to enter the draft if there is no deal?

Check out this nice story from MLSnet.com about the MLS playoffs in Afghanistan.

One final note.  Seattle is looking to take its MLS success to a global stage.  Here is a story on the Emerald City’s efforts to bring the World Cup to Qwest Field.

Soccer Business Bits: TFC Recognized, Youth Soccer Initiative and More

tfcWe’ve heard reports of a season ticket waiting list 17k strong.  We’ve heard rumors that BMO Field will be a grass surface in 2010.  Now comes a report that TFC has been named the 2009 “Brand of the Year”  by Canadian Business Magazine “Strategy”The magazine cites TFC’s marketing efforts, brand awareness and fan experience. The award is an important recognition of TFC’s strong marketing effort.  For more on “Strategy” and to read the article, click here.

In Philadelphia, the Union have announced a partnership with youth program with YSC Academy.   The arrangement creates a four stage junior academy that starts at age 8 and hopefully brings players up through the Union system into the senior team.  Importantly, the Team will afford players from underprivileged areas the opportunity to participate.  These are the types of programs that will enable MLS to improve domestic talent while increasing its profile in the various communities.  The League has been undergoing a substantial effort to improve its youth programs by the creation of various academies.

One final note; the CBA is coming up on its date of expiration and negotations between the League and Players’  Union are continuing.  We will be covering the story in depth as negotiations move forward, but for now, we recommend the recent piece in Major League Soccer Talk as a Primer.

The CBA

As most American soccer fans know, the Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLS and the Players’ Union is set to expire at the end of this year.  Lately, we have been getting a number of e-mails asking for some detailed discussion of the CBA from a business/legal perspective.  We are starting to look into the issue and will have some detailed posts coming up.  In the meantime, take a look here, for a copy of the CBA.  For a recent update on the status of negotiations, look here.  For some thoughts from MatchFit USA on the issue, click here.

We’ve been working on part one of our story about converting soccer fans to MLS fans by speaking with an array of folks about what they want to see.  Check back tomorrow for part one.