The evolution of CFL salaries

Canadian professional football has come a long way since the bygone days of the 50s. With TV deals and endorsements aplenty, CFL teams can now afford to splurge (just a little) on their best players. But while the best Canadian pro footballers are making good money these days, their quite substantial wage packets still pale in comparison to the likes of the NFL’s Andrew Luck who is one of the highest paid players on the planet.

But it wasn’t always the case.

As you probably know only too well, with the similarities between the two codes, it’s inevitable that there are comparisons between the CFL and the NFL with player’s salaries often the most glaring difference. But did you know that before the NFL’s turnover went stratospheric, both league’s players had comparable salaries?

In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, players from both leagues, while paid professionals, would still have a career outside of football. In fact, one of the juiciest carrots dangled to NFL prospects by CFL clubs in the 70s was the promise of a well-paid full-time job. During this time a CFL player might make $11,000 (which according to inflation is worth about $54,000 today) and then anything from half that to possibly even the same again in their day job.

Back in those halcyon days, players could also count on a less intensive training regimen with practices often taking place in the evenings and weekends. This made playing in the CFL a pretty attractive option especially for those who would play sports in their free time anyway. Those cut from the NFL or who didn’t make the draft could come up here and make a similar living.

Even as late as the 80s, it was possible for a CFL team to poach an NFL prospect from right under their noses. But then came the massive TV deals in the states and the CFL failed to keep pace. The base salary for a player in the CFL has remained stagnant for almost four decades. Sure, they get paid more in actual dollars but when inflation is taken into account, that $11,000 a CFL player made back in the 70s is the same as the base rate for a 2017 rookie.

Unfortunately for today’s rookies, getting another job during the season is impossible. This is why many players take short-term contracts in the oil fields or as coaches at schools and clubs during the off-season. The star players, on the other hand, are a bit more fortunate. Some all-stars like Reilly might make as much as $500,000 for the season which means no moonlighting. Still, although it might sound great, these large playing contracts are reserved for the key players on the team.

In recent years we’ve seen massive strides taken by the league to entice both young Canadians and Americans to play in the CFL, but it’s still not enough. The increase in the team’s salary cap is, of course, a good thing, but this only means that the top players are getting a pay raise. The average player salary for 2018 is expected to be $80,000 but those rookies and guys cut from the NFL, still make that basic wage.

The CFL will never compete with the NFL on salaries and to be honest, we like it that way. But they do need to raise the basic wage significantly if they want to encourage young college players to stay in the game. So on the topic of salary evolution in the CFL, the truth is, there hasn’t been much. The game and the rookies in particular, need it and the sooner it happens the better.


Advocating for football prospects one story at a time.


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