Attention: Bob Foose, executive director, MLS Players Union.
Dear Bob: Hi, itís Steve here. Iíve left a bunch of messages with you at the union office, but your line is that youíre not talking about your contract talks with the league at the moment.
The contract expires in a little more than three weeks, and no one wants to see a lockout. And I get that you donít want to say anything that can sabotage those talks at this moment.
But, I hear that the talks aren't going well. Your bid to get the MLS to loosen its central control over player movement, to force the league into granting free agency and to get guaranteed contracts, well, isnít being met very receptively by commissioner Don Garber, who wants the status quo.
Well, Bob, hereís my take. Many fans sympathize with the players. They understand that, unlike basketball or hockey stars, the majority arenít making getting rich quick playing soccer in North America.
You could score a lot of points. Get a lot of people on your side.
But the timing is all wrong.
In a year where every soccer fan on the planet has the World Cup to look forward to, an MLS lockout wouldnít register. Weíd all get our fixes seeing if Ivory Coast can make it out of the group of death or if England can find a keeper who can stop a beach ball.
My advice? Go to Garber with an olive branch and a warning. Say that youíre willing to swallow the centralized model for another two years, in exchange for a moderate raise. But warn that, after the 2011 season, all bets are off.
Right now, MLS has just three teams, the Los Angeles Galaxy, Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders FC, which have what weíd consider major profiles. Many of the rest struggle for fans. D.C. United could be on the list, but it doesnít have a stadium.
But, over the next two seasons, the league is adding teams in Philadelphia, Vancouver and Portland ó and possibly Montreal. We know that Vancouver and Portland will be as successful, if not more, than Seattle was in year one. That will pump up revenues and attendance numbers.
After a full season of having those teams in the league, the MLS will be in a much stronger financial position, which will give you a hell of a lot stronger moral position from which to fight this battle.
But, a lockout now could kill interest in the new Philadelphia Union. It could be a fatal blow for a troubled franchise like FC Dallas.
And, itís still all too easy for MLS to cry poor. Garber can say that for every TFC thereís a Dallas; that Kansas City and D.C. are hunting for stadiums, that New England is only propped up by owner Robert Kraftís philanthropy towards the sport. In New York, the most important media market of all, the Red Bulls are, to quote Douglas Adams, mostly harmless.
The MLS is building something special. Trust me, Bob, I used to work with an NHL franchise, and I have a lot more faith in the direction in which MLS is going than I am pro hockey in North America.
I believe that MLS will one day be a major player on the North American sports scene. But, right now, at this fledgling stage, is not the right time to play hardball in labour negotiations.
Make peace now, wallow in the nice PR that will come the unionís way, and keep that goodwill in your pocket when it comes time for 2011, when Garber will have more sellouts on his hands, and a lot more to lose.