How the low Canadian dollar could play a role in CFL free agency

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REGINA – You might be feeling the poor exchange rate in your wallet if you’re planning a U.S. vacation, but it’s hitting professional sports too.

Unlike hockey, where Canadian NHL teams are hurt by earning revenues in Canadian dollars but paying players in the stronger American currency, the Canadian Football League pays its players in Canadian dollars.

Instead of teams taking a big it, it’s half the league’s players, who hail from the United States.

“You’re getting dinged twice.” – Former CFLer Belton Johnson

In Al Ford’s time running the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a U.S.-born player wasn’t coming to the CFL for the payday.

“Then they convert it to American dollars, and that’s when the shock hit,” he said.

Ford went through some down times for the loonie as the team’s general manager through the 1990s, when it dropped to just 63 cents against the greenback.

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Al Ford went through some down times for the loonie as the Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager through the 1990s,
Al Ford went through some down times for the loonie as the Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager through the 1990s,. Derek Putz / Global News

It was a reality check, Ford says, for a young player taking home roughly $40,000 and trying to make it last south of the border.

“Usually, during the off-season, they’d run out of money and come back (to renegotiate),” Ford joked.

In a player’s second season, however, contract talks were different.

“That had done some figuring out of what they’re worth in U.S. dollars … and would flip that over to Canadian dollars. That’s where they’d start negotiations.”

Free agency impact

As CFL free agency approaches in 2016 with the loonie trading at $0.70 USD, it could be a similar story.

Next season’s league minimum of $52,000, as an example, is really just under $37,000 American – and that’s before taxes.

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regina-cfl-salaries“So you’re getting dinged twice,” said Belton Johnson, a six-year CFL offensive tackle who retired in 2012. “I feel bad for the young guys right now.”

Johnson, who grew up in Mississippi and now makes Regina home, played through some of the Canadian dollar’s better times in the late 2000s – even cashing in some his salary at a modern-day high of $1.10 USD.

He┬ásays the dollar’s value comes up often in CFL locker rooms.

“Your agent, he’s gotta do his homework. He would have to know, ‘My guy is getting paid in Canadian.’ You’ve gotta know the exchange rate.”

But with the poor performance of the Canadian dollar today, he believes some Americans might think twice about heading north.

“You’ve got bills back home. ‘I could go work for such-and-such company and make more than that?’ I think it would affect (decisions) at some point,” Johnson said.

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“It’s even tough now trying to figure out whether to go on holidays, and I live here in Canada.”