Were games without fans in the stands ever a viable option for the CFL?
That’s the question some have pessimistically asked themselves following the news that the CFL has put forth a proposal to the league’s Players’ Association asking them to take a 20 percent salary cut for so long as fans aren’t allowed inside stadiums.
Some have assessed the move as a bald-faced PR move by the league, an attempt to scapegoat players when the inevitable announcement of a shortened season comes, but TSN insider Dave Naylor, who broke the news late Tuesday night, doesn’t believe that was the case.
“I think the owners were prepared to just come out and say, ‘We’re not playing without fans in the stands.’ I don’t think they necessarily needed the players to reject a 20 percent pay cut offer,” Naylor said on CJME 980’s The Green Zone.
“You could argue that given a lot of criticism the teams are taking in the social media world, that if this was a PR strategy, it wasn’t a very good one because they’re not exactly winning the day on Twitter.”
Naylor insists that even if players agree to the full 20 percent reduction, the league has issued no guarantees it will produce a full season. The cuts would simply allow some financial wiggle room to make the bitter pill of empty stadiums easier to swallow, but players aren’t likely to agree easily.
Social media was aflame Wednesday as players decried their treatment by the league, being asked to reduce their salary further after many took massive reductions this offseason as teams colluded to spend only to the salary cap floor.
The first blush reaction was overwhelmingly negative but Naylor believes that is softening as players grasp what is really being asked.
“I think it remains a lead balloon. I think it’s a balloon that’s lightening over the course of the day as players realize that they’re not necessarily being asked to take a 20 percent pay cut over the course of the season, it would be a 20 percent pay cut for any games played in an empty stadium,” he explained.
Once fans return to stadiums, that cut to weekly pay would reduce accordingly and once a threshold of fans capacity is reached, full pay would be restored. The exact figures remain a mystery but Naylor believes full salary would be awarded at well under full capacity and a full 20 percent cut would only occur in the worst case scenario of an 18-game season without any fans at any point.
While a full season appears to hinge on the players’ willingness to absorb more pain, Naylor does feel strongly that football will be played in 2021.
“You’ve had two team presidents that have gone out in public and come as close to a guarantee about playing in some form this season as is possible,” Naylor said, referencing Ottawa’s Mark Goudie and Hamilton’s Scott Mitchell.
“I don’t think either of those guys would have stuck their necks out on the record and said we’re playing unless they were very sure.”
With that said, the situation remains precarious and the league’s ongoing talks with the XFL remain the potential key to the league’s future.
“Getting back on the field in 2021, even if they play a full season, even if there is fans in the stands, will not cure the ills that have been bestowed upon this league by the pandemic,” Naylor emphasized.
“I’ve actually said I’m more worried about 2022 than I am about 2021 and that’s where the XFL comes in.”
Players just want to know if the Rock will be breaking out the cheque book for them as well.