With the collective bargaining agreement between the CFL and players’ association expiring on Thursday, just a few days before teams are supposed to open training camp for the 2014 season, the league and players’ representatives are meeting in Toronto today in a last ditch effort to hammer out a deal.
At this point, the odds of them succeeding don’t look good. Under the previous collective agreement, which was signed prior to the start of the 2010 season, the salary cap in 2013 was $4.4 million. The league has proposed bumping that to $4.8 million in 2014, with $100,000 increases for the remaining three years of another four-year CBA. The players’ association, meanwhile, has countered with a proposal that would increase the salary cap to $6.24 million for the 2014 season.
The players argue that for well over a decade now they’ve cooperated with the league in keeping their salary demands modest in recognition that many franchises were experiencing financial difficulties. Last fall, though, the CFL signed a lucrative TV deal with TSN that boosted revenues substantially. Attendance, corporate sponsorships and merchandise sales are also on the rise, and the players feel they deserve a share of the bounty. League commissioner Mark Cohen, though, has sounded a cautionary warning that even with the new TV deal the league’s financial health remains precarious and players should keep that in mind when pressing their contract demands.
Both sides are generally seen as having a degree of merit to their positions. Compared to other major professional sports leagues, the CFL salary structure is extremely modest. That’s especially true for lower echelon players, who earn a minimum salary of $45,000. At the same time, team owners in places like Toronto, Hamilton and B.C. have swallowed some pretty significant losses over the last decade or so and they are seen as deserving of some profit now.
You can read more on the negotiations in this TSN report. Leader-Post sports writer Rob Vanstone also had an interesting column today where he noted that while player salaries are tightly regulated, teams can spend with impunity in other areas related to management, coaching and whatnot. Vanstone asks quite rightly why those expenses aren’t regulated by the league as part of its drive to remain profitable.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders are the poster child for the disparity that exists between team revenues and player salaries. With its Grey Cup success in 2013, the Green & White earned revenue in the range of $35 million. Of that amount, roughly 11 per cent went to players. In league’s like the NHL and NBA that have revenue sharing, player salaries account for roughly 55 per cent of gross revenues. Of course, the Riders are the CFL’s flagship franchise. Other teams don’t earn anywhere near as much revenue.
Both sides recognize that a strike or lockout would not serve anyone’s interests. That’s especially true with the league trying to get its new Ottawa franchise off to a good start, Hamilton moving into a new stadium, and Winnipeg entering its second year in its new stadium after a forgettable 2013 campaign. As well, TSN, which lost access to NHL games when that league signed an exclusive deal with Rogers Sportsnet last fall, has a lot invested in the CFL and would suffer a big financial hit if the season doesn’t start on time.
So we’ll see what happens today in Toronto.