The MLS Players Association announced their ratification of the 2015-2019 MLS Collective bargaining Agreement on July 16, 2015. In a press release, the player’s association announced some major changes to the agreement. Here are some major points of interest.
The 2015 MLS CBA, Bosman, and how European Law Affects Free Agency in American Soccer
Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Association are on the precipice of a break down in Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. One of the major sticking points in the negotiation is the issue of free agency in Major League Soccer. Soccer in the European Union faced similar restrictions over movement of players after the expiration of their contract, which was resolved in the Bosman ruling two decades ago. Through CAS Jurisprudence, the decision in Bosman may render the free agency debate in Major League Soccer moot.
The Bosman Ruling:
In the landmark Bosman ruling, the European Court of Justice held that that rules requiring a payment of a negotiated transfer fee for the transfer of a player after the expiration of his employment agreement was an illegal restriction on a Player’s fundamental right to freedom of movement.  Specifically, the ECJ found that said rules “are likely to restrict the freedom of movement of players who wish to pursue their activity in another Member State by preventing or deterring them from leaving the clubs to which they belong even after the expiry of their contracts of employment with those clubs. “
Additionally the court held that “since [the rules] provide that a professional footballer may not pursue his activity with a new club established in another Member State unless it has paid his former club a transfer fee agreed upon between the two clubs or determined in accordance with the regulations of the sporting associations, the . . . rules constitute an obstacle to freedom of movement for workers.” The Court also found that even if the restriction involved movement within a single member state, it would still constitute an illegal restriction on free movement.
As a result, no European club, or national association, can require the payment of a negotiated fee for, or create any other bar against, a player moving to a new club upon the expiry of his employment contract. This thus establishes free agency for all European sports.
The Peñarol Decision
The Principle of free movement was then applied by CAS to cases involving players and club outside of the EU in Club Atlético Peñarol v. Suarez et al. While not citing directly to Bosman, the CAS panel in Peñarol ruled that because FIFA and CAS are entities governed by Article 187 of the Swiss Public International Law Act (the “PILA”), they are required to seek guidance from Swiss public policy. Specifically, the Panel in Peñarol observed that while a choice of law determines the applicable laws, Article 187 states that organizations incorporated under Swiss law cannot preempt Swiss legal norms if said preemption would contravene Swiss public policy, or violate a fundamental right under Swiss Law.
Peñarol thus holds that CAS and the FIFA DRC are bound by basic human rights as recognized by Swiss Law and Public Policy.
Effects of Bosman and Peñarol
Switzerland and the European Union signed the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, which became effective on 1 June 2002. That agreement, states that both Switzerland and the European Union Member states recognize the “right of free movement.” This agreement occurred after Bosman. Therefore, the panel in Peñarol essentially found that the Bosman decision applied to cases involving any dispute that fell under Art. 187 of the PILA. Both FIFA and CAS are organizations Established under the PILA, and therefore are bound by Art. 187. Therefore, Peñarol establishes jurisprudence where CAS and DRC panels should apply the Bosman ruling to any contract dispute, regardless where the dispute takes place because those bodies are subject to Art. 187 of the PILA.
Application of Bosman & Peñarol to Major League Soccer’s CBA Negotiations
A. Lack of a European Connection
The CBA between the MLS PA and Major League Soccer applies only to employment within the singular league. Because the freedom of movement issue applies only to that league, if a freedom of movement issue made its way to the FIFA DRC or CAS Major League Soccer may argue that there are no bars to freedom of movement. However, Major League Soccer operates three franchises in Canada, and therefore it has the potential to challenge the freedom of movement of players between those countries. Likewise, as Bosman stated, restrictions of movement of players within one “member state” may affect his freedom of movement to another “member state” “by preventing or deterring them from leaving the clubs to which they belong even after the expiry of their contracts of employment with those clubs.”
In Peñarol, there was some connection to the European Economic Area, as a French Club (PSG) was pursuing the player in question. Therefore, Major League Soccer can argue that since the player movement here does not touch the EU or Switzerland, Peñarol should not apply. However, given the above referenced portions of Bosman and the fact that Peñarol applied Swiss public policy to a Uruguayan Football Association rule, the fact that the rule does not affect movement to or within Europe or Switzerland may not matter.
