Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Revenue-sharing plan won't fly

CFL needs to improve offer, but players must accept fixed cap this time

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Scott FLORY and his CFL Players' Association constituents are right to want salaries linked to CFL revenue and some day, like the rest of their professional sport brethren in North America, they will have it. But not now. The CFL's economics don't support linkage and won't for some time to come.

There's not enough revenue and more importantly not enough profit. The CFL is a small business. Its teams are even smaller businesses. That has to change before a revenue-variable salary cap will work.

 

Flory, the CFLPA's president, said Wednesday we shouldn't focus on the numbers but instead on the structure of the salary system going forward.

His union, Flory said, is willing to accept a smaller dollar figure and a smaller percentage in order to get a salary cap arrived at through a formula based upon gross revenues. But even a share below 20 per cent won't work. The CFL still needs the security of a fixed cap.

Players get a share of gross revenues in the NFL. CFLPA legal counsel and head negotiator Ed Molstad said Wednesday that's the model his latest proposal to the league was based upon. The model works in a league with revenues in the billions. It doesn't in the CFL with its total revenues of less than $200 million and three of its teams announcing losses last year.

Molstad understands this because he was the negotiator who was persuaded by the CFL to give up linkage in the league's last CBA. Now he wants it back. Well, of course he does, but he's too early.

The CFL needs to stand on its feet for a while and pour some of the new revenue it's collecting back into itself. It needs to replenish existing infrastructure and add new branches.

This is a gate-driven league that doesn't market itself very well. CFL Films? Doesn't exist. A CFL video game to attract younger fans to the stadiums? Not even in development. A brand-marketing campaign in the all important southern Ontario market where both franchises lost money last year? One hasn't been launched in years.

The league needs to pay itself before it can begin to talk about linking gross revenues to its salary cap. In household terms, the league needs to fix the roof before it can send anyone on an expensive holiday.

Forget the rhetoric about who bleeds on the field and who makes the game. This is economics and the CFL isn't a stand-alone business. Just ask every taxpayer in Manitoba.

There's no question the players in the CFL are underpaid considering the physical toll the game takes on their minds and bodies.

The league needs to give more than it did last year in terms of its salary cap and more than it has proposed to date in these negotiations.

Commissioner Mark Cohon said he won't do a deal that includes a salary cap tied to revenue. Fair enough. But he's going to have to spend a little more than he's currently offering to get the players to go along. The players have sacrificed and done what's right for the league -- as they should, seeing it's where they get paid to play professional football.

There must be a limit, however, to the players doing the giving. They need something back and Cohon will have to sweeten his offer if he wants to make a deal in time to save the opening weekend of the regular season.

He most likely will have to tell the players he'll put a revenue-variable cap into their next agreement. He needs to buy time and he can do it with some cash and a binding promise.

Neither side can afford to lose the money associated with missing games and a deal must and will get done. These are negotiations and they've really only just begun. Regular-season games are six weeks away and to avoid lost games a deal would have to be done in the next month in order to allow a minimum of a two-week training camp.

Sign a three-year deal with a hefty but reasonable increase in the salary cap. If the players are right and the money train comes in, the next deal can be longer and include the coveted cap linked to revenues.

But not today. It's not there. Flory will have to come to realize this and make the best deal he can using his acceptance of such a concession as his largest bargaining chip.

Pay the players more today.

Pay them the way they want to be paid tomorrow.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

CFL WALKS OUT ON LABOUR TALKS D4

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 22, 2014 D1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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