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Players want to be partners

CFLPA boss Scott Flory says there's plenty to go around and hopes new talks can help bring labour peace

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CFL Players' Association boss Scott Flory said linking a salary cap to revenue results in a partnership.

LEAH HENNEL / POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES Enlarge Image

CFL Players' Association boss Scott Flory said linking a salary cap to revenue results in a partnership.

Canadian Football League Players' Association boss Scott Flory has studied lots of numbers lately, including those on the financial statement recently released by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

So while the CFLPA and the league are set to resume talks towards a new collective bargaining agreement Wednesday in Toronto, Flory is convinced there is a way for everybody to get some -- and for the Bombers to make a profit AND meet their stadium-debt payments -- as part of a partnership that would include revenue sharing.

"Let's remember the first $15 million (of the Bombers' stadium loan) is interest free," said Flory Monday from Montreal. "And that $2.9 million profit they announced (not-including one-time stadium costs) is affected by their payment of more than $1 million in coaches and management severance costs because those salaries were guaranteed.

"I think it's important to understand there is no regulation on any part of their business other than player salary. They can spend what they want in every other aspect of their business except there's a cap on what players can earn. If we're going to regulate salaries then there has to be some connection as to how those salaries are linked to revenue."

Flory reached out to CFL commissioner Mark Cohon on the weekend in an effort to get the two sides talking and, hopefully, negotiating again. The CFLPA also issued a 'Statement of Facts' on Sunday in which they clarified some of the numbers issued by the CFL in letters to fans and veteran players last week -- all part of the public posturing between the two sides that heated up after a winter of very little negotiating and with the current deal set to expire on Friday.

Among the CFLPA's statement of facts, the players' union pointed out that the Bombers saw their revenues grow by $7.5M to $24.2M -- a rise of approximately 45 per cent -- and maintained their proposal provides for a salary cap based on 35 per cent of revenues based on 2013 financial statements and not including the new TSN TV revenue.

Here are some of the key CFLPA takes heading into Wednesday's meeting, courtesy an interview Flory did with the Free Press on Monday:

 

Q: Why did you feel it was important to reach out to the commissioner to get talks going again?

Flory: "We haven't broken off talks and we've been consistent with our message from the start: we always want to meet and sit down and talk. At the end of the day we can't create a partnership or come to a solution if we're not in a room talking. That's why I called the commissioner."

Q: There is a report the CFL wishes to proceed with training camps under the terms of their current agreement and will not lock the players out providing there is no strike. Do you have the results yet on a strike vote and is there a possibility camps could still open if negotiations are progressing?

Flory: "We don't have the results from the strike vote yet. And I can't predict what might happen. We're going to wait until we get into the room and see if we can't work towards a solution where we are a partnership. A partnership is just that, it's not one side dictating terms to the other side."

Q: Clearly the CFLPA had quite a bit of frustration with what unfolded last week, with the league pushing away from the table and then blitzing their message through the media and their website. But if the PA is pushing for revenue sharing and the league says it's a non-starter, how do you even begin to bridge that?

Flory: "The difficult thing for us is we are supposed to be in a partnership. The players are the product on the field. What we're asking for in our initial proposal I think is pretty reasonable.

"The models out there are for 50-50 of total revenue going to players' salaries. Our initial proposal called for a minimum of 35 per cent. People see how much this league has grown in the past four-five years and the growth pattern it is on and for our players not to share in that growth... it just doesn't make sense for our guys. They're part of the reason there are more ticket sales, sponsorship revenue and a new TV contract.

"The business model out there works. You see it in the NFL, NHL, in the NBA... it works. There's still room for investment and growth. And when it grows, everybody wins. And when it goes down, we're prepared to do that because we understand the cyclical nature of the business. When it goes down, the cap will go down. That's the model that's out there and works, but we're just on a smaller scale."

Q: A lot of NHL players were able to survive their labour impasse because they had months to get ready for it and earn significantly more than CFL players. You guys are regular Joes with mortgage payments and mouths to feed... how still if the resolve of the players?

Flory: "Well, you just hit a nail on the head here. We ARE just regular Joes, we're not millionaires. What we're asking for isn't unreasonable. We think it's reasonable that our guys should be adequately compensated for what they do.

"We have (strike payment) plans in place. We're going to keep those in house."

Q: The CFL proposal called for a 12 per cent pay jump and increased minimum raise for the players. There's a lot of regular people out there who would kill for that kind of deal. Why isn't it enough?

Flory: "First of all, their numbers are different than ours (the league states the average salary is $82,900; the CFLPA has the average at $71,700). I'm not sure what they put in to calculate their average salary. But it's important to remember that the 12 per cent is over the term of a five-year agreement and the cap increases will be eaten up by the jump in the minimum salary."

Q: The league has made so much progress over the past few years. There seems to be a lot of anger from fans right now, perhaps many of them tired of the labour wars in the NHL, NFL and NBA over the last little while. Can this league really weather the backlash a work stoppage might bring?

Flory: "That's a question I would ask you to pose to the league. We first met in February and we asked them before that for their financials in order to understand any proposal they put forward. It took us 3.5 months, only through the efforts of a conciliation officer, to get any financial information. We were asked to put forward a proposal and we did, two days after receiving those financials. This is part of a negotiating strategy and tactic and it's unfortunate because we should have been much further along in the process.

"But I want to be clear: we want to come out with a fair deal and get our guys on the field and that's why I reached out to the commissioner on the weekend."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2014 C2

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