B. Single Entity and Free Movement
There are three possible scenarios for a player when his contract expires. He can a) sign a new contract with his current club; b) join a new club competing under a different national association (an international transfer); or c) join a new club competing under the same national association his current club (a domestic transfer).
If a player signs a new contract with his current so long as the player agrees to an extended term, and that term follows FIFA’s (lose) 5 year contract term rule under Article 18(2) of the FIFA RTSP there are, obviously no legal issues. The player is happy, the club is happy.
If a player decides to transfer to a new club at the end of his contract then the question becomes, does the standard set by Peñarol and Bosman overtake potential provisions in an MLS CBA?
For International Transfers, and transfers to other domestic leagues (NASL, USL Pro), the answer is an obvious yes. The CBA only covers terms of employment within the league itself. If a player signs with a new club in a league in a new country, or even a different league in the US, the CBA should not apply.
The more interesting question is: does Peñarol (and therefore Bosman) invalidate any MLS CBA restrictions regarding out-of-contract transfers between MLS franchises. As stated before Major League Soccer contract disputes may be subject to the FIFA DRC and therefore CAS jurisdiction. If the case went to the DRC, or later appealed to CAS, the player or the new club would most likely request the panels to apply Peñarol and Bosman. However, because of Major League Soccer’s single entity composition the arguments more difficult to apply. 
Each MLS franchise is technically a subsidiary of Major League Soccer. Therefore, the league would most likely argue that a free agency dispute is not a freedom of movement issue so much as a freedom of association issue. Specifically, as a single entity, Major League Soccer has the right to negotiate new employment terms with employees, including where in the organization an employee can work, or a method by which the employee is selected to work at its various branches.
Although, because of the nature of the “business” franchises do compete for employees. It is not a stretch to argue that if a player is wanted by a franchise, if the league rules get in the way of the player moving to that franchise, it could still be found to violate the principles of freedom of movement.
If the dispute were between franchises in regards to the signing of a player, it would be very difficult to argue that those franchises are two branches of the same tree. If the league, or another club came between the signing of an out-of-contract player and a franchise, and the franchise brought suit before the DRC, a panel may find that the provisions for player movement after their contract has expired violates basic Swiss public policy. Therefore, like in Peñarol, the provisions regulating player movement after their employment contract has expired are invalid, and MLS players have the right to move freely to any new MLS franchise that will have him.
However, if the dispute arises from a player challenging, for example, a re-entry draft, and all of the franchises in MLS tow the same line, the league’s argument may carry some weight. Freedom association, by all accounts, allows companies to condition terms of employment to working at specific branches of the organization.
Many have pointed to the fact that free agency is a major sticking point for MLS CBA negotiations. However give nature of the international transfer market, free agency will definitely exist for players moving on free transfers to different leagues, regardless of CBA terms. Likewise given the composition of US Soccer and MLS contract dispute resolution, the possibility of applying Swiss public policy also leaves enforcement of any current or future CBA terms inhibiting free agency in question.
This may hurt the bargaining power of the MLS Players Association. If players can already freely move to new leagues removing restrictions on Free Agency may not be a primary issue for a number of players.
Alternatively, because of the current employment market, FIFA DRC and CAS jurisprudence, and US Soccer and MLS dispute resolution procedures, any provision inhibiting free agency in the CBA could be circumvented depending on how the player goes about challenging the dispute, or where he decides to pursue his career. Therefore, free agency restrictions in the CBA may lose their teeth, depending on how they are challenged.
 Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association ASBL v Jean-Marc Bosman, (1995) C-415/93
 Id. at ¶ 99.
 Id. at ¶ 100.
 Id. at ¶
 TAS 2005/A/983 & 984, Club Atlético Peñarol v. Suarez et al
 See, Free Movement of Persons Switzerland – EU/EFTA, Swiss State Secretariat for Migration, https://www.bfm.admin.ch/bfm/en/home/themen/fza_schweiz-eu-efta.html.
 See, Agreement between the European Community and its Member States, of the one part, and the Swiss Confederation, of the other, on the free movement of persons [OJ L 114 of 30.4.2002].
 Id.; See also Bosman, (1995) C-415/93.
 Bosman, (1995) C-415/93 at ¶ 99.
 See Supra.
 See FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players Art. 18(2) “while the maximum length of a contract shall be five years. Contracts of any other length shall only be permitted if consistent with national laws.”
