The year was 2014; I was working my second summer training camp for Rutgers Football as a Student Equipment Manager. During my first year, I acted in a much more secondary role in assisting with practices but that changed during my second year as the seniors on staff graduated, leaving a significant leadership void behind. I ascended into a leadership role with the staff and was chosen by my boss to be on the travel squad with 5 other managers. Our first game was against Washington State University. Instead of playing in Spokane where Washington State is located, we were going to play them at Century Link Field, where the Seattle Seahawks play. I became greatly interested in the logistics surrounding the trip like where we were going to stay, how meals would be distributed, how were we getting there, and many other aspects. During the trip, I learned what the meaning of meal per diem was, which is essentially daily meal allowance. After the trip, it opened my interest up in the operations that surround the actual game itself. So, let’s take a look at how different leagues such as Major League Soccer (MLS), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Football League (NFL), and the National Basketball Association (NBA) distribute meal per diem to professional athletes and set travel standards for them through their Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs).
According to the NBA CBA, NBA teams, while on the road, are expected to put their best efforts forward to book first class hotels that feature extra long beds available. For the NBA specifically, it makes sense that teams search for hotels that have extra long beds for them. Imagine having Kevin Durant, who is listed at 6’9” but really is closer to 7ft tall, sleeping in a normal sized bed. That picture is pretty comical to think about. When on the road, each team has to provide an individual room for each NBA player. It is an important to note that specific designation because it is not guaranteed in every league’s CBA. For trips that take more than 1 hour, the NBA’s CBA dictates that teams are expected to provide first class accommodations for players when available. There are other machinations associated within section 2 of Article XVIII but the most important takeaway is that the NBA’s CBA does not require teams to travel on chartered flights. It would be laughable to see NBA players hanging out outside an airline gate waiting for their flight or better yet waiting in line to board their flight at an airport. While I imagine most NBA teams do in fact travel charter because it is easier for logistical reasons, it is rather odd to see that chartered flights aren’t required especially with the NBA having occasional back-to-back games for teams. This situation normally requires travel after games when no commercial flights are taking off, so the idea of not flying charter in that case is just not feasible. While working at Rutgers Football, we always flew on chartered planes, so seeing that the NBA’s CBA doesn’t require chartered flights for teams is truly surprising. Regarding meal money, the CBA explicitly states the meal expense allowance for the 2017-2018 was $129 per day. Further, the CBA dictates provisions that pertain to partial meal allowances so players get money for meals that are needed when on the road and is specified on a time basis.
According to the MLS CBA, the MLS provides a list of approved hotels for teams to choose from when they travel to different cities. If costs at a hotel rise by more than 7.5% in a given year, then the MLS may remove the hotel from the list and propose a good faith substitute that the Players Union can object to if it isn’t done in good faith. Further, the CBA specifies that there should be no more than 2 players in a standard hotel room. For international travel, there should not be more than 2 players per bedroom when teams have to lodge in apartments instead of hotels. Players in the MLS actually have the ability to collect awards/points when available during their travel from both hotel and air travel as it is explicitly stated in their CBA. This fact was rather interesting to discover because no of the other leagues that I looked at (MLB, NBA, and NFL) mention this in their league’s CBA. Maybe, this has to more to do with the financial situation surrounding other leagues, where players in other leagues make more money and are therefore less worried about that stuff than MLS players. Regarding team travel, the MLS’s CBA specifies if the distance between the airports of the two cities is more than 250 miles, then travel must be by air and on commercial carriers that are within reason. Further, the CBA dictates that teams are not required to travel by charter flights but there are other specifications regarding air travel. When traveling commercial, teams should undergo their best efforts to book direct flights that do not have a connection. Further, players should be placed in window or aisle seats. When comparing the travel regulations to the NBA specifically, it is interesting to see the more specific language associated with the MLS compared to the NBA in regards to commercial travel guidelines, perhaps pointing to the fact that NBA teams hardly if ever travel by commercial airlines. From the amount of detail in the MLS CBA, it certainly appears that commercial airline travel is far more prevalent and common in the MLS than in the NBA despite both leagues not requiring chartered flying. Regarding meal allowances (per diem) for players, the CBA for the MLS specifies that teams can substitute group meals for meal allowances. If teams don’t opt to do that, then teams are required to give players $94 ($22 for breakfast; $31 for lunch; $41 for dinner) for meal allowance expenses. Further, players are also given $20 per day on trips for incidental expenses. The CBA also dictates partial meal allowance guidelines. In regards to some provisions related to travel expenses, it is apparent that the MLS in relation to the more prevalent leagues like the MLB, NBA, and NFL does not have the money that those leagues do as exhibited by the travel regulations, travel points language, and room assignments, where MLS players aren’t guaranteed their own single room.
According to the MLB CBA, MLB players, who are on the baseball club’s active list that includes disabled players who travel, shall get a single room in the hotel when the club is on the road. The CBA dictates that the hotels that a club plans to stay at for the next season must be submitted before December 1 to the Player’s Representative and Association. This process is similar to what the MLS does where both sides of the CBA must agree to the hotels that players will be staying at. Regarding air travel, the MLB CBA, like both the NBA and MLS CBAs, does not require chartered air travel. In regards to commercial air travel, the MLB CBA dictates that players should be placed in first class seats. When those seats aren’t available on a flight, clubs should provide three seats for two players. Further, those players placed in coach will also be provided a first class meal. Lastly regarding air travel, clubs are expected to provide first class travel for players who are reporting for spring training duties. This last part was the most surprising part of the MLB CBA related to travel expenses, where I didn’t know that clubs took care of travel expenses for spring training as well. In season meal allowances for the MLB are much more general than other leagues as the CBA states, “the daily allowance will not be reduced below $92.50” during the terms of the agreement. It is interesting to note that this figure is lower than the MLS’s meal allowance figure. Maybe the language within the MLB’s CBA indicates a greater figure than that will be provided given the market but I just found it interesting that the MLS’s meal allowance number was slightly higher than the MLB’s number.
The NFL’s CBA is probably the least thorough CBA in regards to meal allowance, travel, and hotel regulations. The NFL’s CBA only addresses meal allowance. This fact actually really surprises me because the NFL’s CBA addresses a very wide variety of issues, some that other leagues don’t address that much or even at all. I would imagine that the reason the NFL’s CBA does not cover travel expenses and regulations is because all teams are expected to and do travel by chartered flights. As someone who has experienced Power 5 travel, it is almost unfathomable to think that NFL teams do not charter because of the sheer amount of individuals that have to travel. For the NFL, there are 52 players that travel for NFL teams and that hasn’t even included the coaches and support staffers, so the idea teams fly commercial is ridiculous so that might explain its absence from the NFL’s CBA. Nonetheless, the NFL allocates $122 per day ($28 for breakfast, $38 for lunch, $56 for dinner) for meal allowances to players. The NFL’s CBA also covers partial day meal allowances and how that is calculated. The NFL’s CBA does not actually address hotel arraignments either and maybe that is due to individual’s teams needs in looking for hotels, where some might want just a hotel with a lot of rooms while others might want a hotel with a conference center so they can have meetings the day before and the day of the game.