In its first test case, the CFL of 2019 looked a lot like the CFL of 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 … never mind. You get the picture and if you don’t, the players certainly do
In his first Grey Cup as the Canadian Football League’s commissioner, Randy Ambrosie announced a goal to double league revenues.
That was a year and a half ago. Since then, the CFL has launched a series of bold initiatives that, it believes, will lead to that brave new world Ambrosie imagines: A world where the money streams in from Europe and the Americas, a world with international TV contracts, a world where the rouge and unlimited motion are embraced for everything they represent.
And who knows? Maybe one day the old league will get there. But in its first test case, the CFL of 2019 looked a lot like the CFL of 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 … never mind. You get the picture and if you don’t, the players certainly do.
“I think we have to be realistic about what our expectations are,” Lions quarterback Mike Reilly said Tuesday as news of a potential agreement began leaking out. “You have to look at the big picture and understand what’s best for the league as a whole. This is a great league. It has longevity for reasons.”
And one of the main reasons is the players have always been compliant.
The first collective bargaining agreement of the Ambrosie administration was agreed to Wednesday and while neither side had announced official ratification at press time, it’s hard to believe the new deal won’t be accepted by both parties.
There was, in fact, much that was predictable about this entire process. The players talked a big game. They went to the bargaining table promising a fight. They took a strike vote. But, in the end, this was like one of those old-timey wrestling matches where you knew what the outcome would be going in, you just weren’t sure how they were going to get there.
True, the players association’s bargaining committee pried a couple of concessions from the league that made the entire package marginally palatable for the players. But when the overall salary cap is going up by less than one per cent annually over the deal’s three years, it’s hard to see this as anything but another loss for the union.
“I can tell you being in that room this yr (sic) we had to fight for everything,” the Als’ John Bowman, a member of the CFLPA’s bargaining committee, posted on Twitter.
Just makes you wonder what this deal would have looked like if they hadn’t fought so hard.
• In addition to the puny raise in the salary cap, the league’s minimum wage will be raised from $53,000 to $65,000 in the second year of the deal. That seems like a gain for the players but it will likely mean some veterans will have to take salary cuts in Year 2.
• The ratio remains unchanged and there will be seven Canadian starters per team. The new wrinkle is at least three import starters must have played three years with their team or four years in the league, which gives American veterans some cover. Canadian quarterbacks will also be part of the ratio and an extra spot will be reserved for an international player.
• Medical coverage for injured players has been extended to three years.
• There will be revenue sharing on a new TV deal and the CFL 2.0 initiatives.
As mentioned, the players didn’t come out of this empty-handed. While a number of American veterans were pushing for a change in the ratio — seven Canadian starters down to five — those veterans did did receive some protection. The extended health care, meanwhile, was the most important items on the players’ agenda.
That brings us to revenue sharing, and that’s where things get interesting. The CFL has never been forthcoming about the size of its business but it’s believed the league’s total revenue is about $210 million. Ambrosie, therefore, is looking to double that to — let’s do the math here — $420 million, which would be a remarkable achievement.
How much of that will go to the players is the next question. In 2018, the salary cap for each team was $5.2 million — multiply that by nine teams. If you accept the $210-million figure for overall league revenues, that means players salaries were 22 per cent of revenues.
By way of comparison, the NFL’s salary cap is just under 50 per cent of league revenues while MLB and the NHL are at 50 per cent.
Yes, there are other costs for the CFL, most notably long-term injuries, but the league’s players are still woefully behind their colleague’s in other sports.
Back in 2014, the players association asked for 35 per cent of revenues and settled for considerably less. This time, the league offered a 20-per-cent cut of a new TV deal and the revenue generated by Ambrosie’s CFL 2.0 project.
OK, 20 per cent of nothing is still nothing. But if TSN ponies up again when the current deal expires in 2021 and the league starts raking in some dough from the commissioner’s ambitious campaign, the players will benefit.
In their hearts, they always knew this was going to be a battle and they’d have to be content with any modest gains they could squeeze out of the league. It’s likely the bulk of the players aren’t content with this deal but, as Reilly said on Tuesday, “I don’t think there’s any confusion on our side.”
Disappointment, maybe. Confusion, no.
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