06 August 2008

When is a Million Dollars, Not a Million Dollars? Here Comes the SuperLiga Math

Before last night's exciting finale of an otherwise hot and cold 2008 SuperLiga tournament, officials had been talking up the "one million dollar purse" quite a bit.

Of course in most American professional sports, one million dollars is a drop in the bucket, but (sadly) to the average MLS team, that's no small chunk of change.

So a one million dollar prize was earmarked for the winners of the 2008 SuperLiga. Here is where things get interesting. Unlike last year's tournamenet, two MLS teams were in the final and used that opportunity to send a message.

The day before the final, players from both Houston and New England agreed to split the prize money evenly no matter who won!

Why and what was the message about?

Here comes the research. According to the MLS Players Union, players made the decision in protest of what they see as the league’s violation of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with respect to the negotiation of bonuses for SuperLiga.

Let's look back at last year's tournament. The Dynamo players and management had worked out a deal for additional bonus' within their team; however, MLS brass prohibited them from implementing their structure. The Dynamo filed a grievance contesting the decision which has yet to be settled.

Apparently, MLS caps the amount of SuperLiga bonus money a team may share with players at 15% of the prize money. So in the SuperLiga winner’s case, $150,000 out of the $1 million winner's purse.

But as a result of the two teams' gentleman's agreement, according to an article in the Houston Chronicle, "...each side will get $25,000 regardless of the result, with each team splitting $125,000 in total bonus money among its players."

The article continues, "the union contends the current CBA allows players to negotiate additional bonus structures for competitions such as SuperLiga. MLS says otherwise. An arbitrator is expected to rule on the matter this year."

Naturally, league officials were not keen on the timing of the players coup, but players believed this move was a show of solidarity that was necessary as they seek fair compensation.

I see it as part of the growth process. As MLS continues to gain fans, these types of aches and pains are inevitable, and the league is in the unenviable position of balancing fiscal viability with the critically important components of longevity and sustainability surrounding player compensation. Maintaining a healthy tension should be the league's goal and will be the league's challenge.

Read the full article at the Houston Chronicle.

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