This edition of the Sounders mailbag will be a little different because a few of your questions were related to the collective bargaining agreement reached earlier this month between MLS and its players’ union.
Sounders midfielder Harry Shipp, the team’s player representative, took a moment while training in Mexico City earlier this month to speak with The Seattle Times via phone about the CBA.
Here are some excerpts from the conversation with Shipp, edited for space and clarity:
Question: Was being part of the negotiating team a plan of yours since you did graduate with a degree in business and finance from Notre Dame?
Harry Shipp’s answer: I’ve been involved with the union since my first year in the league, which was 2014. It’s something that’s genuinely interesting to me. I enjoy the strategy of it in trying to navigate these negotiations because it’s very unique to the sports world.
Q: The CBA wasn’t due to expire until Jan. 31, but negotiations started over a year ago?
HS: For me, it was a big difference process-wise from last time. Five years ago, you didn’t start negotiating the heavy stuff until a month or so of it (the expiration date). This time, we started early in getting the big issues off the table for both sides. Also giving enough time to communicate what their (MLS) priorities were. It led to more productive conversations early on, which is why you were able to see the result the way it was versus five years ago.
Q: The new structure of TAM (Targeted Allocation Money) is interesting. It was originally added in 2015 after the last CBA was negotiated. Can you offer insight on the changes players sought?
HS: As a player, you want new money added. It’s not a bad thing. A lot of players didn’t like the restrictions on it.
The reason why TAM was created was to try to bring in international guys that make the roster spots better. There are a lot of guys within the league, whether they’re American or international, they were trying to sign deals with that money and teams were being told they couldn’t do it because that money was reserved for bringing new players into the league.
Our big priority was try to eliminate as much of that restricted money as possible so that it’s available for anyone up and down the roster. A lot of what we did was converting the mandatory TAM that they’ve had the last four years or so to General Allocation just to give teams the freedom to use it how they want.
The league isn’t dictating how Seattle has to use the money versus Chicago. It makes it more transparent for everyone.
Q: Free agency is another positive change for the players.
HS: We wanted to try to make more people part of the free agency process as possible – allow people that are actually in their prime of their careers increased where they want to play and how much money they’ll earn.
Removing the traps and all of the stuff related to free agency — because free agency was introduced the last time, but a lot of guys that ended up qualifying for it were at the back end of their careers. Now, you look at a guy like Cristian (Roldan), if he wasn’t under contract by the Sounders, someone on the uptick of their career has the potential to enter free agency and increase their earning potential and choose where they want to play.
That’s where you really start to feel the benefit of that whole system. Our target was to get it as close to 30% of players being eligible.
Q: Charter flights seemed to dominate conversation last season. MLSPA was able to secure eight legs for 2020 and it will grow to 16 by 2024, plus mandatory charter flights for the playoffs and international competitions. Was this a primary focus?
HS: It was a huge step in introducing some sort of mandatory charters, but it wasn’t the only thing that was going to make or break the deal for us.
There were plenty of other things that money could be used on, like bonuses. That was a big thing players felt – increasing win bonuses, playoff bonuses, everything to kind of increase competition.
I don’t think the league necessarily realizes how much of a difference that makes week to week in the locker room. Using money for those things beyond only allocating money for charters was something we tried to balance out as we were going through the process.
Q: The current MLS broadcasting rights deal expires in 2022. The new CBA assures players will receive a percent of the new contract.
HS: Players felt if there’s going to be this huge, massive increase in TV money, we deserve a fair percentage in that. Nothing crazy. It would increase the salary budget and allocation money. Anything that makes more money available to players is a good thing.