CFL vs The Players... Again
Published: Wednesday, Mar 24th 2021, 4:03pm
By Sheldon Jones
The past few weeks has been a crazy, emotional rollercoaster ride for the fans, players and management of the CFL. First news broke that the CFL and the XFL were “talking about, talking about” a potential partnership of some sorts. This led CFL fans and players trying to guess what, if anything, this would mean for our beloved uniquely Canadian league. On March 23 news also broke that the League had sent out a proposal to the CFLPA regarding a plan to play a full season, with the offer of a 20% initial rollback of salary to be “hopefully” topped up if / when the provincial governments would allow fans to come back. This has of course reignited the debate between the fans who are pro players vs those who are pro league. I see both sides and am firmly in the middle. I love this league AND I love its players. I appreciate that there are owners who are not in it to make money, they are in it for the love of the game. The players in the CFL are almost the same. They unfortunately earn a fraction of what their counterparts in the NFL earn all while playing a (IMO of course…) better, more exciting game for fans like myself to enjoy. I am going to break this down from both sides and try to figure out what is best for all parties.
We all know that the players did not get paid last year. This is quite unfortunate. I know that some were able to become eligible for the CEWS if they did not “opt out” of their contracts, but even that only worked out to $847 weekly from July to December. These players were forced to continue to stay in shape as the CFL continued to push back the start of the 2020 season before eventually cancelling it. This “off season” the CFL sent memos out to the teams to try to spend to the floor of the CFL salary cap instead of the top to try to offset more loss. We saw a lot of players renegotiate deals (especially the top earning players) to become more cap friendly and saw free agency contract money was significantly less than normal. The players HAVE taken cuts and are now being asked to take another 20% cut. I can completely understand the frustration that some of the players have been showing on social media.
We also all know that the owners of the 9 CFL teams (3 community owned) lost a substantial amount of money with the loss of the 2020 season. According to 3DownNation reports, the CFL lost between 60 to 80 million dollars. This is ON TOP of the CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie stating that the CFL collectively lost 20 million dollars the year before. Much of this had to do with the state of the then League owned Montreal Alouettes and the problems with attendance in the Leagues 3 biggest markets (Toronto, Montreal and BC). As stated above, the current CFL business model does not make the owners rich. Most of the owners lose money, but they are willing to lose that money for the love of the game. TSN’s television deal roughly works out to about 5 million dollars a year to each team. This covers most of the salary cap but does not cover other costs like the salary of players on the 6-game injury list and lots of other costs. The CFL is a completely gate driven league which means that they rely solely on ticket sales to make money (for the teams that do post a profit). Take the Saskatchewan Roughriders for example. They are (like it or not) the CFL’s flagship franchise right now. In 2019 the Riders gate totaled 17.1 million dollars. This accounted for 43% of its revenue. They had 7.3 million in sponsorships (19% of revenue), 6 million in merchandise sales (15%) and the money from TSN equaled 10% of their revenue. After all of this, they finished the year with a net loss of 210 thousand dollars. Part of the loss is attributed to the Riders spending $220 thousand on preparations for the 2021 Grey Cup and $680 thousand to the CFL to help cover the operating costs of the Montreal Alouettes. If you compare this to 2018 though, the Riders posted a 1.4 million profit. When your most profitable team is losing money, you know that your business model is not working.
In the grand scheme of things, there is no winner in this Players vs League confrontation. Both sides stand to lose money. The coaches have also lost money as the CFL mandated that the “coaching cap” be reduced by 20% for the 2021 season. Even though this season did not happen, the coaches and admin staff were paid, so I can understand players taking exception to this. As well Randy Ambrosie announced in June of 2020 that he had also taken a 20% cut in his salary, which at the time was admirable, but if he is going to ask the players to take more cuts, he and all the other CFL ops executives and team presidents should be taking more of a cut for this hopeful upcoming season. I said above that there are no winners here, but I am going to contradict myself a little. There CAN be winners here. The League has realized that its spending and business model is broken. They are taking steps to try to fix this. This will hurt in the short term, but hopefully can pay off in the long term. The old saying is that “you need to spend money, to make money” and believe me, even with a reduced 20% salary, the owners will STILL be losing even more money until there are fans in the stands. If the players take this deal, or more realistically negotiate a 10 to 15 percent decrease instead, they stand to make more money than they would if there is a shortened season, or no season at all. We are in a give and take situation here and the CFL and the CFLPA need to get on the same page and work together if there is any chance of this League that we all love to persevere and hopefully in the future, flourish.
By forwarding this proposal for a full 18 game season to the CFLPA, the CFL has done what has been asked of them by the players. They have put for a plan to get football happening in 2021 and now its up to the players to respond. I hope they can reach a compromise so that we can get one step closer to being able to watch and hopefully attend CFL football this season.