Before I start discussing the ways league leadership has actually done something beneficial to Red Bulls for once, I have to level with you: I hate talking about this shit.
I hate the salary “budget” and the layers of contract classifications and the baroque system of drafts and SuperDrafts – and the only thing worse than these wage-suppressing training wheels is their incessant and pedantic presence in any discourse around MLS. Fans argue more about their team’s theoretical GAM or TAM than whether they use man or zone defending on set pieces. Players are displayed on television chyrons with “Designated Player” next to their name in larger font than “Midfielder”. As if it isn’t bad enough that these rules leave MLS teams thin and stretched in Champions League competition and reserve players having to coach pre-teens to pay rent, they lend easy fodder for the league’s wide set of critics and skeptics in an often cartoonish way.
The new collective bargaining agreement announced by league ownership and the players association on Thursday is unlikely to change much about this discourse the league’s complex competitive structure. But it does offer some improved terms for the players in the form of more accessible free agency, improved rookie and reserve salaries, and a general increase in the amount of money floating around the league. Here’s a run down of a few of the big changes and how they’ll impact Red Bulls going into the 2020s.
HIGHER ROOKIE AND RESERVE WAGES
Among the least savory relics of the league’s financially-strapped past is the iffy wages on offer to players on rookie and reserve contracts and even some veteran minimums. Not only are these salaries much more difficult to get by on in major metropolitan areas like New York, they make signing and holding onto younger and less-polished players (especially ones scouted from outside of a club’s development pipeline) a much harder task. If they aren’t good enough for Richard Eckersley, they aren’t good enough for me!
The new CBA features a slight improvement to these terms, with reserve minimum salaries increasing from around $56k to $85k, while the second year of contracts will now always be guaranteed. Not only will these minimums give Red Bulls better terms to bring in potential Aaron Longs and Florian Valots to understudy and develop in USL, but they will make draftees and academy signings more feasible.
Even more enticing is the “Under 22 Initiative” which unfortunately is neither a centrist astroturfing political fund, a straight edge record label, or a seedy pickup artist hobby club. What the Under 22 Initiative actually is will allow an additional three non-DP signings outside salary cap restrictions provided the players are under 23 – think three Matias Jorgensens every year, except hopefully they actually score.
If widespread speculation is to be believed, Red Bull are among the chief agitators within league ownership to release spending restrictions and allow for teams more leeway in building and operating their teams. One of the good things about having sterile corporate ownership that turns your team into a branding exercise/corporate appendage is that they shouldn’t have to bat an eye about having their players get to games on the West Coast without having to sit in the airport all afternoon with Tim Parker sticking a camera in your face.
The players association has finally secured a program in which teams will travel via chartered planes on road trips rather than remaining at the whims of commercial airliner schedules. The new charter rules are effectively a mandate, forcing even the cheapest clubs to use a minimum amount of chartered legs over the course of the season regardless of logistical and competitive necessity.
Guess I’ll just use this opportunity to say: high speed rail now.
INCREASED ALLOCATION MONEY
As hinted at regarding the Under 22 Initiative Red Bull shifting into an increased use of the New York operation for mid-tier young signings requiring fees like Kaku and Mattias Jorgensen, any increase in the amount of available allocation money to store their higher salaries and transfer fees in will make these signings easier to put together. While the new labor agreement will actually decrease the amount of Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) used to fit in more players at DP-level salaries, an increased amount of General Allocation Money (GAM) as well as a generally increasing cap number will mean much more room to bring in the players the extensive Red Bull scouting and development network provides access to.
Increasing the amount of money available for MLS clubs to spend on incoming transfers beyond high-profile DPs at the top of the roster will benefit the clubs that know what kind of players they want and where to find them. If the goal is to emulate the Salzburg model of extensive scouting that finds and acquires talent from many of the soccer world’s backwaters, the league is increasing the available salary ranges in which those moves will happen.
So there you have it. The last salary cap article I will ever write, I swear.