Why can’t we sign this player again?

I’m dizzy after looking at this for less than a minute. Why can’t it be as simple as “I like that player, let’s sign him” https://t.co/Q9RXW68t7s

— Stuart Holden (@stuholden) February 8, 2017

This wonderfully constructed flowchart by Sports Illustrated’s Alexander Abnos of MLS player acquisition rules has been quite the talk of the soccer social media-sphere the last couple of days.

Stu Holden brought up a great question… why can’t MLS teams just sign the players they want?

Well, it is a pretty simple answer really. Because MLS teams are not separate free market entities when it comes to players contracts. All player contracts are owned by the league.

These two objectives—free market competition and single-entity—are basically diametrically opposed. Single-entity status allows MLS to fix salaries league-wide by centralizing all contracts. When an MLS player signs a deal, it’s between the league and the player, rather than between the player and a team. This means there is no real intra-league competition between teams in signing players, since all MLS teams are actually shared arms of a larger body. You sign your original contract with MLS, and then you play where MLS tells you, or else leave the league. That has been the extent of player movement.

Billy Haisley has done a great job explaining why true Free Agency and open player acquisition rules can not exist within the MLS Single Entity Structure.

Why would the league want to do that? is the next logical question.

Pretty simple answer here too… to keep domestic player salaries as low as possible for profit maximization purposes. If there is no competition for players between the teams then the player has no leverage when it comes time to negotiate a new contract.

Is this legal?

Many say that this single entity structure exists on shaky ground. Including Elizabeth Cotignola (Follow her on Twitter HERE) in her great pre-MLS CBA ratification article.

Evidence that the entities have engaged in any sort of competition indicates that there is more than a single entity involved, capable of an agreement or conspiracy for the purposes of Section 1. If the defendants can be deemed to be competitors, their action cannot be guided by a common conscience, and the single-entity exemption is inapplicable.

In modern-day MLS, the league’s investor-operators do indeed have divergent interests. Their teams are separate entities of independent economic value. This was true even when Fraser was decided, of course, but the disparities are noticeably more prevalent now than they were then. This difference in value is the result of many different factors – marketing, broadcast rights, corporate sponsors, stadia, the ever-important results, and so on and so forth but few would argue that the Designated Player is not paramount among these.


 You can also read more about the MLS Single Entity structure in this great primer HERE.

We also still have not had clarification on whether MLS’s single entity structure violates the new FIFA 3rd Party Ownership rules. 

So this is where we as a soccer nation stand today. The US Soccer Federation allowing MLS owners to conspire with each other to keep domestic players salaries as low as possible and likely breaking anti-trust laws while doing so.

Speak up and speak out for change at the USSF level … use the #ProRelForUSA hashtag on social media and let others know you are ready for change!

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