MLS referees ratify new CBA with significant raises, could return to games this weekend


Members of the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) — the labor union that represents match officials in Major League Soccer — voted to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement on Monday night, according to multiple sources briefed on the vote. Those sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The ratification of the CBA brings an end to a month-long lockout that had seen MLS start its season with replacement referees. PSRA members could return to calling matches as soon as this coming weekend.

The PSRA did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Neither did the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) — the MLS-funded body that administers professional refereeing in the United States and Canada, with which the PSRA was negotiating.

The new agreement runs through the end of the 2030 season and contains sizable raises for referees and assistant referees as well as video assistant referees. The financial specifics of the deal are laid out in a term sheet acquired by The Athletic, one whose authenticity was verified by a source briefed on the contents of the new CBA.


Base pay

“Probationary referees,” officials who have less than two years of MLS experience, made around $50,000 in base pay under the previous CBA. In 2024, those referees will see a 68% increase in their salary, making $85,150. By the end of the agreement in 2030, that number rises to over $110,000.

MLS referee pay, new CBA

Match count Referee AR

Probationary

$85,150

$30,150

0-75

$125,650

$33,650

76-150

$131,150

$37,150

151-200

$137,150

$39,650

201-250

$142,150

$40,650

251-275

$147,150

$42,650

276-300

$155,150

$44,650

301+

$165,150

$45,650

MLS’s most experienced referees will also see a significant pay increase. A referee who has officiated 200 matches, for example, made around $108,000 under the terms of the previous agreement. That same referee’s pay will go up over $40,000 overnight, rising to $142,150 in 2024 and $182,470 by the end of the agreement.

MLS referee pay, percentage change

Match count Ref AR VAR AVAR

Probationary

68%

88%

N/A

N/A

25

32%

87%

147%

219%

125

28%

89%

77%

150%

225

32%

90%

106%

135%

325

53%

113%

133%

164%

MLS referee pay increase in dollars

Match count Ref AR VAR AVAR

Probationary

$34,502

$14,112

N/A

N/A

25

$30,545

$15,642

$4,555

$4,305

125

$28,729

$17,454

$3,667

$5,073

225

$34,101

$19,265

$5,067

$4,573

325

$57,101

$24,265

$6,367

$5,523

Assistant referees (ARs), who in 2023 made as little as about $16,000 in base pay, will receive an even larger percentage raise than referees. A full-time, non-probationary AR who has participated in 100 MLS matches, for example, will see their pay climb from $19,696 in 2023 to $37,150 this year. By the end of the agreement, an official with the same level of experience will make $49,684.

Match fees, travel and accommodation

Match officials are also paid a “match fee” in addition to their base pay. The PSRA made modest gains on that front. In 2024, for example, referees and assistant referees made $1350 per match they worked. That number has gone up to $1500; VARs and AVARs are seeing a similarly-sized increase, by percentage.

The agreement also provides referees with some measure of security: for the first time, MLS referees will be guaranteed a minimum of 15 match fees a year. The measure was installed to provide a safety blanket in case of injury — under the previous CBA, an injured referee would only be paid for the games they participated in; if they were injured early in the season, for example, and could not return, they’d miss out almost entirely on that income stream.

Regular season match pay

Role Old CBA New CBA

Referee / AR

$1,350.61

$1,500.00

VAR

$984.82

$1,100.00

AVAR

$450.20

$550.00

The PSRA had previously pushed for aggressive changes to travel and accommodations for its officials. Gains made there were modest at best, according to multiple sources briefed on the contents of the proposed CBA. Officials will fly first class for MLS’ “Decision Day” as well as the MLS playoffs and gained some small concessions in terms of scheduling flights for regular season matches.

What’s the background here?

PRO and the PSRA’s previous CBA, which had been in place since 2014, expired on Jan. 15 of this year. The sides had a tentative agreement in place in mid-February but PSRA’s membership overwhelmingly voted against the agreement, after which PRO locked them out.

In the weeks that followed the two sides engaged in federally-mediated negotiations that sometimes turned acrimonious, with both sides trading barbs in the media. Earlier this month, MLS commissioner Don Garber told The Athletic the league was “more than prepared” to use replacement refs for as long as needed, a comment that drew the ire of the PSRA, who accused Garber of using “anti-union tactics.”

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The lockout was a popular topic of discussion amongst MLS fans, especially on social media; Garber, though, said the league had done market research that indicated the issue was of little concern to the league’s consumers.

MLS executives also suggested that the standard achieved by the league’s replacement referees was largely on par with their full-time crews, something that both the PSRA and the Major League Soccer Players Association publicly pushed back on. Several coaches across the league had publicly raised concerns about the quality of the replacement refs in recent weeks.

MLS offered guidelines for broadcast talent on Apple TV, its largest media rights partner, suggesting to announcers and color commentators that viewers were uninterested in the labor dispute and instructing them not to “belabor” the point when it came to discussing it.

This was not the first time Major League Soccer used replacement referees: In 2014, MLS’ officials were locked out by the league for the first two weeks of its season before agreeing to the deal that will soon officially be replaced.

(Photo: Andrew Katsampes/ISI Photos/Getty Images)





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