from Charles Bohm – WASHINGTON, DC (Sept. 2, 2021) US soccer players – The get-together was SoCal Casual and took place in an airy warehouse in the gritty Los Angeles Fashion District. With raised garage doors and courtyards allowing air circulation and social distance, a DJ played music across from a Jersey accommodation station. There was a regular-sized goal on a makeshift lawn to emphasize the fact that it was about football.
It was the kind of hip event that has become a staple of the MLS All-Star Weeks. Except that this time it was not the league but the MLS Players Association that hosted it. There was a long list of players, past and present, with more to celebrate than the first in-person get-together in two years.
The PA announced a new agreement with Konami’s eFootball video game. The union licensed the names of its members with “ambassador” roles to 11 of the league’s top stars. Those in charge of the PA hope that both the partnership and the celebrations can be a courageous step forward for the association and its members.
“It was just so tangible, so physical [sign] that this is a new phase, “Ty Harden, director of player relations at MLSPA, told USSoccerPlayers a few days later. “This is the physical demonstration of what we’ve really built for over the past five years.”
The Konami deal is the most prominent example of the MLSPA’s alliance with OneTeam partners. This is the joint venture that was founded in 2019 by the unions of NFL and MLB players and the private equity firm RedBird Capital Partners. It also welcomed their colleagues from the USWNT, WNBA and the US Rugby Players Association. What it offers is a new way to empower top athletes by optimizing their marketing and promotion prospects without having to work your way through leagues and umbrella organizations.
“Over the past few years all the work we’ve done to transform the commercial landscape for gamers has somehow gone unnoticed with everything that has happened,” said Dan Jones, MLSPA’s chief operating officer. “There really was a construct right from the start where group player rights would be returned to the league and they would get license shares back to the PA. This world ended about two years ago. And today we are in a position not only to own the rights, but also to control all sales and marketing related to them. “
This is where the OneTeam model is important as it can increase the size of its affiliates. This opens up new sources of income for the players through their PA.
“We believe that if we do well with our commercial programs, the pie will grow. It’s growing for the players, it’s growing for the PA, and I think it’s growing for the league, too, ”said Jones. “It creates new opportunities for guys … it can affect guys at any stage in their career and at any level. For some of the high profile players there is an opportunity to be brand ambassadors, to make appearances, to participate in some of the traditional marketing stuff [but] also for some of the younger players, some of the guys with minimum contracts. “
The concentration on core tasks meant that the football public usually only sees or thinks of the MLSPA when it comes to collective bargaining. The Players Association is now showing that it has other stories to tell. Overcoming the last two rounds of league wage reclaims has further underscored the importance of developing the commercial side. With this in mind, the OneTeam arrangement brings economies of scale to multiple sports. That means direct payments from license income to players.
“We’ve had a lot of success, and in some ways we’ve completely redesigned the way this model works, the equation of values between leagues and their rights and players and their rights,” said Jones. “Unsurprisingly, we think that it’s the players who make up a large part of the value, be it video games, trading cards, the league…. And we think it’s not just different, it’s shifting more and more in favor of the players. “
The stingy MLS pay structure has caused some painful collective bargaining over the decades, most painfully in the form of three distinct phases of tense negotiations since early 2020.
“You know what the last two years of negotiation have been like,” said Harden, a 2007-15 defense attorney for Chicago, San Jose, Colorado and LA Galaxy. “And that was the focus for the players in many ways. But a lot has happened in the commercials too that we just couldn’t concentrate on in the same way. “
The MLSPA and its partners now have the bandwidth to explore these new opportunities. It should also allow players to strengthen the solidarity forged through the turmoil of the recent past.
“In the past few years, with so much negotiation and negotiation, we’ve brought everyone together,” said Harden, “where there are so many people from so many different backgrounds and we all move in.” Direction of what we did in the last two Years have honestly seen it is really powerful. “
Charles Boehm is a Washington, DC-based writer and editor of The Soccer Wire. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/cboehm.
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Graphics courtesy of MLSPA