TORONTO – The CFL and its players broke their silence on labour negotiations Wednesday with talks stalling just a week before the start of training camps.
In its first public statement on the negotiations, the league announced it had rejected a proposal from the CFL Players’ Association and unveiled details of the offer it made to players May 15. Commissioner Mark Cohon outlined the specifics by releasing two letters — one to players and another to fans.
Hours later, the players’ association called an impromptu news conference to outline the proposal it sent the league Tuesday. They had expected the offer to be the impetus for discussions the following day.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this,” CFLPA president Scott Flory said. “We had an agreement in place on a 24-hour ban on making statements to the media and they broke that here today. Again we are disappointed.
“Today appears to be, from our perspective, an orchestrated attack . . . we were a little shocked and feel a little bit ambushed about what happened today.”
Cohon defended the league’s decision to go public.
“If you look at our negotiations in 2010 and over the last several months to this point we absolutely have not spoken to the media and we’ve all been resolute about that,” Cohon said. “I think we got to a point in the negotiations where we put what we felt was a fair and reasonable offer in front of the players and players’ association and they rejected that offer and came back with something that was untenable and clearly not reflective of where we are as a league today and where we’re trying to get to.
“We had the opportunity and the legal right to go out and speak directly to the players and that’s exactly what we needed to do to clearly communicate to them that what we’re trying to do is put a fair and reasonable deal in front of the players.”
No new talks are scheduled. The current agreement expires at midnight ET on May 29 and training camps are scheduled to open June 1. The regular season is slated to kick off June 26.
There has been one players’ strike since the formation of the CFLPA in 1965. It came in ’74 and lasted three weeks during training camp before a three-year agreement was signed with no regular-season games lost.
At the root of the impasse is revenue sharing, with the players wanting it back in the new agreement after conceding it in the last deal, which was signed before the 2010 season. But Cohon was emphatic that the league won’t agree to revenue sharing.
“It might work for a league that has hundreds of millions of dollars in profit and billions of dollars in revenue to share,” said Cohon. “With our league it doesn’t work and that’s why we’ve put together a proposal that’s fair for the players. It increases the average salary from $82,000 to $93,000, increases the cap, increases the minimum salary by double digits and treats our players fairly and with the respect that they deserve.”
However, Ed Molstad, the CFLPA’s legal counsel, said the league can’t have a salary cap without revenue sharing in the overall equation.
“The PA proposal we’ve made is consistent with every other professional sports league in North America,” he said. “If you have a cap it’s tied to revenue . . . if the revenue goes down, the cap goes down. It’s as simple as that.
“They want to maintain the cap so we’re saying we have to find a way if you’re signing a contract for more than one year to ensure that it is fair as revenues go up or down that the players share in the success for failure.”
After decades of being on thin ice financially, the CFL is in a better financial position these days.
It has a new contract extension with athletic apparel giant Reebok. One of its teams (Winnipeg) moved into a new stadium last season and another (Hamilton) is scheduled to do so this year, the same time expansion Ottawa will return and play at a refurbished facility.
As attendance continues to rise and corporate sponsorships remain strong, the league’s lucrative five-year television agreement with TSN, reportedly worth an average of $42 million annually, kicks in this season.
That TV deal will reportedly net CFL teams an extra $2.7 million each this season.
In its latest offer, the CFL said it would boost the average player salary by 12 per cent this season to $92,917 with a further increase over the following five years. According to the CFLPA, the league average last year was $71,700.
Under the league proposal, the salary cap would increase by nine per cent from $4.4 million to $4.8 million per team while the average salary would go up $5,000 to $50,000 with a further increase to $55,000 over the following five years.
The salary cap would also rise by $100,000 per team if the CFL receives more television revenue from TSN under a renegotiated broadcast agreement for each remaining year of the collective bargaining agreement.
The league would also maintain the $450,000 annual payment to the CFLPA for player marketing and other rights. And if the deal is ratified on or before June 2, the CFL has offered to pay a ratification bonus of $3,000 to veteran players and $1,000 to rookies on a team roster by June 22.
Player safety details were also released by the league. In the CFL offer, two players would be added to each team’s active roster and the number of contact practices during the regular season would immediately be restricted.
The league would maintain its 2013 policy to restrict the number of contact practices during training camp. All current player pension, medical plan and life insurance benefits would be maintained along with the league’s annual payments for player counselling and rehabilitation support under the CFL-CFLPA Drug Policy.
The CFLPA’s proposal called for a $6.24-million cap, with a $5.84-million minimum. The ’15 cap would be determined from the gross average revenue of seven clubs — excluding the top and lowest-grossing franchises.
The proposal also requested 55 per cent of gross revenues from TV rights, pay TV rights, radio, Internet and any other form of broadcast or telecast of CFL games, 45 per cent of revenues from sponsorship and licensing and 40 per cent of tickets to pre-season and regular-season games, including the sale of luxury boxes, licenses and any other revenue related to the public attending at games.
The players’ demands also include:
— Increasing the minimum salary to $50,000 from $45,000 this year and $1,000 annual increases over the term of the deal.
— Increasing pre-season compensation to $600 a week for a one-year veteran, $800 a week for a two-year veteran and $1,000 a week for a player of three or more seasons.
— Players on first-place teams would earn $5,000 each as well as $5,000 for playing in a conference semifinal and $7,500 for participating in the division final. Also, the Grey Cup-winning share would increase from $16,000 to $20,000 and the finalists would earn $10,000, up from $8,000 last year.
— Clubs would contribute $5,000 to pensions with players contributing $4,000.
Molstad said the CFLPA has issued strike ballots to players on seven of the league’s nine teams — members of the Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders can’t vote to strike until after the CBA expires. But while the players could soon find themselves in a legal strike position, CFL owners would also have the right to lock them out.
But that’s something Cohon wouldn’t address.
“We want to talk about playing football so we’re going to do everything we can to try and play football,” he said. “Although the players are putting themselves in that position we hope they don’t do that because everyone gets hurt in that scenario.
“We owe it to our fans, we owe it to the role we play in this country not to lose any football. That’s mission critical for us. But we also owe it to this generation of fans and the next generation that we do the deal that’s smart for our league and that’s what we’re trying to do.”