TORONTO — For the first time in months, Randy Ambrosie can think solely about football.
The CFL commissioner was in a very upbeat mood Friday, and with good reason. On Thursday night, the CFL Players' Association membership ratified a seven-year labour agreement with the league, ending a lengthy, sometimes contentious negotiation that included just the second strike in league history and first since 1974.
"Just a sense of joy that now we get to look forward with our players," Ambrosie said in a telephone interview Friday. "Instead of it being across the table, now we get to sit on the same side of the table next to each other and I'm really excited about that.
"We have a beautiful runway in front of us ... we've got an arrangement with our players that allows us to achieve maybe something we've never had before, which is to almost redefine ourselves in a new way, a positive way and that's exciting."
The CBA must still be ratified by the CFL's board of governors. Ambrosie said Thursday night that vote would be held soon.
The new CBA certainly provides gains for the CFLPA membership, starting with a ratification bonus of roughly $2,450 per player, according to league sources. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity as neither the CFL nor the union provided specific details of the new deal.
CFL teams will also have seven Canadian starters and 21 in total on rosters this year. In 2023, that number increases to eight with one being a nationalized American — a player from the U.S. who has spent either five years in the CFL or at least three with the same team.
Clubs will also be able to rotate two nationalized Americans for up to 49 per cent of snaps. Teams can move to rotating three nationalized Americans in 2024 but the two franchises playing the most Canadians at the end of the season will receive additional second-round draft picks.
And the seven pure Canadian starters per game will remain intact throughout the term of deal, which can be reopened after five years when the CFL's broadcast agreement with TSN expires. Other details include:
• The salary cap remains at $5.35 million this year and increases to $5.51 million in 2023. It will be $5.99 million in 2028.
• Minimum salaries for global, national (Canadian) and American players will be consistent. The figure will increase from $65,000 to $70,000 next year and $75,000 in 2027.
• The maximum housing allowance this year will be $2,300 monthly for six months. The CFL and CFLPA agree to an annual review to determine the maximum housing allowance number for next season.
• Revenue sharing plan with players involving all revenues, including from Grey Cup, to start in 2024. Revenues will be audited by CFLPA designate.
• Teams can practice once a week in pads for 45 minutes during the regular season to a maximum of 12. But medical coverage for retired players goes from three years to four immediately and to five years in 2023.
In return, the CFL achieves extended labour peace and its first opportunity at a full 18-game regular season since 2019. The league didn't play in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — reportedly losing between $60 and $80 million — and held a shortened 14-game campaign last year.
The CFL now has time to concentrate on improving its business and brand. Last December, the league announced a partnership with Genius Sports, a data, technology and commercial company that connects sports, betting and media.
In August 2021, the CFL signed a multi-year partnership with BetRegal to become its official online sports-gaming partner. Last month, the single-game sports betting industry opened fully in Ontario.
"I talk about the trifecta of outcomes that we've achieved the last year," Ambrosie said. "The revenue sharing arrangement (reached last year with CFL teams), the partnership with Genius Sports and now a long-term partnership with our players ... we really have set the table for a bright future."
And although bargaining between the CFL and its players was indeed contentious at times, Ambrosie said he feels very good about the relationship that exists between the two sides.
"I think we've kind of redefined our relationship, it's more of a partnership now," he said. "Bargaining is tough but I think we all knew going into it the goal was to build a framework for a long-term partnership and that's what we've done.
"I actually think we wake up this morning and we have an opportunity to activate a whole new type of relationship with the players. I can say from the league's point of view it's incredibly welcomed and we look forward to sitting next to them now as we build the league going forward."
And in Ambrosie's mind, there's no better way to cap a full 18-game CFL season than with the Grey Cup game at Regina's Mosaic Stadium on Nov. 20.
"That building, Mosaic, is a cathedral to our game, it's a place where football happiness happens," Ambrosie said. "To be able now to look forward to being there and playing our biggest game there on the heels of these accomplishments, all of the hard work that's gone in is certainly exciting."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press