There's a 40% Chance of Keller

A funny thing happened on the way to the hotly-anticipated and much-discussed MLS "work stoppage".

For a year or more the mavens of BigSoccer, accompanied by soccer bloggers all across the fruited plain, have been happily chattering away about the prospects, odds and/or likelihood of the MLS Players Union going out "on strike".

So there we were, blissfully floating along with the strike or no strike debate when, seemingly out of nowhere, the term "strike" was pretty much "stricken" ("struck" ?) from the vocabulary of the discussion and replaced by the suddenly ubiquitous "lockout".

At the moment, based on actual scientifical-type research and stuff (stop me if this gets too technical) blog and message board speculation about a "lockout" are outpacing references to a "strike" by almost 10-1, although the boys down in R&D are reporting a number of recent weaselish uses of the term "lockout and/or strike" by those unwilling to commit one way or the other.

Having followed the CBA issue for lo these many months, you might be wondering why,
where and when this switch in terminology occurred, and fortunately for you, I think I have the answer:

As with most other global crises, disasters and plagues, I blame Kasey Keller.

(Perhaps as a corollary to the "Brad Friedel as superhero" meme – "When Tennessee ran out of money for police, they hired Friedel to replace them for a week. He brought an axe handle. There was no crime" – we should do the same with Keller causing catastrophes: "When Keller threw a sweaty towel after practice, it caused Hurricane Andrew".)

Or something.

The biggest problem we all have with trying to follow the player/ownership debate is that, frankly, nobody is saying much of anything. This is by design, of course, but the result has been to unreasonably magnify every single comment by any player willing to make one as we feverishly parse every sentence, phrase and word choice to try and distill some kind of solid facts out of a few offhand remarks which may be based on nothing more than locker room scuttlebutt.

BUT IT SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN KELLER ("When he sneezes, half of Mexico comes down with Swine flu") who is responsible for causing the continental shift in terminology here when he used the term in a post on his personal blog. ("Reading Kellers' personal blog is the main cause of cataracts").

Suddenly, lockout is all the rage.

So in the spirit of the day, and with the caveat that my expertise in labor negotiations is pretty much on a par with my knowledge of Chinese opera, herewith some thoughts on why, in reality, a lockout might be more likely than seeing Alan Gordon huddling around a 55 gallon fire drum trying to keep warm as he puts in his picket duty hours outside the HDC:

There's been a lot of comment about how the timing of CBA's expiration couldn't have come at a better time for the owners; if the economy being in the crapper wasn't bad enough, you also have the league going dark in June for the World Cup, and refusing to play for a month when your team didn't have any games scheduled anyway isn't a particularly convincing threat, so every week they stay out in April only serves to bring them closer to a month they don't care about.

And there's little incentive to come to an agreement in early May when all that the teams can do is a delayed preseason training. In short, even a short strike kills
any real urgency on the part of the owners to get a deal done in the short term.

They aren't going to have a ticket to sell until July anyway.

A strike is about putting pressure on the owners to stop losing money. If you can't cause them to do so, then there's not much point.

Conversely, the purpose of a lockout can be one of a couple of things.

For example, the owners might decide that they have their best offer on the table and will go no further, in which case more negotiating is pointless. In this scenario, locking the players out is a tactic which can be very effective when the union members are badly split.

If the leadership doesn't have the vast majority of the membership entirely on board and willing to face the consequences of not having a job for a long time, then the threat of a lockout may be enough to make them cave.

As January 31 gets closer and closer, it's also possible that the union may say "Look, we'll agree to go ahead and come to camp and play under the current contract while talks continue".

In the court of public opinion, that's very reasonable sounding, but they know the owners won't accept it because it takes the timing of a work stoppage out of their hands. Consider:

MLS is looking for a nice little boost in interest coming out of the World Cup.

Particularly if the US does well, they'll be hoping to see a decent jump in attendance and viewership as casual fans, still warm from the glow of seeing "our boys" going toe-to-toe with the world, will hopefully be interested in shelling out some dollars to see Landon or whomever else up close and personal.

So the union can sit back, let the season get started and then, come July, take a walk and leave the owners nothing but a lost opportunity.

Add to that the fact that under the old agreement July 1 is the roster freeze date and suddenly a mid-season walkout looks a lot more strategically inviting than one in March.

All of which, of course, is entirely academic. No less a light than Jimmy Conrad HAD A COMMENT ON ALL OF THIS which I think it might behoove us all to take notice of:

"It's still pretty early in the process, and I read somewhere that the talks have been contentious," said Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad, who has sat in on negotiations. "I think that's laughable. I don't think it's contentious, I just think there are some issues we have to sort through."

Speculate away, dear friends, but there's still a long, long ways to go and, regardless of the fact that they've "been negotiating" for almost a year now, we're not anywhere near decision time for either side.

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