MLS to begin 2024 season with replacement referees

  • MLS to implement replacement referees for the first time in 10 years
  • Referees part of PSRA voted against the new Collective Bargaining Agreement
  • The lockout came just days before the new season begins
MLS will call on replacement refs in the 2024 season
MLS will call on replacement refs in the 2024 season / Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/GettyImages

The 2024 Major League Soccer campaign is set to begin with replacement referees despite the league reaching an initial agreement with the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) and the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

MLS revealed on February 17 that they had come to an agreement with PRO and PSRA's representatives in a new record-breaking deal for their referees, but that PRSA's membership decided to vote against the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Current referees make up the PRSA membership, meaning that referees themselves voted against what their representatives had agreed upon with MLS.

"Earlier this week, representatives of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO and Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) reached a landmark Collective Bargaining Agreement that included the largest compensation increase in PRO referee CBA history, representing a 25 percent overall increase over 2024 when comparing salaries, game fees, benefits, plus the addition of buisness class travel for certain matches," the league said in a statement.

"Despite having an agreement with PSRA's elected leadership, this morning PSRA's membership, which consists of match officials, voted down the Collective Bargaining Agreement. PRO has informed MLS that it is locking out the match officials as of 12:01 on February 18."

This is the first time since 2014 that MLS has had to use replacement referees, and the lockout has come at quite a time with the new season set to begin.

"We made meaningful progress during recent bargaining, agreeing to fair pay increases, and addressing many of the PSRA’s concerns with respect to non-economic items. This represented approximately a 25 percent overall increase over 2023 when comparing salary, retainers, game fees, and benefits plus the addition of business class travel for the MLS Cup Playoffs. The result of the membership vote is disappointing," PRO general manager Mark Geiger said in a release.

“The PSRA has rejected a no strike/no lockout proposal from PRO through the 2024 MLS Cup, which, along with their public strike authorization, has created significant risk as the 2024 season begins. We are left with no choice but to institute a lockout and use qualified non-bargaining unit officials so that games can go ahead as scheduled."

PRO's lockout isn't the only thing that's brought criticism to MLS in recent weeks. The league is in discussions about reducing the number of teams that participate in US Open Cup in 2024, the oldest soccer competition in the United States -- which many fans were unhappy about.

Additionally, MLS revealed minimal changes to this year's roster rules and regulations while keeping the same postseason format that was implemented last season, which were also met with discontentment from fans across the league.

"We are extremely disappointed that PRO and MLS have failed to reach a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the PSRA," the MLS Players Association said in a statement.

" ... The use of replacement referees will not only negatively impact the quality and results of our matches, it may also jeopardize the health and safety of our players. We urge PRO and MLS to return to to the table and bargain in good faith with PSRA to work towards a timely and fair agreement."

The 2024 MLS season begins on February 21 with Inter Miami playing host to Real Salt Lake at Chase Stadium.