There's a little-known and, on the surface, surprising rider to the CFL's salary cap which should help certain teams -- hello, Ticats -- more than it does others.
Players can be paid for promotional and marketing appearances and that income will not be counted against the league's $4.05-million salary cap.
At first blush, that would seem to have an inflationary impact on wages and run counter to the CFL's loud assertions that it is going to control spending. One of the ways in which richer, or more desperate, franchises have always attracted and retained high- profile players is to pay them excessive bonuses for promotional appearances, heavily padding their official salary. In the CFL's most financially reckless eras, others would then try to keep up with the Joneses and costs would spiral.
Now, however, those promotional payments will be monitored closely by Trevor Hardy, the CFL's salary management system cop. And any abuses will count directly against that team's salary cap.
For instance, should a player be paid $2,000 for an appearance at an auto dealership and Hardy considers it worth only $200, the difference of $1,800 would be applied directly to the team's salary cap.
It's all part of what the CFL calls the fair market value system.
"The overriding concept is that all amounts paid to a player to play football must count against the salary cap," explains Michael Copeland, the league's COO. "The auditor will assess the value. Anything over and above that, the auditor can deem is paid for football and is capped."
This is a double-pronged concept. The CFL is finally admitting, in essence, that questionable bonuses have always been paid, amounting to found money for the players. So, they're trying to control those payments.
Secondarily, by insisting upon and quantifying a marketing or promotional component, they're encouraging teams to have a greater presence in their community. Which in turn helps at the gate.
There is no formal rate card so this won't be like going to a lawyer and knowing that the standard fee for, say, a will is $250. But, Copeland says, "there will be an understanding. We'll provide some guidelines based on past records.
"And it will be adjusted, based on the profile of the players. We know that Jason Maas, for instance, will garner a higher rate than others on his team."
It would seem that teams which tend to have a little extra money to invest, such as the Ticats and Edmonton Eskimos, would have an edge on other teams.
"The markets are different across the country and always will be," Copeland countered. "Some would say there isn't as much opportunity for a player in Regina, some would say there is more, because the league is so big there.
"You can extend that argument as far as you want. A player can have a part-time or full-time job during the season. If he works as a fireman in the off-season, is that an advantage for the team he plays with? Yes it is."
The Ticats love the concept and, says vice-president Adam Provost, "I think you have to take advantage of it. You're getting guys out there in the community. You're making sure they do it, and the players know they're getting some money."
To be cap-exempt, the promotion appearances must be verified through club records and log books. There is no formal ceiling on the amount a club can spend, but, Copeland says, "with the number of appearances that a player can make in the season, and the number that are there in the off-season it will all add up to the hundreds, not the thousands (of dollars, per player). There is probably a number (over which a team shouldn't spend)."
It says here, that in some places, particularly around the Great Lakes, it will be thousands, not hundreds.
It's not likely that this new wrinkle will limit players' traditional charity visits, such as hospitals and schools, because those are community projects close to the athletes' hearts.
And, under the collective bargaining agreement, players have always been entitled to compensation for promotional appearances with team sponsors. This just puts a realistic value to them.
"We support our players and just want to make sure teams aren't using it for a competitive advantage on the football field," Copeland said. "We just want to catch abuse when it happens."