Wednesday 14 April 2010

The CFL Is Not Immune

While it's not the same doomsday scenario we are all hearing being talked about south of the border, labour unrest has hit the Canadian Football League.

Dave Naylor of TSN and the Globe and Mail wrote an excellent article this morning detailing the likelihood of a work stoppage halting the beginning of the 2010 CFL season. Naylor says that a work stoppage, be it an owners-imposed lockout or player-imposed strike, is possible; it is also highly unlikely. With the huge gains in popularity the CFL has made in the past couple of years it would be completely devastating for the league if it were to shut down, even for a little time.

The league right now is experiencing unprecedented success. TV viewership is up, attendance is up, there is renewed talk of expansion, new stadiums are being discussed in multiple cities (one of them being Hamilton, which is a rather contentious issue that I will be posting about in the near future), and revenues are up. Now is not the time for the CFL to have a work stoppage.

It would seem as if the league and the players understand this. The last time the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expired, the league played that season (2005) under the terms of the expired agreement and agreed to a new one the following off-season. If a deal cannot be reached by the time the current deal expires – which is June 5th – I expect a repeat of 2005.

It seems that the sticking point in negotiations revolves around, what else, player salaries. Currently, players receive 56% of defined revenue that the league generates. The league would like to lower that number. The CFLPA would like for the salary cap to rise from the current $4.2 million per team to $4.7 million. These don't seem like huge hurdles to overcome.

There are obviously other issues that will arise, or have arisen, during the negotiations, but neither the league nor the Players' Association is commenting publicly. It seems as if both sides have taken on an agreement not to negotiate through the media. To them I say, "Bravo." All anyone who follows the NFL has heard the past year and a half is posturing from both the NFLPA and the league. It's a nice change to have these negotiations not take place in the public arena. I must also note that everything we do know is through leaks and the acquisition of confidential information by members of the media.

The recent history of labour unrest is not pretty in North American sports. Major League Baseball took almost 4 years to recover after the 1994 players' strike, and the National Hockey League still hasn't recovered in the United States since the lockout that cost the league, and its dwindling fan base, the 2004-2005 season. Both of them recovered easily in the places that they are most revered – baseball in the USA, hockey in Canada – but as someone who used to schedule his Saturday nights around Hockey Night in Canada, I have probably watched a combined 10 periods of NHL hockey since the lockout ended, and don't even get me started on my lack of interest in baseball since 1994.

The only difference, for myself, in this scenario is that my first love has always been football. I would come back to the CFL and the Tiger-Cats should a season be lost. Heck, I started this blog because I love the CFL so much. I would be upset, but I would come back.

That said, losing a season, or even part of a season, would cripple the CFL. I would like to think that both the CFL and the CFLPA understand this situation and will do whatever it takes to avoid a work stoppage. There is too much to be lost by both sides, and I think at the end of the day each side will understand this and a deal will be signed.

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