MLS fans show support for players amid lockout threats

Major League Soccer fans are stepping up to show their support for the league’s players as they face a potential lockout.

The Independent Supporters Council of North America – including representation from three local FC Cincinnati supporters groups – issued a statement Monday backing the players after MLS threatened late last week to lock them out if they could not agree to an amended CBA by the end of Thursday.

MLS invoked a force majeure clause Dec. 29 that opened a 30-day negotiating window, but despite MLSPA offering two counterproposals to the league’s plan to extend the CBA by two years, the initial deadline for an agreement passed Thursday night.

The league announced Friday it would extend the deadline one week, and the MLS Labor Committee voted unanimously to lock out players if they could reach an agreement by the new deadline, which led the ISC to offer its collective input.

“Our players have already made extreme sacrifices over the past year,” the ISC said in its statement. “…Now, the MLS Players Association (MLSPA) has made a further proposal extending the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) into the 2026 season, along with other non-economic changes, in acknowledgment of the unprecedented business losses suffered by the MLS owners during the pandemic.

“We recognize and do not take for granted that everyone involved has made sacrifices. The burden has fallen on not only players, but coaches, staff, and officials. However, MLS owners are now demanding that MLS players bear large pandemic-related losses back-loaded into the end of the CBA. This is despite the fact that, whether today or in the future, MLS owners are far better equipped to absorb these losses without direct impact on their livelihood and families, as compared to MLS players. And, to achieve this shifting of the primary burden, MLS owners now threaten MLS players with removal of their livelihood during an already globally uncertain time.”

“Throughout the continuing negotiations and despite the concessions they have already made, the players have made themselves clear; they want to play. … We see what our players have done. We support them. Major League Soccer, the message from the supporters is simple. Let them play.”

The ISC is a collective group to promote supporters’ culture and advocate for fair treatment of supporters, both at home and on the road, as well as serve as a resource for members to share information about supporters’ issues. According to its website, there are more than 100 members of the Independent Supporters Council in the US and Canada between MLS, NWSL, USL, NPSL, and CPL, including FC Cincinnati groups Die Innenstadt, The Pride and Hangar 937.

Hangar 937, The Pride and Die Innendstadt also issued their own statements Monday, showing support.

“We trust the MLS Labor Committee agrees that the sacrifices made — and further sacrifices already offered — by these amazing players are to be commended, and that they should be allowed to play as scheduled on April 3rd,” Hangar 937 said in its statement. “Hangar 937 looks forward to cheering on our players and bantering with our rivals in 2021 and beyond, whether safely in the stands or from home. #letthemplay2021.”

The Pride emphasized how strong those feelings especially are from local FC Cincinnati fans who have watched for months as a new stadium was constructed in the West End, expected to open this season.

“Soccer has the opportunity to be something that brings us together as we enter into what we hope will be the final stretch of this pandemic,” The Pride wrote. “… It is a chance, for ninety minutes, to feel just a bit closer to normal again. But all of this depends on the owners of Major League Soccer doing the right thing and allowing the season to begin. … We urge all of the owners, including our ownership group here in Cincinnati, to make the obvious choice for the sake of our community, our supporters and our team. We urge Major League Soccer to do right by their players and let them play.”

Die Innenstadt, in its statement, notes that the league is anchored by investor-owners with a collective net worth of over $140 billion, yet still seeking further concessions from players by seeking an extension of the CBA into 2027, “forcing players to miss out on compensation gains potentially resulting from the build-up to the 2026 World Cup.”

“We recognize everyone has made sacrifices in the face of an unprecedented pandemic and acknowledge the business losses MLS owners have sustained,” Die Innenstadt said in its statement. “However, the owners are now attempting to shift a significant amount of the burden to the payers despite being in a much better position to absorb these losses without significant impact to their livelihood and families.”

A spokesperson for FC Cincinnati said the club is deferring comment on the current CBA situation to the league.

The MLSPA’s latest counterproposal, pleading for the league to let them play, was delivered last Thursday with a significant compromise to add one year on to the CBA agreed upon last year to now extend the agreement through the 2026 season. According to a statement from the players union, its proposal includes additional concessions, including decreased annual salary budgets, that would amount to $50 million, adding to what already was expected to have an impact on players by more than $150 million through the life of the deal agreed to in June.

However, MLS issued a statement Friday saying the two sides remain “far apart.”

“MLS had made a thoughtful, fair and simple proposal to pay players 100% of their compensation in 2021 in exchange for an extension of the CBA for two years through the 2027 season,” the statement read. “In our discussions with the MLSPA, we have emphasized the importance of the two-year extension to allow the league and clubs to recover a portion of the losses incurred in 2021 as a result of the pandemic while protecting the long-term health of the League by providing stability which promotes ongoing investment.”

All parties indicate a desire to avoid a work stoppage, but MLS insists on the Feb. 4 deadline to allow clubs adequate time to prepare for preseason training, set to begin Feb. 22, with anticipation of the season starting April 3.

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