CFL goes nuclear, saying CFLPA proposal ‘would threaten the very existence’ of the league

The CFL's decision Wednesday to make its CBA negotiation position public was a dramatic change for the league, which has typically refused to publicly discuss negotiations. What's fascinating is not just the league's decision to reveal both their proposal and elements of the CFLPA's counteroffer, but also the language they used, saying that the union's proposal "would threaten the very existence of the CFL." It's no secret that negotiations haven't been going well, as the philosophical impasse between the sides from months ago is still at the heart of the divide. However, the league chose to take drastic action Wednesday; their decision to do so, the language they used and the details of the respective proposals demonstrate just how far apart the CFL and the CFLPA are, and that makes it extremely likely that we could see missed camps, preseason games and perhaps even regular-season games.

What exactly is the CFL proposing here? Well, most crucially, they want to keep a salary cap that's a flat number each year, not one tied to revenues as the CFLPA favours. The proposal the league issued publicly Wednesday is also quite similar to the one players leaked as the league position last week. While the new proposal includes an immediate cap increase of $400,000 to $4,800,000 per team rather than the more initial modest increase of $100,000 suggested last week, the final numbers are similar thanks to more gradual increases later on. The league's new proposal would have a cap of $5,050,000 in 2020, while last week's was $4,900,000 that year (increasing to $5,000,000 in 2021, a year not covered in the new proposal.) Both are a long ways from the $6.24 million number the players have proposed in year one, but that number isn't a firm one; it's based on a calculation of league revenues.

One of those revenues, and one of the main reasons this fight has escalated so much, is the new television deal, which some have reported could be worth up to $40 million this year. That's expected to be an increase of $2.7 million per team. Even presuming that number doesn't rise over the course of that TV deal (unlikely, as most have escalators improving their payout in later years), here's what that per-team increase in revenue (solely from TV, not considering ticket/sponsorship/merchandise/other revenues) would look like as compared to the per-team salary cap increases the league is proposing and the raw increase the CFLPA proposed for 2014:

There are several caveats with that, of course. First, these are all increases, not totals. Also, each year of the CFL increase is presented as an increase over 2013, not an increase over the previous year. (For example, the league-proposed cap would rise to $4,850,000 in 2015, which is $450,000 over 2013, but only $50,000 over 2014.) Numbers are only available for the players' 2014 proposal and for what the TV deal is this year, and both would be likely to increase over time. Moreover, the players' central position isn't about a fixed number, but rather a share of revenues; the increase they're proposing this year is just included to give a sense of what they're asking for. (It also is the raw cap, and not the extra money they want in postseason/Grey Cup bonuses, which the league estimates at $240,000 per team per year.) This is only one revenue stream for the league, too, and doesn't include gate revenues, sponsorship money, merchandise sales, Grey Cup revenue or anything else. Furthermore, this is revenues, not profits; league costs aren't included here, and those can be significant.

Still, both Edmonton and Winnipeg reported substantial profits this year, and that's before new TV money kicks in. There certainly are major costs for some of the CFL clubs around their new stadiums, especially for the Blue Bombers, and the league and the players' association are definitely a ways apart on where they want to be. It's interesting that the league-proposed salary cap increases are so far below what each team is expecting to make from new TV money alone, though. In order for the players' proposal to actually "threaten the very existence of this league," the league's costs would have to rise dramatically. While there are definitely costs these teams are facing, it's up for debate if they're significant enough to offset the massive new TV money they're getting.

It's even more notable than the numbers that the league has taken this fight to the public, though. That's a crossing-the-Rubicon move, one that changes the situation in such a way that there's no going back. It's hard to see the two sides returning to civil negotiations quickly, especially considering that they're still so far apart on the philosophical issue of a revenue-tied cap. The players are also awfully angry about how the league handled this, and that could push them even further towards voting in favour of a strike. The CFL's crossed a line with this move, taking the CBA discussions public and hoping that public pressure and/or pressure from the CFLPA membership will cause the union negotiation committee to back down; now we wait and see if that we'll happen. Alea iacta est indeed.