My Granddad, Len D Hill was a World War II Veteran. He was honorably recognized for his service during the Berlin Airlift. He was also a baseball fan, most of his life. After the ’94 strike he never really revisited the game he loved. Born in Texas he had football, and that meant Cowboys. But baseball just sort of fell off his radar. Leukemia took his life in 2002. Because the Mariners were so darn fun during their magical 1995 “pull another rabbit out of the hat” and “Refuse to Lose” playoff push, he paid attention to that run. Especially, when they did justice for all baseball by knocking out the Yanks. I think we only talked baseball two times after that. Both times he showed clear disappointment in the way the game was played, and the kind of money it took to play the game. I am proud and honored to have my grandfathers genes. His first four grandsons all played the beautiful game. His oldest son coached. His oldest blog writing grandson also went on to coach. I feel confident in saying he would be proud Major League Soccer resolved its labor dispute between owners and players before lockouts or strikes took place.
Many sports in the US have overcome strikes and lockouts. Other sports besides MLS are dealing with labor issues. Some are positioned better than others to take on and deal with various player and owner disputes. In 2004 the NHL took a hard hit in fan support due to its lockout. The NFL has long since healed over its use of SCAB players. Even still, union issues are creeping into the NFL and NBA. However both leagues have strong backing from advertisers, TV networks, cable companies and other various financial sources to survive league stoppage. Major League Soccer does not have this same kind of broad footprint of financial support. So, even if MLS had continued for a while its financial resources are not enough to avoid a collapse.
For a financially resourceful professional soccer league, look no further than across the Atlantic pond. The International Football Hotbed Isle of Britain, is the most successful international football league in the world is realizing club and league level financial concern. Was the MLS aware? Yes, had to. The English Premiere League appears cash strapped. Some reports claim the EPL may even be worse off than that. So, MLS surely realized a strike would flush the league down the NASL drain pipe. Two of the English Premier Leagues and the worlds biggest teams, Liverpool and Manchester United have debt issues. Another EPL team, Portsmouth has recently been placed into “Administration”. Still another team, Fullham, with American star, Clint Dempsey, has an owner, Mohamed Al-Fayed asking fans to spend more money on team merchandise, to avoid growing debt.
Now for an administrative “administration” review. In all honesty, Portsmouth’s “administration” status issue is a bit more Monty Python than Liverpool’s or Manchester United’s debt issues. What I take “administration” to mean is that instead of a team going directly into bankruptcy court, filing for chapter 11 and liquidating, the club accepts a 9 point season penalty, and gets a short-term loan. The loan buys Portsmouth owners and supporters time to raise capital. There is more to it than that, but I am not British, and I do not have a degree qualifying me for a position in the Ministry of Football and Financial Sciences. I am merely a simple quiet American banker by day, and loud Rave Green Sounders supporter the rest of the time. I know debit cards, working 9-5, paying bills, and “bluest skies”. What I can say in Sales on Sounders blog-speak about the EPL’s Pompey (Portsmouth) issue is, really? Slap a basement team with a 9 point penalty, really? A team already slated for relegation to a lower league needs to be knocked down further, really? I mean really, that is like the NBA telling Oklahoma City Thunder fans, every time you lose a home game you have to do the Trailor-n-Twister dance. Really?
With Liverpool fans wanting the exit of American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillette, and Manchester United fans wanting the same for Joel and Avram Glazer. It simply means the MLS has to be a unified league. Players need to see the owners issues. The LA Galaxy’s and AEG’s Tim Leiweke has done for Major League Soccer similar to what Lamar Hunt did, but more behind the scene. Players need to honor that. Similarly, owners need to honor players right to develop and find the team they best fit. Even with a 5 year agreement in hand, if the players v owners lack of unity does not get resolved, we could see the slow decline of the league. Whereas the EPL has resources to fiscally straighten itself out after labor or league issues, similar to how the NFL would. The MLS is well advised to stay tuned to the current EPL debt issues because there are not the same resources afforded to the MLS.
United States professional soccer players need a more competitive wage for US soccer to improve. If MLS wants the best American soccer players to play here, this must happen soon. The base increase to $40k, with 5% annual increase is a good start. As much as I believe this increase is necessary and support the players in their well put together agenda of issues, I think the “strike” option should not have ever been forged. This being a World Cup year combined with last years improved attendance means advertisers and networks are ready to put more money into the US game. That should be incentive enough for players and owners to put differences aside and support the growth of the American game. The other option is to stay in separate corners and commit MLS hari kari starting with watching Colorado become our Portsmouth.
Averting the strike was a big step for the league and heads it in the right direction. It is the kind of galvanizing moment the league needs. One that had baseball realized in ’94 would have made my Granddad a happy baseball fan the rest of his life.