 Although, this single entity composition creates other possible problems for the league.
 Aside from the fact that Swiss and EU labor law principles should not apply.
 Although a re-entry draft may violate art. 18 bis of the FIFA RTSP.
Major League Soccer and FIFA’s Third Party Ownership Ban. What You Need to Know.
FIFA announced on December 22, 2014 that as of May 1, 2015, Third Party Ownership would be banned from professional soccer competitions. Unfortunately, for US soccer fans, by virtue of Major League Soccer’s single entity structure, the league itself may be a third party owner. The new global ban now has the potential to completely up-end the US’s top-level soccer league.
Third Party Ownership
Third Party Ownership is, in its simplest form, an agreement between a club, and an investment company to cover the initial cost of a transfer fee, in exchange for a percentage of a future transfer fee that the club may receive when the player is sold to a new club. This practice has become extremely prevalent in Argentina, Brazil, and Portugal, among others, because it allows clubs to add players to their roster that they could not otherwise afford.
Opponents of the practice argue that Third Party Ownership inflates player transfer market values. This in turn decreases the ability of clubs to field competitive squads while staying within their financial means.
Additionally, third party ownership agreements have the potential to take roster and transfer decisions away from clubs, which threatens the integrity of the sport.
Because of this, various leagues, including the English Premier League and the French Ligue 1 have banned Third Party Ownership outright. As well, FIFA instituted article 18bis of its Regulations on Status and Transfer of Players, which banned third parties from influencing roster and transfer decisions.
MLS Single Entity Organization.
Major League Soccer is a “single entity.” This means that all of the teams are technically subsidiaries of the league, and team “owners” are merely stockholders of MLS, who also act as managers of the business affairs of the individual franchises. Put simply, the clubs are local branches of a larger MLS business.
The purpose of the single entity structure is to avoid potential anti-trust lawsuits that other U.S. sports leagues were subject to in the past. Due to case law established in Copperweld Corp. v. Independence Tube Corp., an organization and its wholly owned subsidiary cannot violate Section 1 of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act because they are not separate economic entities and thus cannot enter into a conspiracy (or agreement) to restrain trade.
Sports leagues in the United States have had a special struggle with anti-trust law. Under Radovich v. National Football League, the U.S. Supreme Court held all sports leagues except Major League Baseball were subject to the Sherman Act. However, Mackey v. National Football League allowed leagues to avoid some Sherman Act scrutiny by bargain with players’ unions regarding roster and employment policy via the Sherman Act labor exemption. However, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Comm’n v. NFL determined that requiring a vote from other league clubs to approve a move by another club to a new city violated the Sherman act. As well, American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League determined that when leagues grant exclusive licensing deals with manufacturers to use logos and other intellectual property of the constituent clubs they violate the Sherman Act.
If a sports league were a single entity, under Copperweld, it could avoid those legal issues. From that, it is clear that Major League Soccer opted for a single-entity structure to give them more freedom in their ability to organize and regulate their league, and their commercial enterprises.
Single Entity and Player Ownership
Because of the MLS’s single entity structure and roster rules, the MLS is the bargaining unit for international transfers. The MLS negotiates the purchase and sale of players moving in and out of the league. The MLS is also the organization that cuts and cashes the checks when players move in and out of the league on a transfer fees. Therefore, the league owns the economic interest in the player instead of any individual club or franchise.
On December 22 2014, FIFA posted its proposed ban on third party ownership. The new regulation, 18ter, which came into effect On January 1, 2015 and comes into force on on May 1, 2015, states:
No club or player shall enter into an agreement with a third party whereby a third party is being entitled to participate, either in full or in part, in compensation payable in relation to the future transfer of a player from one club to another, or is being assigned any rights in relation to a future transfer or transfer compensation.
Under 18ter, a “third party” is “any party other than the two clubs transferring a player from one to another, or any previous club, with which the player has been registered.”
Application of 18ter to Major League Soccer
Two issues arise when applying 18ter to Major League Soccer: 1) is the league a third party owner, and 2) has it “entered into an agreement” with its franchises?
Per the definition of a “third party” under 18ter, Major League Soccer is neither 1) one of the two clubs transferring a player from one to another,” nor 2) “a previous club which the player has been registered.” It could be said that since the clubs are subsidiaries of the league, the league is technically all of the clubs. However, since the regulation specifically mentions clubs, and Major League Soccer is more than just a “club,” it most likely fits in the category of “any other party,” and therefore a third party owner.
