CFL labour dispute settled (almost)

The labour dispute that had put the 2014 CFL season start in doubt has been resolved. Many of the players aren’t happy with the deal, but it’s likely that the ratification vote will pass. Everyone — players, owners, fans — just wants to get down to the business of playing football.

CFL Labour Dispute

Why was this deal so contentious? Mainly because of the good news. The league is doing well, even expanding. Teams that were almost defunct a decade ago are starting to turn a profit again. And most significant of all, the league renewed its TV contract with an unbelievable 250% rise in revenues.

You can see the owners’ point of view in this. Yes, things are good now, but they’ve suffered through a lot to get here. Vast fortunes have been sunk into teams with little expectation of profit; now that there’s profit to be had, the owners are duly taking their share.

And it’s not like the good times are guaranteed to last. In five years, the picture could be entirely different. One failed team (or an expensive and unsuccessful expansion attempt) could put a huge hole in the league’s profitability. The CFL has teetered on the edge of disaster for a generation or more, and it will take a lot more profit for a lot longer before any owner can breathe easily.

Details on the deal

But the players aren’t wrong in thinking that they should see some of the pie. The salary cap and minimum salary have been inching up for years. They’re going to take a bump this year under the terms of the deal — from $45k to $50k on the minimum salary and from $4.4M to $5M on the cap — but then they go back to inching along. The league also met the players halfway on the ratification bonus, with senior players getting $7500 to sign and rookies getting $1500.

So while this year is good, there’s little guarantee that the players will see lasting benefits from the deal. And that’s where the biggest obstacle to the agreement lay. The players gave up revenue sharing in the last CBA. They wanted to get a share of the bucks if the CFL’s revenue had increased by $18M in three years; the league demanded a figure of $27M. When the CFLPA caved, the deal was struck.

Again, the league is protecting its owners at the cost of the players. They’re playing the long game. They know that losing an owner could be catastrophic for the league, and they’re willing to go to the mat to protect the teams’ profitability.

The players lose some ground in this deal, but at least if the league keeps building momentum, they’ll eventually be able to share in the spoils. And in the meantime, they’ve avoided a labour dispute that, for many underpaid CFLers, would have been very costly to them on a personal level.

The fact is, though, that the CFL balance of power tips firmly in favour of the league and the owners. Everyone knew that a strike would be costly to everyone, and no matter what the resolution, both players and teams would feel the effects of a strike for many years. If someone was going to blink, it was always going to be the players. They will ratify the deal today, make no mistake.

As CFL fans, we can just feel better knowing that the question is settled for the next few seasons, and we can look forward to Canadian football once again.


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