This means war! CFL labour talks break down 0
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon presented the league's latest offer to the CFLPA on Wednesday. The pitch was quickly rejected by the union. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch file photo)
Barely a year after the NHL’s nuclear winter came to a close, the Canadian Football League and its players are wrestling dangerously close to that same red button.
What was supposed to be a day of talks towards a new collective bargaining agreement quickly deteriorated into acrimony, Wednesday, both sides accusing the other of throwing low blocks in the process.
With the two sides 100 yards apart on the core issue of how much the players should earn, and how that number is even arrived at — and training camps just 10 days away — the three-down game faces the very real possibility of just the second work stoppage in its history.
“We’re all blindsided by this,” Winnipeg Blue Bombers player rep Glenn January said of the CFL’s move to walk away from the table and go public with open letters to players and fans, Wednesday morning. “It was dirty negotiating tactics... they showed up with no intention of negotiating.”
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon fired a low spiral right back, saying the union has been responsible for leaking all kinds of information to the media.
“The players association should take a minute and look at themselves in the mirror,” Cohon said. “All I know is every proposal that has been put on the table by them, the minute it’s been given to us somehow we’ve seen it at the same time on other web sites. That’s been challenging.”
Never mind the inflammatory rhetoric — the two sides have a ridiculous amount of work to do on the nuts and bolts of an agreement that expires as camps are set to begin.
But they’re so diametrically opposed, one may as well be using metric, the other imperial.
The players say they want salaries threaded to league revenue, like every other pro sports entity in North America.
“If you have a cap, it’s tied to revenue,” players association lawyer Ed Molstad said. “If the revenue goes down, the cap goes down — it’s as simple as that.”
The league won’t even entertain the concept, let alone the numbers within it, Cohon saying it simply doesn’t work when some teams are doing so much better than others.
“When (revenues) go up significantly in one market, essentially what that does is it raises the cap for everyone. So you’re creating this imbalance for the good and the bad,” Cohon said, even suggesting the players’ plan would hurtle teams into bankruptcy.
“It throws us back to the days where the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were asking their fans to come out, like the Riders, to do telethons to keep their team alive.”
The players point to community owned teams like Winnipeg, Edmonton and Saskatchewan as examples of how well the league is doing.
Public documents show the three would have averaged at least $25 million in total revenue last year, the Riders leading the way at well over $30 million, although their 2013 financials have yet to be released.
Even the Blue Bombers and Eskimos, with seven wins between them, were profitable.
With a salary cap of $4.4 million, the union wonders where the players’ share of a lucrative new TV deal is.
“If anything the CFL should be embarrassed about how much they are paid,” Molstad said, suggesting Cohon isn’t aware of how players have sacrificed financially in the past, taking pay cuts to keep the league afloat.
The commissioner batted down the notion, saying the game hasn’t been without sacrifices by owners, too, likely referencing Robert Wetenhall in Montreal, Hamilton owner Bob Young and David Braley, who owns both Toronto and B.C.
“We have three owners that collectively over the time they’ve been in this league that have probably lost close to $100 million,” Cohon said. “Don’t they have a right to recoup those historical losses? We have a league, still, that has two teams owned by one individual. Those are all things we have to factor in.”
Acknowledging the league has “contingency plans” for a shortened season, Cohon says it won’t just be the players who suffer from a work stoppage.
“There’s not a large pool of funds that come in from TSN that pay us during a lockout,” he said. “There will be hardship on our side.”
January says support for a strike is unanimous in Winnipeg, while the commissioner just used the “L” word.
Heaven help us, all.
“I used the term lockout?” Cohon said. “We absolutely don’t want to go down that path.”
They already are.