Sports

CFL, CFLPA head into crucial meeting

BC Lions quarterback Travis Lulay winds up for a throw in last year
BC Lions quarterback Travis Lulay winds up for a throw in last year's Western Semi-Final against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
— image credit: The Canadian Press/Liam Richards

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - The two sides in the CFL labour negotiations return to the table Wednesday in a pivotal round of talks that could determine whether training camps open on time this weekend.

The league and CFL Players' Association haven't met since talks broke down last Wednesday when the CFL rejected a union proposal, then publicly revealed details of its last offer in separate letters to players and fans. Training camps are slated to open Sunday.

"We're going to wait to get in that room Wednesday to see how it goes before any determination is made," CFLPA president Scott Flory said when asked if he expected players to report to camp. "We've had internal discussions on that and we have strategies in place.

"As you well know, it has been well documented (strike) ballots have been sent out to our players. We'll cross that bridge Wednesday and see how it goes."

The current collective bargaining agreement expires at midnight ET on Thursday. Flory has said union members wouldn't play under terms of the existing deal.

The regular season is slated to kick off June 26.

There has been one players' strike since the formation of the CFLPA in 1965. It came in '74 and lasted three weeks during training camp before a three-year agreement was signed with no regular-season games lost.

Revenue sharing is the main stumbling block in the negotiations, with the players wanting it back in the new agreement after conceding it in the last deal signed before the 2010 season. CFL commissioner Mark Cohon has said the league won't agree to revenue sharing because it doesn't have sufficient revenues and profits for the model to work effectively.

Cohon and Michael Copeland, the CFL's president and chief operating officer, were not available for comment Tuesday. A league spokesman said both were busy preparing for Wednesday's session.

But Flory said revenue sharing remains a focal point of the players' association's offer, adding the union warned the league four years ago that it would be.

"They came to us four years ago and we understood the situation," Flory said. "We took it off . . . but it was also stated clearly there was going to be discussions and we were going to want this back.

"The term revenue sharing seems to be a pretty big, scary word out there right now and it's not. What we're talking about here is a system where the cap — which is a cap, it's a maximum on what you can spend — is somehow connected to the monies that are being generated, is somehow tied to revenue. Through good and bad, it goes up or it goes down and the players are willing to share in that because it's a successful model that exists out there. We understand that it's not the NFL but we're just on a smaller scale."

The players' key demand comes at a time of economic prosperity for the CFL, which for decades was on thin ice financially.

The league has a new contract extension with athletic apparel giant Reebok. One of its teams (Winnipeg) moved into a new stadium last season and another (Hamilton) is scheduled to do so this year, the same time expansion Ottawa will return and play at a refurbished facility.

And with attendance continuing to rise and corporate sponsorships remaining strong, the CFL is buoyed by a lucrative five-year television agreement with TSN, reportedly worth an average of $42 million annually, that kicks in this season.

That deal alone will reportedly net clubs an extra $2.7 million each this season, a fact not lost upon Flory.

"The increased revenue is based on the product on the field and the players are the product," he said. "Our guys are full-time athletes . . . and deserve to be compensated fairly for it.

"We're not asking for anything more than what's fair. Actually what we're asking for is substantially less than the other professional associations."

The league has offered to boost the average player salary by 12 per cent this season to $92,917 with a further increase over the following five years. The salary cap would increase by nine per cent from $4.4 million to $4.8 million per team while the average salary would go up $5,000 to $50,000 with a further increase to $55,000 over the following five years.

The salary cap would also rise by $100,000 per team if the CFL receives more television revenue from TSN under a renegotiated broadcast agreement for each remaining year of the collective bargaining agreement.

The CFLPA, which contends the average player stipend is just under $72,000, is asking for a $6.24-million cap, with a $5.84-million minimum. The '15 cap would be determined from the gross average revenue of seven clubs — excluding the top and lowest-grossing franchises.

The proposal also calls for the players to receive 55 per cent of gross revenues from TV rights, pay TV rights, radio, Internet and any other form of broadcast or telecast of CFL games, 45 per cent of revenues from sponsorship and licensing and 40 per cent of tickets to pre-season and regular-season games, including the sale of luxury boxes, licenses and any other revenue related to the public attending at games.

Flory, a former Montreal Alouettes offensive lineman, says there are plenty of non-monetary issues the two sides can agree on and bridge whatever gaps last week's impasse might have caused.

"I think we should be able to negotiate all the issues at the table, to be honest with you," he said. "We have to be able to build a partnership and have some kind of an agreement there which truly is a partnership."

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