Historically, CFL players used a simple, three-step process to labour peace.
1. Hold nose and close eyes.
2. Open the peepers just enough to see the dotted line on the Collective Bargaining Agreement document.
3. Sign – and get the hell back to work before someone docks you a day’s pay.
Things have changed around the old league, and not just because, with Ottawa’s return this spring, it’s a nine-team loop again for the first time since 2005. Ottawa’s team-to-be-named-later, which became the Redblacks, paid $7 million for the privilege of being an “expansion” franchise (never mind that the club history dates back to 1876).
The size of the fee was indicative of a new, more prosperous CFL than the one some of us recall from the dire 1990s, when the league’s eastern teams took turns knocking on death’s door, before the Ottawa Rough Riders fell through that door in 1996.
At the time, round trip service to Mars would have seemed a more likely bet for the near future than the new, five-year TSN television contract that pumps an average of $42 million into CFL coffers each year. Ditto for plans to build new stadiums in Ottawa, Regina and Hamilton, to go with last year’s beautiful new facility in Winnipeg. Only Toronto is a bit of an orphan on the stadium/ownership front. This, too, shall pass.
Overall, attendance is strong, corporate sponsorship is growing, in step with a league that is light years more polished and professional than the one the Ottawa Renegades left in 2005.
So, when the CFL Players Association representatives sat down with commissioner Mark Cohon and friends Wednesday asking for a small piece of this juicy pie, good on ‘em. A concept of revenue sharing, with a salary cap tied to ongoing revenues, starting with a cap jump to $6.24 million from the current $4.4 million – or some number in between? Welcome to the way today’s North American sports leagues do business. Success is shared. Downturns, too. Leagues and players are partners.
There are other, smaller potatoes, on the table: Average player salaries, which the league has offered to boost to $92,917. An increase of the minimum salary to $50,000, up from the $45,000 (the players want the new minimum to jump by another $1,000 for each year of the new deal).
It’s easy to see where these issues can be settled with a small measure of compromise. The stickler is revenue sharing, which the players agreed to take off the table four years ago during the last negotiation, but are digging in on now.
As they should. Players have been labour pushovers for so long, the league must be shocked to see them acting all “uppity” this time around. While insisting it only wants a deal that’s “fair,” CFL management went behind the backs of the bargaining committee last week to pen an open letter to players and fans pleading its case. In that published letter, Cohon’s suggestion that revenue sharing would “threaten the very existence of the CFL” was over-the-top fear mongering.
Of course, I’d feel better about the players chances in this fight if their counsel, Ed Molstad, wasn’t the one who gave away revenue sharing in 2010, a fact that will surely steel the resolve of management types to bully their way around tying a cap to revenues.
I prefer the passion of CFLPA president Scott Flory who has to flee the “dark ages” of the CFL past, when players were dictated to, and a few teams were losing enough money to make them feel guilty for asking for more.
Those days are gone, replaced, in relative terms, by an age of affluence. The CFL and its ever-grinning commissioner are riding high and can imagine a future that includes a 10-team league, with a club on the east coast, all comfortably thriving on its lifeblood deal with TSN, plus likely gains in league-wide attendance and corporate sponsorships.
That Ottawa Redblacks tickets are flying off the shelves in the weeks leading up to the historic opener, in a city that has been without CFL football for 15 of the last 20 years, and drowned in misery the other five, speaks to the league renaissance.
Power to the players for wanting a fair share of present and future revenues. Shame about a possible training camp delay – especially for an Ottawa team trying to end nine years of inertia – but this resolution could be worth the labour pains.
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