The ongoing collective bargaining dispute between the CFL and the CFL Players' Association heated up substantially last week, with the league going public with their proposal in controversial fashion, the players following suit and threatening a strike, and both sides tradingplenty of strongly-worded jabs. While the players have an impressive bargaining position this time around, the league's decision to go public first (which the CFLPA called "an orchestrated attack") helped make their initial releases (an open letter to players, an open letter to fans and a list of "myths and facts") more orchestrated than the CFLPA's initial ones, which were essentially just their latest proposal and a quickly-constructed letter to fans. The union's now had some time to dissect the league's various initial releases, and they released a follow-up response to those Sunday, which included lots of shots at the CFL's claims. You can download it here:
CFLPA president Scott Flory starts this off in very interesting fashion, strongly going after the league's initial communications approach but also saying the players are ready to get back to negotiating secretly:
In spite of the League ambushing the PA Executive and strategically breaking the trust of our media agreement during our last attempt to negotiate a new deal on Wednesday May 21st, the CFLPA Executive Negotiation Committee have utilized our time wisely and are now anxious to get back behind closed doors to negotiate in good faith, a deal that will get both parties a fair and equitable CBA that will stand for many years to come.
Beyond that, Flory takes particular issue with some of the league's claims, pointing out that CFL commissioner Mark Cohon boasted about six of the eight teams being financially healthy at the 2012 Grey Cup. Interestingly enough, the problematic franchises there were likely Hamilton and Toronto, and the Tiger-Cats are opening a new stadium this year that should dramatically increase their revenues, while the Argos have the groundwork laid for an eventual move to BMO Field that should also make them much more financially viable. The new team in Ottawa also should be profitable quickly, meaning that there are far less likely to be teams losing large amounts each year, especially with a new TV deal that's giving each team at least a $2.7 million increase per year. So, the CFLPA is suggesting that the CFL's claim that "All of our teams are not profitable. Where the profits are, they're modest." isn't quite accurate, and that may be the case, especially with this new TV deal on the way.
Another notable element in Flory's statement is near the end, where he says "Our proposal provides for a salary cap of 35% of revenues. This percentage is based on a league wide average that excludes the high and low teams as outlined in the 2013 financial statements provided by the CFL. This does not include the new TSN TV revenue!!!!" Despite the multiple exclamation marks (criticized by Terry Pratchett and others), that's a very interesting comment; the CFLPA's Wednesday statement didn't have that number, but rather talked about using a formula for post-2014 years giving players 55 per cent of TV/radio/broadcast rights, 45 per cent of sponsorship/licensing fees and 40 per cent of ticket revenue (with all other revenues going to the clubs).
It's not clear if those percentages add up to 35 per cent of the league's overall revenues, or if the $6.24 million figure the union proposed for 2014 is the 35 per cent mark. Regardless, 35 per cent seems like an extremely low number to ask for, considering that the NHL/NHLPA split is 50 per cent of revenues, the NFLPA gets 47 per cent of the NFL's revenues and the NBAPA gets 49 to 51 per cent of NBA revenues. It could be that those other agreements don't include elements of league revenue that the CFLPA is including here, but still, playing up 35 per cent as their bargaining position makes a lot of sense for the players.
This won't necessarily break the key philosophical barrier on whether the cap should be fixed (the CFL's position) or a percentage of revenues (the union's position). However, ffering a percentage that seems so low might provide incentive for the league to consider that system (despite their claims that it "would threaten the very existence of the CFL." At the very least, it could help sway popular support towards the union. Given how important players are to the game, it doesn't seem particularly easy to make a case against them deserving at least 35 per cent of the revenues.
It's also a bit surprising that the players want to exclude the high and low teams each year. For that to make logical sense as a position for them, Toronto must be further behind the next-lowest team in revenues than Saskatchewan is ahead of the next-highest team. That wouldn't necessarily be an intuitive conclusion, but they're the ones seeing the financial statements; that might indicate that the Argonauts are in more off-field trouble than is typically thought. Also on that front, the players are talking about pushing for the league to share more revenues amongst its teams. That would go over very well in Toronto and some of the other poorer markets and not so well in Saskatchewan. The CFL hasn't generally been big on this, though, preferring teams to stand alone except for shared national revenues.
Will this latest move from the players lead to much in the end? Not necessarily. The CFL has thus far refused to even consider a proposal that includes a percentage of revenues, and the CFLPA clearly isn't moving away from that, so the crucial philosophical divide at the heart of these negotiations is still in place. It is interesting that the union wants to get back to the bargaining table and wants to resume talks behind closed doors, though. That may be a PR play to show eagerness, but at least it's something. Still, for the moment at least, it seems highly likely that a strike vote will proceed, and unless the union starts to fall apart, that vote's going to succeed. Thus, for the moment, we're still unlikely to see veteran players at camps or in preseason games. That could change, though, and the CFLPA has at least shown a willingness to get back to the table and a proposal that could theoretically keep the league doing well (if they can get past their philosophical opposition to revenue percentages instead of a flat cap).