BUFFERY: New charter flight rules will make MLS more attractive to players

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore heads for training at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Nov. 9, 2019. USA TODAY

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Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Association have reached an agreement in principle for a new collective bargaining agreement. And there’s one aspect to the new deal that has the players flying high, so to speak.

For the first time in league history, the CBA includes mandatory charter legs for team travel that grow incrementally during the term of the agreement. Clubs will be required to use charter flights for eight legs of travel during the 2020 regular season, growing to 16 legs for the 2024 season. In the previous years, clubs had the discretion, but not the requirement, to charter up to four legs per season. Now, teams will also be required to use charter air travel for all MLS Cup Playoff matches and Concacaf Champions League games involving international travel.

That’s ‘uplifting’ news for players such as Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg who told the Toronto Sun this week that travel was one of the toughest challenges of adjusting to the MLS when he joined the new league from his French side Auxerre last season.

“Travel (in MLS) is long. The travel days are basically waste days,” said Westberg. “Those 20 odd days in the year where you’re travelling, those are days that don’t really count. I was laughing about it with (centre back) Chris Mavinga. You pause your life, you just travel, you don’t rest, you don’t do anything. You’re just a machine going back home.”

Travel has been a big problem for players in MLS, particularly for those who have played in the higher tier leagues in Europe. Last year, after a loss to the Whitecaps in Vancouver, former D.C. United star Wayne Rooney tweeted: “Gutted about result last night. We deserved more. Looking forward to a 12-hour travel day which could be done in 6 but hey this is MLS.”

In the past, teams usually travel home or to another city the day after a match on domestic flights. On longer trips, for some teams that has included connecting flights, making day-after recovery sessions hard to come back. These new charter rules will make MLS a more attractive league for some top players.

Overall, the new CBA locks in increases in the league’s investment in player benefits. With the league’s existing local, national and international media rights deals set to expire at the end of the 2022 season, the new agreement also creates a first-ever revenue-sharing agreement between players and owners to ensure that increases in media rights revenue will mean further increases to player compensation.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NEW CBA

— Increased investment in player spending

MLS will increase investment in the salary budget, General Allocation Money and performance bonuses for players, raising the spending power per club every year, from $8,490,000 (all numbers in U.S. currency) in 2019 to $11,643,000 in 2024. In addition, the minimum annual salary for senior roster players will increase each season to $109,200 in 2024.

— Greater salary budget flexibility across rosters

During the last three MLS seasons (2017-19), clubs were provided an additional $1.2 million per season in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) to be used for the acquisition or retention of players within a specific salary budget range. Under the new CBA, that $1.2 million per season has been converted to General Allocation Money and may be used across the entire roster. Additionally, as the amount of guaranteed spending across the entire roster increases over each of the next five seasons, the amount of Discretionary Targeted Allocation Money per season will decrease accordingly.

— Players to share in media revenue

For the first time, player spending per club will include a share of the increased revenue generated by MLS’s new media agreements in 2023 and 2024. Beginning in those years, MLS will increase player spending by an amount equal to 25% of the increased media revenue above the amount generated by the league in 2022 plus $100 million.

— Expanded free agency

The eligibility criteria for free agency has been expanded to include players who are 24 years or older and have five years of service in MLS. This lowers the age and term from the previous CBA (28 years old with eight years of service). The CBA also includes caps on the increases in compensation in free agent contracts. In addition, players making above the maximum salary budget, including Designated Players, will now also be eligible for free agency based on specific guidelines.

— New Under-22 Player initiative

Beginning in 2021, MLS will have the discretion to allow clubs to sign up to three players who are 22 or younger on a reduced charge to a club’s salary budget.

— Designated Player spots

Clubs will continue to have the right to sign up to three Designated Players in the new CBA. The league will have the right to limit the compensation for the third DP spot to the maximum TAM salary, unless the player is 23 years old or younger, in which case there will be no limit. Right now, former La Liga star Pablo Piatti is in Toronto undergoing medical assessments as TFC is reportedly interested in signing him if he is fit. However, the winger/forward is 30 and these new DP rules may come into play in pursuing Piatti.

Overall, most players seem happy with the new deal, including outspoken TFC forward Jozy Altidore, who tweeted: ‘Proud of the players and all player union reps. The game in this country continues to move forward. Can’t wait to start the season!’

SBuffery@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Beezersun

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