Selling the new tentative agreement to the CFL's players may be a challenge, Hamilton Tiger-Cats union rep Peter Dyakowski said Sunday.
The players' association and CFL reached a tentative agreement late Saturday night on a new contract. The move averted a potential players' strike and, if ratified, would secure the league five years of labour peace.
But the CFLPA needed more than four hours Saturday night to sell the deal to its team reps during a conference call. Once news of the tentative agreement broke, many CFL veterans voiced their displeasure on social media.
"You hire a bunch of clowns and you are probably going to get a circus," tweeted Calgary Stampeders defensive back Jeff Hecht.
"How it works in the 21st century: Unions are dead," Calgary running back Jon Cornish, the CFL's outstanding player last year, said on his official Twitter account.
Dyakowski, an offensive lineman with the Ticats, says some of his teammates are definitely unhappy but he'd expect most to vote in favour of acceptance. However, he admits other team reps will face a tougher task doing so.
"Certainly we had some difficulty here with guys not embracing it, to put it mildly," Dyakowski said. "I think in higher revenue markets it's going to be that much harder because they see there's money to be spent.
"I could see the boys on the prairies being up in arms about this so their reps have their jobs cut out for them in explaining the benefits of this deal."
The union was expected to launch a work stoppage Sunday, threatening the exhibition game Monday night between the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. That contest will now go ahead.
If the agreement is ratified, the regular season will start on time June 26.
A date has not been announced for a ratification vote.
The expectation is enough players will vote in favour, but one CFL star requesting anonymity isn't so sure.
"I wouldn't be shocked if the guys vote against it," he said.
Dyakowski, who won the CBC show "Canada's Smartest Person" in 2012, believes the deal is the best the union could secure without going on strike.
"Is it what we started out going for? No," he said. "But there is always give and take in negotiations.
"Ultimately, what we feel we have is the best deal we can achieve without doing significant damage on both sides. No one wants a work stoppage."
However, the anonymous player felt the threat of a strike was the union's prime bargaining chip.
"We had to miss pre-season games and give the owners a feeling of empty stadiums, refunding tickets, not selling merchandise, food," he said. "When the regular season approaches, at least they have a taste of it.
"For us, our training camp pay doesn't change whether we play one, two or no pre-season games."
Dyakowski doesn't see it that way.
"The prospect of going on strike, it would be a fun adventure for the first couple of days," he said. "But at the end of the day it could just as likely be a two, four or five-month ordeal than just a couple of days of trying to send a wake-up call."
The CFL got the players to agree to a $5-million salary cap with nominal $50,000 annual increases. The union initially requested a $6.24-million cap and dropped to $5.2-million before accepting the league's offer.
The CFL also got a major concession from the union on the gross revenue formula that would trigger the renegotiation of the cap or entire collective agreement.
The players, who initially wanted the CBA to include revenue sharing, had called for the cap or entire agreement to be renegotiated if league revenues increased by more than $18-million – excluding the Grey Cup – in the third year of the deal. The CFL wanted that figure to be $27-million, which the union ultimately agreed to.
"We have a lot of guys very upset about losing the revenue-sharing issue," Dyakowski said. "That was near and dear to a lot of guys' hearts.
"We have five years to work towards it so there's a lot of time for planning and preparation. But I think we have a workable deal, a viable deal, a deal that's good for the teams, a deal that's good for the players and puts money into everyone's pockets."
Another key bargaining issue for the CFLPA was having independent neurologists on the field for each game. But that wasn't included in the deal.
Dyakowski did point to the minimum salary increasing $5,000 to $50,000. And even at $5-million, he said the cap represents a $600,000 increase over 2013.
Players will also receive signing bonuses – $1,500 for rookies and a tiered system for veterans that will average $7,500 each – and see their average salary boosted to $96,000. During negotiations, the CFL maintained the average player stipend was $82,000 while the CFLPA has contended it was just under $72,000.
The tentative deal removes the option year from CFL player contracts, excluding rookies, allowing a veteran to become a free agent sooner and maximize his earning potential.
"It's a big win for players' freedom that will help younger players earn fairer value earlier in their careers," Dyakowski said.
Getting a deal in place is crucial for the CFL, which is entering the first year of a new five-year television agreement with TSN that's reportedly worth an average of $42-million a year.
But games had to be played for the league – and ultimately its teams – to receive the money. The deal will reportedly net clubs an extra $2.75-million in revenue.