View From Across the Pond – End of the Lock Out Sparks Free Agency Scramble.

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The lock out is over! Normally, the off-season is largely ignored over here in the UK, with our attention only grabbed by the Draft and the start of the pre-season games. However with my new role writing here and with the labour dispute dragging onwards, threatening my chance of seeing a game this fall, I have taken more than a passing interest in the events Stateside.

To gain a better insight and knowledge of the game, I have taken to following various sources on Twitter and when the lockout ended my time line was swamped. I have to say that I have very little knowledge of the real reasons for the dispute and have been baffled by both the situation and terminology used.

The idea in North American sports of collective bargaining is one of its real beauties. The constant strive to try to make the leagues a level playing field is something which keeps the game fascinating. From League wide endorsements, to drafts and salary caps, there is a constant desire for any team, in any league, be it football, basketball or baseball to have the opportunity to win a championship. There has never been anything like this in our sports an particularly in our most popular sport, soccer. Our Premier League, or EPL as it seems to be known internationally, is not run on a franchise basis. The only real collective agreement is the TV deal. Teams are unable to negotiate their own broadcast deals, and receive lump sums as well as TV appearance money and prize money based on their final league placing. All other deals are negotiated by each individual club, from shirt sponsorship, the supply of uniforms even down to “official” wines etc. The bigger clubs therefore gain the best deals and have the most money to spend on players and wages. In the 19 year history of the Premier League there have been just 4 clubs who have won the championship. The most successful are Manchester United, the richest club in the world owned by Tampa Bay’s Glazer family, who have won 12 titles. Chelsea bankrolled by a Russian billionaire oligarch have won three, all since his investment in 2004. A small town team, Blackburn Rovers have won it once, in the third season of the league, but were again bankrolled by a local steel magnate. Only Arsenal who have won 3 titles can have been said to have not “bought” their titles.

Since the lockout ended, most of the talk has surrounded the signing of players, particularly the Free Agents. Once again, I would say the majority of UK fans have very little knowledge of how Free Agency works. I can only compare it to how things work in soccer.

Free Agency in soccer was only truly introduced in 1995, following a case taken to the European Courts by a Belgian football Jean-Marc Bosman. Previously a club held the rights to a player until they cut him, or received a fee they wanted. They therefore had the power to keep a player even if they had no intention of playing him, reducing his contract accordingly. This was ruled as a restraint of trade and introduced free agency to soccer under what has become known as the “Bosman Ruling.”