Whether Major League Soccer enters into an agreement with its franchise subsidiaries when establishing its single entity structure is unclear. From a reading of Copperweld, it seems as though US case law states it is impossible for a parent company to enter into an agreement with its wholly owned subsidiaries. However, a FIFA DRC panel, or a CAS tribunal, not bound by US law, would determine whether an agreement existed. It could be found that the league roster rules, the CBA, and the general arrangement of the league is a de facto agreement between the clubs and their parent league to cede control of players movement into, out of, and within the league. This analysis would lead to a finding that the MLS league structure violates new article 18ter.
There is a possibility that Major League Soccer may change its league structure without the push of 18ter. There have been a few recent conflicts between clubs and the league over roster policies. Most notably, Chicago Fire’s lost its bid for US international Jermaine Jones due, at least in part, to MLS Allocation player rules. As well, LA Galaxy Manager Bruce Arena took issue with MLS’s negotiation strategy on a bid for Sasha Kljestan. As the MLS continues to grow, additional similar conflicts may cause Major League Soccer’s reconsideration of its roster and transfer policy, if not completely reconsider its single entity status.
Problems with the single entity ownership issue may begin upon the July 2015 MLS transfer window. As all international transfers must be registered via TMS and all rights holders to the players being transferred must be included, the MLS should be listed on the TMS international transfer. The system may not allow the transfer of registration to go through if the rights holder is not listed as the registering club.
If a TMS issue does not arise, a challenge to Major League Soccer’s Third party Ownership must come from a dispute involving a player or club, and Major League Soccer. 
Article 18ter is vague on the result of a finding of a third party owner stating only that “the FIFA Disciplinary Committee may impose disciplinary measures on clubs or players that do not observe the obligations set out in the article.” This is interesting, because it does not allow any punishment for leagues that allow the practice to continue. However, since the sanctioning language is broad, it could force MLS franchises to own the players rights themselves, and not defer them to MLS, should a case before the FIFA DRC or CAS go forward. As well, the wide discretion may allow Major League Soccer a pass as the DRC or CAS could find that no sanction is necessary as league ownership is not a practice that the regulation intended to abolish.
FIFA’s new article 18ter may put the MLS single entity structure in jeopardy. Unless either Major League Soccer changes how it organizes its control over player movement in and out of the league, or finds relief somewhere by FIFA or CAS, it may be forced to significantly alter its business model in the near future.
Additionally, if clubs are given more independence and begin to actually compete for players in the transfer market, single entity protection may unravel, causing additional legal headaches for the top-flight North American league.
 See FIFA’s press release on the matter: http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/administration/02/49/57/42/tpocircular1464_en_neutral.pdf
 18bis states “No club shall enter into a contract which enables any other party to that contract or any third party to acquire the ability to influence in employment and transfer-related matters its independence, its policies or the performance of its teams.” See FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, Art. 18bis(1).
 FIFA RTSP Article 18ter(1)
 Berry, Richard R.I.P. TPO: A Guide to FIFA’s Ban On Third Party Ownership, Law In Sport, http://www.lawinsport.com/articles/item/r-i-p-tpo-a-guide-to-fifa-s-ban-on-third-party-ownership#references
 Murray, Shane, After missing out on Jermaine Jones, Chicago Fire’s Frank Yallop not giving up on adding “top player,” http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/2014/08/28/after-missing-out-jermaine-jones-chicago-fires-frank-yallop-not-giving-addin
 Young, Jared, The MLS CBA: Unpacking Don Garber’s recent comments on single-entity, The Brotherly Game, http://www.brotherlygame.com/2014/9/24/6836267/the-mls-cba-unpacking-don-garbers-recent-comments-on-single-entity
 Note, however, that a challenge like that would only make it before FIFA and CAS if there was an international dimension, and that the FIFA DRC/CAS found that the MLS Grievance Procedure does not comply with FIFA’s dispute resolution standards.
 Additionally, under Fraser v. Major League Soccer the US First Circuit Federal Appeals Court felt that Major League Soccer may not be totally a single entity under Copperweld, however it also held that the fact MLS competes with other leagues in the US as well as abroad for labor, it was not an illegal monopolization of the labor market.