My first reaction to the new CBA was that it wasn’t great for players but like all snap hot takes, it suffered from a lack of information and measured analysis. There’s still plenty about this deal I don’t like but after learning more about it and talking to some people around the league, I feel like I understand it better. And yes, I like it more.
There is a tendency, I think, to look for significant, easy-to-quantify gains in these agreements and this proposed CBA is light on those for the players. The salary cap is going up by $50,000 each season, which is less than one per cent a year. The minimum salary will increase but not until year two and three of the deal and it won’t reach the $70,000 figure that was initially floated. There is no ratification bonus.
Some American players have responded angrily to this deal both publicly and in private and it’s not hard to see why. While there are some protections included in the agreement for veteran internationals, the ratio remains the same. U.S. born players have often felt short-changed by a union that’s traditionally been dominated by Canadians and this likely feels like more of the same, the big boy Canucks protecting their own.
There are gains for players, however. Health benefits for injured players will be extended to two years from the date of injury this season and then to three years for 2020 and 2021. That was a stated goal of the union and a real cost to the league. That money could have gone into the salary cap: instead, it will take care of the union’s most vulnerable members. That’s something. So are open work permits, which will also cost the teams money and give American players a real opportunity to supplement their income and build a life in this country if they want to. I really hope they do.
The real gains for players, if there are any, will come if and when the league generates new revenue. The agreement calls for 20 per cent of any new money from TV deals and CFL 2.0 to be added to the salary cap the following season. Yes, that’s over and above the reported $40 million a season the league is getting from TSN. But it’s also the reintroduction of revenue sharing, something the players gave away more than a decade ago to get small increases in the cap.
According to a source I trust, the league told the players that six of the nine teams lost money last season and provided enough information to back up the claim that the CFLPA believed them. We know those teams are Saskatchewan, Edmonton and Winnipeg because their information is publicly available. I have my suspicions about the CFL’s poverty claims, if only because I have a hard time believing Ottawa and Hamilton lost money. But even if it’s five of nine, those still aren’t great numbers.
The CFLPA went into this negotiation saying it wanted to be real partners with the league, to share in the vision. And the CFL actually seems willing, to a certain extent, to do that. But reaping the benefits of growth also means sharing in the risks and things aren’t particularly great right now: teams are losing money, attendance and ratings are flat, the TV landscape is changing rapidly and the international gambit is a big question mark.
What this new deal does is split up the existing pie a little differently among the players: the minimum salary goes up, there’s a rookie salary cap and some protection for American vets. The new global players will make the minimum and won’t count against the cap: CFL 2.0 doesn’t cost the players anything (except maybe playing time) and they could benefit if Randy Ambrosie is able to pull a conejo out of his Sombrero. But for the players to make real gains, the CFL has to make real gains.
It’s a long-term play and while there are some immediate benefits, a fair number of players could well be gone if and when this deal pays off – if it pays off at all. The lack of a clear, definitive win can feel like a loss.
Which doesn’t mean it is. Labour negotiations aren’t binary like football games: the wins and loses, such as they are, are more nuanced. For union members looking for an easy victory, that may feel like a disappointment. In this case, only the league’s success can make everyone a winner.