If you are the type to look for signs, there were a few to be seen recently on the Canadian soccer labour front. Marcel DeJonge was thanked by Drew Beckie on Twitter for his service, as family issues called him to vacate his seat as PFACan President. Then I came across news that International Labour Organization (ILO), an important United nations body, had signed a Global Labour Agreement, aiming to be the first international agreement on rights and working conditions for male and female players in 66 unions around the world. And then of course the announcement that former PFACan Vice-President Marco Carducci would be stepping up to take over as the new President until the next election in 2023 at least.
With the CanMNT recently forming their own Player’s Association to negotiate with Canada Soccer which follows the lead of the CanXNT who formed the Canadian Soccer Players Association (CSPA) previously, it seems it is time to get down to business and start recognizing the players, and their working conditions and compensation.
This has been a very uncomfortable time for soccer in Canada, as talking about unions seems verboten. It spoils the party atmosphere. But it was a ray of light offered from new CPL Commissioner Mark Noonan that make me feel it doesn’t have to be that way. He made it clear that all pro soccer leagues have to have sometimes uncomfortable conversations with labour in one of his first interviews on the job. And that is where the powers that be are right now with players on the national and domestic scene. In a time where uncomfortable conversations have to be had.
The elephant in the room is of course the Canada Soccer Business (CSB) agreement between Canada Soccer (CS) and the CPL owners. It is well-known by CPL diehards. At least in principle. In basic terms it goes something like this: The owners of the teams of the CPL came together and formed the CSB, like SUM for MLS diehards. Together they agreed with CS in 2018 to take care of all sponsorship agreements for CPL and the Women’s and Men’s National Teams in exchange for stable annual funding. I won’t go into exact numbers because I obviously have never seen the private contract. This has something for everyone supposedly.
CS can budget knowing exactly how much comes from this deal for the first ten years (First ten because CSB has an option for an additional ten – at a higher rate). That is more stability than the CS could provide for itself in those leaner years.
CPL has another revenue stream in uncertain times, besides gates. With the CSB being made up of sports businessmen like Scot Mitchell of Hamilton Sports Group and the CPL owners, they are better placed to make marketing deals such as sponsorship agreements for the CanMNT/WNT and the CPL. Assuming they can sign deals above and beyond the amount they promise to pay out to CS each year, they can reinvest the difference into their CPL teams in equal shares.
And another revenue stream the CSB has is through their partnership with MediaPro/OneSoccer. One Soccer will broadcast all CanWNT/MNT and CPL games and own the rights to sell their productions. A good deal for CS, who had in the past had to pay for their games to be played on air via cable tv. And MediaPro has already sold the CPL to Fox in the US and to an outfit in the Caribbean. And since we have seen games on CBC for the women (Not the Olympics, that’s a CBC jam), and Sportsnet for the men, we can surmise that MediaPro may have sold some one-offs in Canada. (CBC also covered a game of the week during the 2020 Island Games for the CPL).
Up The North! HFX midfielder, Aidan Daniels – FC13 Podcast
What may be contentious is what the players get out of all this. There is the currently under negotiation World Cup largesse for CanMNT qualifying for their first World Cup since 1986 set at about $10,000,000. No need to drag out details, negotiations are best left to the parties involved. The bigger issue may be what is the arrangement for compensation for the World Cup for the women, qualifying games, and other tournaments. For the men, how about Gold Cups, Nations League and friendlies (assuming no qualifiers as hosts in 2026)? It may have been as simple as looking to how those amounts were negotiated in the past. The CSB deal may change the availability of some past deals. For instance, do players waive individual image rights when playing for their national team? I wonder this because I see OAT Canada commercials with Sinclair and Davies and even Sam Adegkube’s snow flop. I don’t know Oat Canada’s reach as a non-dairy milk product, but i would suggest they may not be able to afford the all-time greatest international scorer, or a Champion’s League winner on their own. But that is admittedly wild speculation on my part.
Players will want to look at what is available to them from all potential funding sources they may lay a claim to. Even things like tickets and travel for family members to the World Cups may need to be agreed upon. So, the Unions will want to see what they have access to, or don’t. With the legal backing of a union, they will be able to more effectively press for what money they have access to and what is earmarked for youth camps, Futsal or Beach Soccer, etc. Good faith bargaining means being sure all monies and assets available to either party are divulged to the other in order to fairly negotiate a percentage if allowable. However, some CSB monies and assets may just not be part of the picture. That’s what these negotiations will determine.
Of course, the CPL’s union PFACan, will also want access to CSB assets. In order to determine what is fair as a shared revenue, the total revenue must be determined. Then the percentage of share can be agreed upon. (In the NBA for example, it is an almost 50-50 share, just an example I am not saying the CPL deserves an NBA-level deal the first time out, though why not?). With those numbers, you can determine how much the cap for a given year would be. Again, the interesting part would be – is the CSB funding from the National team marketing part of the CPL revenue stream, or separate? Would the players share in the TV deal signed before they had a union, and set for 10 years? Lots of negotiations.
Having workers have an equal voice is a huge part of collective bargaining. Hopefully these voices will be heard in good faith soon, as delays drag out the process and lead to acrimony. The CanWNT and MNT were both voluntarily recognized as a show of good faith by CS. Hopefully, something similar can happen in the CPL, so that by the start of year five a CBA can be started, if not finalised.
So, what do those aforementioned signs mean. Well, if I believed in them, I might suggest that the UN’s labour body passing a general agreement was a call to the table, with advice available for employees, employers and government on best practices for all of Canada’s concerned parties. That is pretty meaningful. And with World Cups coming up for men and women, and a golden generation to boot, when better to have these talks and guarantee we are in a place where everyone can just concentrate on the pitch, fans included?
Nothing worth having is ever easy, right?
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