CFL, players dedicated to their business

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The tables are finally turning.

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Executives from the Canadian Football League and the CFL Players Association, who have so often found themselves on opposite sides of a negotiating table in recent years, will be seated together at a CFL Ventures board meeting on December 7th.

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It marks the symbolic beginning of a business partnership that both sides have repeatedly referred to as their best hope for lasting success. The players won that seat at the table after lengthy and at times contentious negotiations with the league, which resulted in a seven-year collective bargaining agreement last May.

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Although PA Executive Director Brian Ramsay said the 2022 CFL season had been a normal season for managing collective bargaining issues on their side – and there were outstanding grievances to be resolved – the stalemate of the CBA allowed the league and PA to focus some of their energy elsewhere for the first time in a long time.

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“Our job is to enforce the collective agreement and protect the rights of our members and that will never change,” Ramsay said. “But this year, coming out of negotiations, we were able to focus internally on growing the business and organization and working on the relationship with the league. We want a stronger relationship. We clearly recognize that for this to grow it needs to be a partnership and we need to find more ways of working together.

“Over the last four years we have either prepared or actually negotiated changes to the new collective agreement. Of course, that takes a lot of time.”

It also creates hostility and some unflattering headlines. Peace of mind, on the other hand, is good for the relationship, which in turn is good for productivity.

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CFL Ventures is the division created by the league to partner with Genius Sports, a technology and data company tasked with, among other things, commercializing the league’s official sports betting data and video in international markets. It’s a revenue stream that most professional athletes are already tapping into.

Ramsay and CFLPA President Solomon Elimimian will represent the players on the board and Ramsay said a seat at the table is a significant step forward and eventually together for the PA and the league.

“I think within our organization and membership there are some incredibly talented people in terms of their understanding of professional football. The more we can channel the voice of our members and leadership, player representatives, directors, into the business side, I believe that’s an incredible asset to the growth of the game. It is crucial for us to understand this.

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“For too long the players’ association and the league and frankly the teams have operated as separate entities and worked in silos. It’s important for us to have that understanding, but also to have that platform to directly contribute to the growth of the game.”

The league and players are also now invested in a revenue sharing plan. The baseline for measuring expected growth will be this season’s revenue, including revenue from Gray Cup week now taking place in Regina. The hope is that league-wide revenue will grow to a point where the initial 25% player share of the growth exceeds the salary cap increases already enshrined in the CBA.

“That was the ground, the safety net,” Ramsay said. “The goal is to surpass them. We hope it will be meaningful, but it will take time.”

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Some players, like Winnipeg quarterback Zach Collaros and Calgary pivot Jake Maier, have already benefited from another CBA nugget, partially guaranteed contracts available to veterans who re-sign with their teams. Ramsay said the guarantees are a big picture, too.

“We believe the guaranteed contracts will be significant. It’s obviously important to our membership, but we also believe that providing that continuity will help the game grow. Look at these contracts, they are long-term. This is good for the CFL’s business.

“I think there’s going to be a fraction of our members who still want that one-year deal for some reason and that’s fine, but we think there’s going to be a significant drop. Look, the reality is, when teams are committed to our members, our members will be committed to them, and now there is an opportunity to do that.”

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Twitter.com/sportsdanbarnes

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