MLS had millions to spend to sign star players from abroad this summer, but when it comes to refs? Nope. Sadly, the MLS and the referee union are at loggerheads, a dangerous sign giving the looming player/management CBA session. From the owner’s perspective, they want to keep costs down and hope the league can turn a corner towards profitability. From their point of view, expansion alone is enough for the players and refs: each new team creates new jobs for players and more games for refs to work. A lot of the owners have eaten a lot of money for decades, and would like to see a return on their investment.
From the refs and players’ perspectives, all pro sports leagues are only profitable to a degree. As MLS revenue expands with TV deals, they want a similar if not bigger share of the expanding pie. After all, the players are the ones kicking the ball and the refs are blowing the whistle. Why should management get all the perks? I wrote in 2009 about the very real prospect of a player’s strike and the possibility of scabs. This year, the regular refs aren’t reffing and……their union has released info on the scabs.
Here’s my take on the dirt (and the Union).
The refs largely have little to no MLS experience. Some have done MLS preseason game and some NASL games, but this is not the cream of the crop. MLS didn’t even try to poach quality scabs from an Eastern European league or a lower-division Western European league. Instead, they got a lot of these guys from Puerto Rico. Fans should be angry at the owners for not getting higher end replacements.
Of course, on the other hand, MLS can actually profit from a dip in the quality of refereeing. They can claim that its the ref’s fault for not “coming to work” and try to use fan outcry as leverage. In that sense, why spend money on possibly more competent replacements when you’re at odds with a union over money?
However, the Union is not without blame. I’m all about transparency and revealing the refereeing info. I stand in solidarity with unions whenever possible. However, there was no need to ask about “immigration” or “visa status” for some of the referees. If there’s one thing we’ve learned (or should have learned) from the demise of the United Farm Worker’s movement and rise of the worker centers across the land, unions and organized labor simply can’t afford to burn bridges with the immigrant community.
Bottom line: regardless of what happens, take a cue from South Park and blame the Puerto Rican guy. Malditos borricuos!