CFL commissioner Mark Cohon goes public on CBA talks, releasing letters to players and fans

Most of the news over the contentious collective bargaining agreement negotiationsof the last few months has been driven by the CFL Players' Association's various proposals, as the league has mostly stuck to their claim of not negotiating in public. That all changed Wednesday, with CFL commissioner Mark Cohon releasing both an open letter to players fully detailing the league's latest offer, an open letter to fans and a list of "CBA Myths And Facts." In the letter to fans, Cohon makes it clear just how the CFL views the current state of negotiations:

Today, we have directly communicated to CFL players the full details of our offer to them.

It is fair and reasonable. It would increase the average player salary by 12 per cent this season, to $92,917. It would increase the minimum player’s salary by 11 per cent this season, to $50,000. It would increase the salary cap by nine per cent this season from $4.4 million to $4.8 million per team. More increases would come over the life of an agreement.

Unfortunately, the union’s bargaining team has rejected this offer, and instead put forward an unrealistic proposal which, if adopted, would threaten the very existence of the CFL.

That's some very strong language. Why's the CFL coming in so hard here? Well, let's consult the letter to players, which outlines the league's latest proposal:

On May 15, 2014, we presented your Executive Committee with a full and comprehensive offer that unfortunately was rejected. We believe that this offer is fair and reasonable, and we want to share its details with you.

If ratified by the Players, the CFL offer would provide the following:

Financial Terms
• Increase the salary cap by 9% this season from $4,400,000 to $4,800,000 per team (and further increasing by $50,000 each year over the following five years to $5,050,000)
• Effectively increase the average player salary up to 12% this season from $82,904 to $92,917 (and further increasing over the following five years)
• Increase the minimum player salary by 11% this season from $45,000 to $50,000 (and further increasing to $55,000 over the following five years)
• A further increase to the salary cap of $100,000 per team if the CFL receives more television revenue from TSN under a renegotiated broadcast agreement for each remaining year on the CBA
• Maintain the $450,000 annual payment to the CFLPA for Player marketing and other rights

This has been a long and difficult process for all involved. And when it comes right down to it, we just want to play. So, we have also offered to pay a ratification bonus of $3,000 to veteran Players and $1,000 to rookie Players (on a team roster as at June 22, 2014) if this agreement is ratified on or before June 2, 2014.

Player Safety & Welfare
• Immediately add two players to each team’s Active Roster
• Immediately restrict the number of contact practices during the regular season
• Maintain 2013 CFL policy to restrict the number of contact practices during training camp
• Maintain all current Player pension, medical plan and life insurance benefits
• Maintain all CFL annual payments for Player counselling and rehabilitation support under the CFL-CFLPA Drug Policy

That letter to players also details the CFLPA's latest proposal and the CFL's response:

On May 20, 2014 your Executive Committee provided us with their financial proposal in response to our offer. The CFLPA’s financial proposal provides for a salary cap increase to $6.24 million in 2014, as well as approximately $240,000 per team per year in other monetary increases to pre and post-season compensation and pension plan contributions per year. From 2015 forward, significantly more would be added to salary cap based on a revenue sharing model.

We advised the CFLPA in no uncertain terms that their proposal was not realistic, and would not form the basis for any financial settlement. In fact, it would threaten the very existence of the CFL. We have obviously rejected the CFLPA proposal today in negotiations, and we have told your Executive Committee that we are prepared to meet in bargaining at any time once they are prepared to discuss a fair and reasonable settlement that makes sense for both the Players and the League.

The details on both sides here deserve much more detailed analysis, but the league's change in approach from secret to very public negotiations is fascinating in and of itself. This probably makes sense for the CFL, especially with the players' association making their case publicly (a large contrast from their previous approach before Scott Flory's election as president in March). It's also interesting that the league did this through a full release available to everyone rather than carefully orchestrated leaks to a few media members, which has been more of the CFLPA's approach; that's smart, especially when it comes to the court of public opinion, and the CFL's very much trying to wind up on top there. The CFLPA won't let them win easily, though, and they've already announced a press conference to update their side of the talks after Wednesday's meeting. These negotiations have become much more public, and that's a good thing; the money both sides are fighting over comes from fans, directly or indirectly, so letting them know where each side stands makes plenty of sense. It's a significant change in the CFL's tactics, but it seems like a positive one.