Wednesday saw the CFL take a drastic step in collective bargaining agreement negotiations, making its CBA proposal public, writing a letter to all players and blasting the CFL Players' Association's proposal. The CFLPA followed by going public with their own proposal, but called the league's actions an "orchestrated attack." In an exclusive interview with Yahoo Canada Wednesday, CFL president and chief operating officer Michael Copeland explained why the league elected to change their strategy of keeping negotiations private and what they hope to achieve by publicly appealing to all players and fans.
"Today was about us speaking to the players and speaking to the public to show our side," Copeland said.
The letter the league sent to players (and posted on its website) has been seen as an attempt to divide the union by going over the head of the CFLPA negotiating committee by some, but Copeland said it was necessary given the CFLPA's insistence on revenue-sharing.
"The CFLPA proposal would threaten the viability of our league," he said. "We didn't feel that message was being heard. We think it's important for our fans to hear as well."
He said the league wanted to give all players their proposal, not just the negotiating committee.
"We were of the belief all the players needed to understand our side of the story."
Copeland has been one of the lead negotiators in the CBA talks on the CFL side. He said the CBA talks weren't going anywhere given the two sides' demands for different cap systems, which compelled the league to take a different approach.
"We need some help on the other side if we're going to get a deal done," Copeland said. "We don't have a meeting of the minds on what this league should be."
He said the league respects the CFLPA negotiating committee, but the two sides haven't been able to make progress on key issues.
"We have a respect for the individuals on the other side of the table; there is a professional respect," Copeland said. "There are some very difficult issues we're trying to work through."
Copeland said the league wants to increase player compensation, but not under a revenue-sharing model.
"That doesn't fit with the realities of our business," he said. "Revenue-sharing makes thin margins even thinner."
Copeland said the league's central problem with revenue-sharing is that it doesn't account for what teams are spending, only what they're making.
"A model based on gross revenue ignores costs," he said. "If you're basing player compensation only on revenue, you're ignoring the realities of our business."
An alternative there would be a profit-sharing system, which would consider the bottom line, but Copeland said that hasn't come up and is unlikely to.
"I'm quite certain the players would not be interested in a profit-sharing system, because they would be worse off," he said. "All of our teams are not profitable. Where the profits are, they're modest."
That's at least somewhat debatable, considering that Winnipeg and Edmonton (two of the only three clubs that release their financial statements to the public, and the only ones that have done so thus far this year) made $2.0 and $1.6 million in 2013 respectively despite disastrous on-field seasons, and that each team is expected to make at least an extra $2.7 million this year and beyond from the new television deal. However, Copeland said although the league has had some financial successes recently, that doesn't mean things are always going to be good.
"This business is cyclical," Copeland said. "Our teams can have good years and lean years."
Copeland said a revenue-sharing cap also would hurt the incentive for teams to invest in upgrading their stadiums and enhancing the fan experience, as a stadium upgrade in one city could bring in more revenue, resulting in a higher cap (and floor) that teams in other cities then need to hit.
"Should Hamilton's costs go up by Montreal investing in their own business?" he asked. "Our clubs need to be positive, they need to improve the fan experience. Investments need to be made."
Copeland said any solution has to work for all of the league's teams, too, as they experience vastly different levels of financial success.
"Let's make something that makes sense for all our teams," he said. "I think that system is a fixed-cap system."