Sounders FC owner Joe Roth: work stoppage could kill MLS
Sounders FC majority owner Joe Roth doesn't see the current labor dispute in Major League Soccer ending well, especially if the players union follows through with its plans to strike if a new collective-bargaining agreement isn't reached before the start of the season next week.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Joe Roth has seen this all before.
The Sounders FC majority owner has been involved with numerous labor disagreements in more than 30 years as a Hollywood executive.
None of them ended well.
Roth doesn't see the current labor dispute in Major League Soccer ending well, either, especially if the players union follows through with its plans to strike if a new collective-bargaining agreement isn't reached before the start of the season next week.
In fact, Roth said, a strike could ultimately bring the death of the league.
"From an entertainment standpoint, we haven't made enough of an imprint in the national psyche," Roth said. "We're all jaundiced because we're in Seattle, where it's a big deal. But I don't think there will be a national outcry, like with the NFL, if somehow we weren't out there for a year ... I just don't think that we can afford, in terms of the public eye, to take a year off."
Roth compared the clash between MLS ownership and players union with that of the Hollywood studios and the Writers Guild of America, which resulted in a writers strike from Nov. 2007 to Feb. 2008.
No one benefited, he said. Everyone suffered.
Roth, who produced the recent movie "Alice in Wonderland," also disparaged the potential timing of a strike. Not only is the World Cup this summer, which always focuses more attention to the sport, but a fragile economy might result in little sympathy for professional athletes.
"The part of it that's infuriating is the threat of a strike comes at a time in the country where everybody's taking a haircut," Roth said.
Destructive and misguided. Those are a couple of adjectives Roth used to describe a potential strike. A work stoppage, he said, would further ruin the players' relationship with league owners, who have invested, and lost, millions of dollars in MLS.
"What happens if they strike? A strike happens, and then what happens?" Roth said. "What happens then? The issues don't get any clearer. People don't change their minds. The sides don't change. Then it just becomes someone waiting someone out.
"I have been on both sides of these things. I think I'd have a hard time waiting out a billionaire. I just don't see how it profits anybody, a work stoppage. Again, it will leave a bad taste (in the mouths) of the only people that really matter ... the fans."
Roth said he doesn't think the players fully understand the league's economic situation, or choose not to accept it. Only a couple MLS franchises make money, Seattle and Toronto. Coupled with low television ratings and sagging attendance, he said it is hardly the time to radically reform the league's structure.
"They are way ahead of the reality," Roth said of the players.
But that doesn't mean the players don't have cause to demand some changes. Roth said, with the help of a mediator, many compromises have been made in "lifestyle issues."
Further changes need to occur incrementally and be worked out at the negotiating table, according to Roth. And concessions will have to be made by both sides to avoid a work stoppage.
'We're going to either all go down the road together, or we're all going to say, 'What a missed opportunity' and get on with life," Roth said.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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