In 2010, the year the previous collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was about to be signed, there was much trepidation from both the CFL player's union executive, and the player representatives, about whether we could trust and count on a "partnership" -- in dealings going forward -- with the league.
It now appears that this concern was warranted.
At the time, the deal-breaker for the CFL in negotiations was revenue sharing. If the players wanted to get a deal done, the CFL wanted it out of the CBA. The arguments made by the league were the same as are heard at every negotiation. They may have fired former commissioner Michael Lsyko -- once upon a time -- for calling the Toronto franchise the "anchor" of the CFL, but in every CBA negotiation I've been a part of -- in spite of successes across the league -- we always had to make concessions and compromises due to that, "anchor," and to a lesser degree, in Hamilton.
In exchange for forfeiting revenue sharing and a guaranteed 56 per cent of revenue for four years, in 2010, the players received an increase in both the salary cap, and the salary spending minimum. We looked at the league revenues at the time -- or at least what was disclosed to us -- and determined that the players were already receiving at least 56 per cent of gross revenues, and it was unlikely that over the next four years these figures would change so dramatically this concession would come back and bite us.
The biggest sway factor in the room, for the player reps who voted on behalf of the membership and decided the outcome of the negotiation, were the verbal assurances given that if revenues changed dramatically -- such as with a television deal that doubled -- we could revisit the idea of revenue sharing once the four-year term expired. In fact, it was why the membership insisted on such a short term.
With the idea of Ottawa (Part 3) and further eastern expansion on the horizon, the league was determined to present itself as an attractive business model that was not limited by revenue sharing. Fast forward to present day, and in spite of a new television deal that will pay member clubs more than twice what they were receiving before from broadcast revenues, it is like revenue sharing never existed.
It didn't take long for many of us to realize this compromise would be difficult to win back, when less than a week after the CBA was signed in 2010, a member of the team that had negotiated on behalf of the league, let it be known to some of us that he thought the CFL had pretty much, "bent the CFLPA over a table," in that deal.
Fast forward to a couple months out from the expiration of the current pact, and not only is revenue sharing a, "field of dreams," issue right now, but the players are not even being offered an appropriate increase to the salary cap.
As a former union representative, I always got the feeling the league never really respected the strength or solidarity of the players, and that they always felt they wielded leverage over us.
Yet with four new stadiums on deck, and a new franchise starting up, I would dare suggest the league and its owners now have more at stake and have more to lose than the players do. CFL franchises have millions of dollars worth of infrastructure payments on the horizon, on top of their regular operating costs, so they would be wise to not test the limitations of the players that are currently playing and selling the game.
We have all heard it before, and are no doubt sick of dealing with the reality of work stoppages in every other professional sporting organization.
Somehow, some way, the owners, executives, and the players in the CFL have always been able to see the bigger picture outside of their own wants and needs, and there is still time for this to happen again for 2014.
Yet as it stands right now, without compromise by the league in respect to revenue sharing and/or salary cap numbers, there won't be a CFL season in 2014.
Four years ago, the players in the CFL made concessions in order to avoid a labour disruption, because the league insisted there were still trouble spots. With at least one major stream of revenue more than doubling itself, it appears the CFL has forgotten where it came from, and who did what to get it where it is today.
The Canadian Football League is experiencing a period of unprecedented riches right now, but you know what they say: "The more you make, the more you often want for yourself."
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.