CFL not renewing deal with NFL
[b]Fallout from Bills invasion, source says
Sean Fitz-Gerald, National Post
Published: Thursday, June 05, 2008[/b]
[i]TORONTO - The Canadian Football League has ceased negotiations on a new working agreement with the National Football League–ending a formal relationship that began a decade ago – as the powerful U. S.-based league prepares for an unprecedented eight-game series that will open this summer in Toronto.
While stating his belief that the leagues maintain “a strong relationship,” CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said talks were not progressing as his employers might have hoped.
And while Mr. Cohon declined to outline specific aspects of the discussion, one CFL source suggested the move was based in part on a symbolic show of strength against a potential foreign invader.
In February, it was announced the Buffalo Bills would stage eight games at Rogers Centre over the next five seasons, beginning with an exhibition game on Aug. 14 – one day before the Argonauts host the Montreal Alouettes.
“You work with us or you don’t work with us, there’s no half-pregnant,” said one CFL source who requested anonymity.
The initial agreement was reached in 1997, when the CFL was at one of its lowest financial ebbs and was kept afloat by a US$3-million loan from its wealthy southern neighbour.
The debt has been repaid and the circumstances have changed, with the CFL on more stable financial ground. The Toronto Argonauts, for example, are believed to have cleared more than $5-million in profit from hosting the Grey Cup last fall.
“We’ve communicated to the NFL that nothing’s been put on the table that is going to strengthen and grow our league to my satisfaction, or the satisfaction of our board of governors,” Mr. Cohon said yesterday. “And we’re not moving forward with discussions with the NFL any more.”
The NFL was notified of the decision earlier this week.
The two leagues have been working without a new agreement since the old one expired in 2006.
“We have not been able to reach an agreement on a broader relationship but remain open to future discussions with the CFL,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said yesterday in an e-mail.
Canadian teams were hemorrhaging money in 1997, not long after failed expansion experiments in such U. S. cities as Shreveport, La., Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala. In exchange for its critical infusion of cash, the NFL was granted access to CFL players entering a defined window in the option year of their contract.
That practice will be allowed to continue, Mr. Cohon said, because it has been written into the CFL’s collective bargaining agreement with its players. He did, however, say it would remain open “through the end of this agreement.”
“I have a lot of respect for [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell, and there’s been a long history of a relationship between our two leagues,” Mr. Cohon said.
“What we’re saying right now is, ‘there’s nothing on the table that satisfies our need to grow and strengthen this league.’ So we’re going to focus on what we need to focus on.”
Speculation has been swirling around the NFL’s future in Canada, especially since it was revealed that Rogers Communications has agreed to pay $78-million to host the Bills in Toronto. Some have predicted a swift death for the CFL if the NFL ever makes a full-time home in Canada, and Senator Larry Campbell has begun drafting a bill to protect the league from an invasion.
The Bills are based in one of the league’s smallest markets and their owner, Ralph Wilson, is approaching his 90th birthday. Mr. Wilson has indicated he does not intend to sell the team before his death, which could leave the franchise open to the highest bidder and a potential relocation.
“I always think there will be discussions between the two leagues,” Mr. Cohon said. “I think we have co-existed fine, with them south of the 49th parallel and us north of the 49th parallel. There’s always been good relationships in that, but we can’t do one-off, small initiatives that don’t create any benefit to us.”[/i]